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The Slow Process of Self-Discovery

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Posing at Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong

All Around the World with the Most Travelled Indian

By Nitin Gairola

I thought this to be a significant part of my travel story so it should be told in order to give you the full picture of how my partner, Richa, and I chose our travels in later days and how the shift in focus came about – from random travel destinations to the political world (countries) and finally to the natural world (deserts, jungles, etc.). So, I had met Richa in my office in late 2007 and at that time she had never gone out of India and I had just been to England and Scotland, once, along with a trip to Singapore. This is besides Bhutan, where I had lived for 3 years as a child. As you can see, we both were not close to being called globetrotters. In the following years, before we started to live together, I made a few more international visits to Malaysia and Langkawi, Thailand, France, Switzerland and another one to England, where my elder brother continues to live. None of these were unique travel destinations, especially by today’s standards.

Singapore’s coast front

During this time, Richa and I never aligned ourselves to a common goal of seeing the ‘entire’ world together, but just enjoyed our time in Delhi as any new couple would and one thing led to the next and towards the end of 2010, we were married. So, now what? Again, we did as any couple would do, which is to go on a honeymoon. We didn’t have much money then (both had started with zero bank balances) but still I was clear that we should hit it off with an international trip and it just so happened that there was a deal on the Cathay Pacific airline tickets to Hong Kong and so I bought the tickets without thinking much. This is something I would learn the hard way that the ‘ticket deal’ should not decide your destination; rather your aspirations should, regardless of the price, provided you can afford it. The decision may also have been influenced by the fact that a decade earlier my parents had gone to Hong Kong and Macau and had raved about their visit.

Hong Kong skyline from atop Victoria Peak

Now we had no clue what Hong Kong was all about, but just went ahead. This was when I didn’t have a clear purpose in my travels and saw it as a ‘break’ from the routine and a chance to see and do something new. On landing, we first took a 1 hour ferry to nearby Macau (a Portuguese territory earlier which now belongs to China) and so our honeymoon adventure began. We both realised quickly that Macau was super artificial or let’s call it superficial (the word anyway sounds like a combo of super and artificial). Here was a grand resort which was a replica of Italy’s Venice city (called The Grand Venetian) with fake waterways, fake gondolas, fake houses and even a fake LED ceiling that looked like the blue sky with white clouds and all. Some parts of the city had their own Colosseum of Rome besides other famous symbols put together in one place in what was essentially a casino and party city. This was not for us but it’s definitely a destination which some people would like, especially the ones fond of fancy resorts and night life.

Breathing in the Swiss mountain air

However, we did like Hong Kong a bit more than Macau, especially the Po-Lin Monastery atop a hill which was actually a bit mystical with low and real clouds covering the monasteries there. But, overall, this megapolis was slightly shallow as well, what with the trained camera friendly birds of Ocean Park, the Madame Tussauds wax museum or Disney Land. However, what do you expect in these places? Some of the waterfront neighbourhoods like Aberdeen, were interesting as they were older and a lot more ‘oriental’ in their appeal with the harbours, fishing boats and the like.

Turquoise waters of Phi Phi islands

None of these travels in UK, Switzerland and South East Asia had sparked my travel imagination yet but had whetted the appetite just enough to want a bit more, without being sure of what I really wanted. I didn’t feel like an explorer or adventurer from within since we stayed in fancy hotels and hardly learnt anything new about the world and, to a large extent I can honestly say that I wasn’t prepared for world travel just yet. The next few months we were kept busy by our jobs and setting up our rented home in Delhi. But all the while I was planning, and one night in early 2011 I just pressed the button. It was to be Rome and we had got a cool Finnair ticket to the Eternal City. We had no itinerary in mind but knew that with a Schengen visa, we had no border controls within Europe and we could freely move around all 25 plus European Union member countries.

Richa laying her hands on Jackie Chan’s hands

This sounded more exciting, this sounded like freedom and as we were to find out, this was a far more ‘authentic’ old world steeped in history. Our slow path to self-discovery had started but we had not realised it yet, with our first Middle East and East African trips still some time away in 2012. So, I will write a few articles to share our experiences across many European countries, Japan and UAE before taking you through the journey into stranger and more exotic lands, which were to be the reason why I can say I am the Most Travelled Indian of the natural world.

(Nitin Gairola is from Dehradun and has travelled the natural world more than almost any Indian ever. He has set world travel records certified by India Book of Records, has written for Lonely Planet, and holds National Geographic conservation certifications. He is also a senior corporate executive in an MNC and in his early days, used to be a published poet as well. More than anything else, he loves his Himalayan home.)