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Letting the travel bug bite

New-age travellers seeking adventure and thrill from exploring untravelled locations are fast becoming a cult.

Shibangi Das  |  Mumbai 

The Potliwalas with their Mahindra Bolero 'Alex'

Gone are the days when travelling meant families matching their holiday lists to plan an elaborate vacation. Then, a motley group would pile into a noisy and crowded train, or a car, and eat, talk and make merry on their way to a faraway hill station or beach, bustling with other holidayers. Travelling now has become more of an adventure than a leisure activity. Of course, there are luxury travellers, but they too are increasingly seeking virgin locations to explore. But for a growing majority, the more adventure reaching a destination entails, the better. Those bitten by this mutated travel bug claim it holds the promise of a sense of fulfillment from having done something unusual and a fascinating experience to share with others..

The motivation to constantly be on the move and experience a new set of people and culture everyday to enrich life has suddenly hit hard. This new breed of travellers seem to be emerging mostly from the pressures of competitive professional lives. Having earned sufficiently from well-paying jobs they felt trapped in, they closed that chapter in their life and made travelling a full time occupation.

Srinivas Kulkarni (30), from Mumbai, however, has found a balance. The social media agency he works with has understood his passion for travelling and they have arrived at a mutual arrangement where his organisation lets him travel periodically. Kulkarni believes, “If you negotiate well with your organisation, and you have the skills that it considers an asset, they would give you adequate time off to pursue your passion and grow in all aspects of your life. If they don’t, I’d rather work for myself.”

Work for herself is what Shivya Nath (25) from Delhi did. She quit her job as a digital marketing strategist with Singapore Tourism Board to start her own travel company, India Untravelled and her travel blog. Besides, Nath also offers freelance website building and SEO services that allow her to be on the trail without any professional committments holding her back for too long. “While I may not have a full-time job, I still work hard. Luckily for me, my work – travelling, writing, blogging, social media – is also what I love to do most,” she says. Likewise, Shailesh Pandey (37), from Varanasi, an ex-Sailor in the Indian Navy, now works with an NGO, Sakaar, that benefits from his travels into the hinterland. Using his pension and occasionally, some financial backup from friends, he is certain he doesn’t wish to commit to a full time job.

But how easy is it to travel without a regular source of income? Tithiya Sharma (31), who has previously worked as a journalist and in a digital agency, was lucky to have travel website MakeMyTrip sponsor most of her flights. The Potliwalas – Abhinav Kandarp (29) from Pune, and Dilip Baba (31) from Kochi – say the road can be bumpy without a sponsor. Kandarp and Baba embarked on their (at least, they say) year-long trip in December 2012 with their savings from their jobs in IT and insurance respectively and their second-hand Mahindra Bolero whom they call Alex. Three months into the journey Mahindra offered them an all-India service tie up for their vehicle. While they had initially tried to get corporate sponsors on board, long waits and tight control over their movement put them off. However, they note that with the high fuel expenses they are incurring, their trip may have to be cut short even before they cross the one-year-on-the-road milestone.

About what pushed this bunch towards this unusual path, they candidly acknowledge it was a childhood dream to see new places, experience them first hand, and broaden their understanding of the world and about life. For Pandey, however, it was more. He looks for places and people that have an association with the freedom struggle, and “unsung heroes” -- everyday do-gooders -- whom he profiles in his blog. Sharma too had ventured out to meet a hundred changemakers across six continents, who she feels, “are shaping the future of their countries, one small step at a time.”

The Potliwalas also have an unusual agenda. As their blog says, “We are seeking to explore Bharat and India, and their coexistence.” For Baba, his deep interest in photography and the combination of calm and adrenaline rush he feels behind the wheel were enough to help him make up his mind about this trip. He is looking for unusual indigenous business models, while Kandarp says, “I hope to tie together seemingly separate stories from these places we are visiting and get some understanding of the unique fabric of India that is held together with diverse threads of cultures, religious sects and principles of living.”

Such experiences are what have kept these new-age nomads looking for more. They claim these have been life-changing moments which have taught them lessons in humility, selflessness and the quality of life. Pandey says of his interactions, “My experience can be judged from my eagerness to undertake these travels alone, riding my bike for almost 350 km everyday.” He recounts about the numerous men in uniform whom he meets during the course of his travels; all away from their families but working with a smile on their faces. Sharma once spent time with a group of artists in Kibera -- Africa’s largest slum in Kenya -- after which her initial feelings of fear, sorrow and guilt about their deplorable living conditions were transformed. “It was a place of such joy, solidarity and generosity and I was welcomed with such enthusiasm that I was awestruck. I left a lot of prejudice behind in Kibera that evening,” she says.

According to Nath, Turkey has the most hospitable people. An old baker had given her a ride to the town’s chocolate factory when she had gone into his shop to ask for directions, a cafe owner had helped her find a hotel while ferrying her around in his car and a blacksmith had charmingly professed his eternal love for “Hindistan” despite never having visited it. The Potliwalas received their share of hospitality in Nirona, Gujarat, where the economy is completely handicrafts based. They also got an insight into the intermingling of India’s varied cultures at khamancha player, Padmashri Sakar Khan’s home in Hamira near Jaisalmer. Kulkarni too has been amazed by simple acts of kindness that people have demonstrated, like ‘Baaji’ among an Armada Trax full of passengers in Rajasthan, who promptly gave up his seat to let a woman and her children travel a major distance comfortably.

Sharing these experiences and observations on social media has helped all of them gain a loyal following from the online community the world over. These connections often guide them in new directions. Their activity on blogs and social media have also helped Nath and Sharma find assignments to write for newspapers, journals and travel blogs. Nath also speaks at travel events. While all would like to compile the contents of their blogs into books, Pandey also plans to create a Martyr’s Calendar in which he wishes to include lesser-known legends of the freedom struggle. Sharma is now focussing on providing the people she met during her journey and featured in her blog by garnering financial support for them to allow them to continue with their work. Potliwalas are on the lookout for sustainable business models for small economies, which they can help replicate in other parts of the country. They say, “Indians have a penchant for jugaad.Where standard rules don’t apply, we innovate.”

The explorers claim they are getting more than what they had bargained for, because even though they had set off without any expectations or in search of any specific outcome, their appetite to see the world seems to be whetted with every new mile they are traversing. As evident from the feedback on their blogs, their escapades seem to be helping induct more surefooted wanderers into the club; for in the words of author J R R Tolkien, “not all those who wander are lost.”

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First Published: Thu, May 16 2013. 14:37 IST