By Suchita S.

The most overused statement by a 20 something year old, especially those living in Delhi {because everybody loves to run away from Delhi} is *cue momentary American accent* “Actually, I love to travel.” Now, there’s the holidayer and there’s the traveller, and fortunately there’s the Great Wall of China in between these two cliques.

While the desis and their mothers pack their bags to Amreeca and Canada, and we upload Facebook albums as testimony to our undying love for London or Hong Kong, Karaonjit Singh, or Smoochie as he’s fondly known, is packing his bags and travelling solo to the vast escapes of Mongolia {where he also went clubbing!}, planning internships in Japan, and saving money for wanderings through the Middle East and Latin America. He has one rule {which he’s willing to bend from time to time} – he prefers to travel to non English- speaking countries. And while he does have friends in a few places he visits, for him there’s nothing quite like the thrill of mapping places for himself. Meet, the Traveller.

What kind of traveller are you? And when did you start travelling alone?

I’ve travelled all my life – my father’s in the army, because of which I got to live in and experience quite a few places in India. I started travelling by myself when I became financially independent. Most times, when not for work, I end up travelling alone and I prefer it. I think if I travelled with my friends, our interests would clash. Walking around, visiting museums, experiencing the culture, mixing with locals -that is how I like to spend my time in these places, and not everyone’s up for that.

My first trip abroad by myself was to Japan, right after graduation. There’s a perception that the Japanese, as people, are closed and stoic. Fortunately, I didn’t face any such thing. I became and still am friends with a lot of really interesting people I met during that trip. It was funny though; I landed, made my way out of the airport, and expected someone to come and get my suitcases. We’re so used to coolies and all these services in India. Eventually, I learned to carry my own bags and work with what the city had to offer.

Where are all have you been?

I’ve been to Japan, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Mongolia, Thailand, Singapore, Jordan, and Turkey. I’m going to China end March, and also plan to go to Uzbekistan sometime during the middle of the year. Mostly, I end up going to non-English speaking countries. We’re already so exposed to English media, there’s no real challenge then, because one’s relatively acquainted with these cultures. When you go to a place where hardly anyone speaks your language, you realize they have a completely different way of looking at things; so it’s like re-formatting the brain into a whole new thought process.

Why do you travel? 

Travelling for me is a means to broaden my mind, like finding who you are; the purpose of life. I know it’s cliché but it is true. It breaks a lot of mental barriers. It breaks stereotypes. Through my experiences, I’ve realised that there really is no universal right and wrong. There are  5 million ways to do the same thing! This opens you up, makes you think differently. And also makes you more aware of yourself, where you’re coming from, and your own culture and mindset.

I find that in Delhi, people are really defensive. A Swiss friend once said that Indians always reply with a ‘no’ and then give their point of view. I think the way we express ourselves comes across with disregard for the other person. I think it would be nicer for us to just listen and not give our opinion on everything… and we should also open up to strangers, and go out and talk more. It’s almost like an experiment- entrusting yourself to someone you don’t really know.

A Delhiwaala talking to strangers? That’s new… How has that worked out for you?

Fortunately, it’s worked for me till now.. Barring this one incident when I was in Ethiopia. I’m pretty friendly, so I was chatting with some of the locals there. A guy comes over and invites me to a party, and I agree. He lead me via a slum to his room, which had like 10 girls waiting. Then they started dancing, and it’s all getting a little awkward. While all this is happening, my boss called me and I told her where I was. She shouted at me and asked me to get out of that area immediately. As it turns out, there is a mooti culture prevalent in Ethiopia, where certain desolate communities get you drunk and knock you out, and apparently cut out your organs to sell, and then eat the rest of you. Yeah, seriously.

As soon as I disconnected the call, I saw them bring me drinks and immediately I’m thinking- this is it man. So I refused obviously, and they started threatening me. It was really scary! I gave them the little money that I had on me, and explained to them that I really didn’t have anything else on me to give {hey, I’m from a third world country too.} Surprisingly, the guy who had brought me to the slum got me out of this little hut I was stuck in, gave me a 50 and got me a taxi to get back to my hotel. I know it sounds twisted, but that guy knew I had trusted him. He could have left me on the streets, but he did his bit to make sure I got back safe. People have a conscience, and I feel once you call out to it in another person, they do respond. Or so I’d like to believe!

Umm… If you insist! 3 travel tips… what would they be?

1. Download the tunein radio app, and log onto the radio stations of the country you’re travelling to. Listen to the music prior, during and after your travel. Listening to local music and radio jockeys has always given me some kind of connect to the place I’m visiting.

2. Packing: I’m quite a methodical {if not pain-in-the-ass} packer. I categorise all my clothes, and put them into transparent zip-lock bags. This way, it’s easier for me to find what I want, while on the move. Also, as I’ve learned, rolling up your clothes saves space. This piece of information is courtesy some Swedish army article I read.

3. Eating out: I usually Google this one before travelling. I don’t really focus restaurants, but the type of cuisine unique to the place I’m travelling to. Upon arrival, I consult locals as to where I can find what I want to eat.

Do you collect any cool, crazy souvenirs from your trips? 

I do collect souvenirs, especially fridge magnets… I also take some soil and put it in a bottle when I’m back. It’s like taking a piece of land. Land is the most important thing to humans; look at the number of wars we’ve fought for territory! So I put these next to each other in my room – Turkey is next to Tanzania… Makes me feel like I have created my own borders.