Stay within your four walls, and your small world still shapes you. It exposes you to experiences unlike others – leaky taps, find a plumber; last onion, time to shop staples; and your kid having a public meltdown, handle it all like a pro. You learn to love your own company, stay economical with the finances and be creative with your time. Not to mention, independent and self-reliant in finding the solutions to your family’s daily needs.
But if you are a traveller, your world is, ehmm, more like Randy Newman’s “It’s a jungle out there”. Well not a literal green jungle perhaps, nor the jungle of the concrete kind. But the kind that affords you unexpected encounters, both good and bad; and surreal experiences, both the memorable and the forgettable.
I am a world traveler. Always have been. Heck, I’ve been traveling since I’ve been 6. So I’ve been changing schools just as frequently as I’ve been changing countries, and of course, the same went for homes, people and friends!
Despite the a-little-too frequent packing and unpacking, the inevitable leaving behind of something I really wanted to take along, and the frequent giving up on crushes (that could have been so much more) and finding new guys to admire in new places, as that constant new girl; I love travelling. Possibly because I love the world.
I never really gave it a real thought though. It was just a something taken in stride, like breathing, reading and sleeping. Just so routine.
Until I saw this #SayYesToTheWorld video from Luftansa India. It keeps playing on TLC, have you seen it?
This video made me think – so many countries, so many cultures, so many different people – do I really love the world, and if yes, why?
The answer was simple. It is the exposure to different kinds of people and experiences. The world really opens you up, in ways that education cannot. Your whole perspective changes, your perspective of who you are in the larger scheme of things, where you belong in this world, what you can do for it and does it really need you. It’s like this – travel kind of tilts you on your own axis. You get much more tolerant, much more open minded and definitely transform into a much better human.
My conclusion had so many backings, I really had to choose and pick my top three experiences.The ones that really did make me say – quite literally, “I love the world”.
Pohilo Boishakh Fair
Dhaka to be specific. It stripped me of my pre-conceived notions and humbled me back down to earth. I went there from Belgium, with truly negative expectations. I had packed up every possible luxury that Europe could afford, knowing that I’d probably never get it in a third world country (in my head much lower than other third world countries). I didn’t tell anyone I was moving there and I did not change my Facebook location. In my head, it was to be the shortest short-trip ever, just fill the said number of days, check mark the company’s country list and move to greener (read – more developed) pastures.
But I love it there, I really do love it there. I WILL tear up when I leave it.
Most people here are poor, but they have a big heart. They are hard-working and no matter how stringent their own views are, they never offend yours. They are Muslim and contrary to my own ill-placed and sometimes unwarranted, hard-set notions of Muslims go, they are progressive not aggressive; educated and well mannered, not judgemental and hostile (at least not with foreigners).
Boishakh Mela Fun
What’s more, you do get mushrooms, exotic cheeses, bak-choy, Thai basil and any other kitchen ingredients that I’d earlier thought I’d have to forgo on. And then the Pizza Roma pizzas here are to die for. They can have even the best, authentic pizza makers in Italy shake their heads and wonder, ‘how do they do this?’ (I would know, I’ve tried the ones in Italy too). You get exotic pets here, you get fine houses and apartments, you get Uber taxis and you definitely have an international airport that’s not just a converted shack (specifically for those others who also had pre-conceived notions like mine).
Pizza Roma Dhaka
Even the guy who sells coconuts on the street below understands that I do not speak Bangla and takes much effort in communicating with the two-word English vocabulary that he commands. My neighbors, the first to welcome us into the building, treat us like family, and often invite us into their homes and hearts. My driver, my maid, they go out of their way to always make sure that everything is comfortable for us. They really take it upon themselves, like a personal stake – not something like a job that they are paid for.
One of my first friends there also showed up on my doorstep one evening, completely unexpectedly, just to surprise me with a box of fresh roshogullas. Just because I had happened to mention the night before that I love them for that one particular shop. Such is their hospitality and so sweet are their heartfelt gestures.
Mum & Daughter: Gymming Together in Dhaka
If you go sightseeing, like we often do to Dhamrai, to visit Sukanta Banik’s old heritage mansion and beautiful metal and brass workshops. They welcome you with open arms, always have a hot meal waiting and proudly showcase their wares without even the slightest expectation of a sale. If you go to a local eatery, they will want you to taste it all, even if it is on the house. They are absolutely devastated that you are a vegetarian and cannot try their ‘god-food’ Illish Mach. But they will still hover around until you’ve tried everything else and given satisfactory oohs and aahs.
Local and Traditional Bangladeshi Food
The terraces and rooftops are full of green trees and potted plants, a true haven for casual evenings. Others are full of solar energy panels, the need of the hour. Dhaka has well-maintained parks with walking pathways. It has safe and supervised play areas for kids. There are youth clubs for tennis, cricket, basketball and swimming. There are beautiful, well manicured golf clubs. The food is divine. And then there is a social life, with a social circle that converses just as easily on world politics, as it does on where to buy the best and cheapest Jamdanis.
Kurmitola Golf Club, Dhaka
To be absolutely sure, Bangladesh is certainly not the third-world country that I expected it to be. Yes, the economy is short on money and infrastructure, but the country is rich in culture. It is not the anarchy that main-stream media often portrays it to be. Yes, the mosquitoes are a pain and the restrictions on women to dress decently (which I had always thought I was, until I came here) are highly annoying. There are celebrations on Eid are horrifying and utterly blood-curdling BAD. But just like the citizens of any other country, they are proud of their culture, their crafts, their music and their country. They are proud of where their country is going and how they are making dash for it, whether in international politics, or cricket.
Our favorite poolside, Lakeshore Hotel
And yes, I love it here. And I am sorry that I ever thought otherwise. And sorrier still, that I had judged Bangladesh even before I got here. Never again. Thanks to you, Dhaka.
Buddhist Temple, Gangtok
Like any Indian worth her salt, I want to go to Switzerland. Isn’t it on every Indian’s to-visit list. Well, it’s also on mine (don’t you dare judge me). Earlier it was on spot number two, right behind Greece. Now it has dropped down, way down. So much so that it’s not even on my mind when I plan my next holidays.
Sikkim got me out of my Europe-for-great-views-great-pics-and-wonderful-holidays bias.
Today, I am absolutely fascinated with North-East India. A bit of Sikkim still breathes inside me and I cannot wait to cover everything from Kashmir and Uttarakhand, all the way east to, Assam, Nagaland and Tripura. I promise you, this has nothing to do with BJP’s recent in-roads in the region (which I AM very proud of), but has everything to do with what Sikkim gave me on just my very first holiday here.
Breathtaking Baiguney, Sikkim
The people are good, friendly and open, but most important of all, I found them to be honest and with integrity. The roads are bad and a far cry from competing with those of Switzerland, but the views are fascinating, just as those of the Swiss Alps. Landslides can delay you, rain can wash away your plans for the day and fog can steal away the view that you were so dying to capture on your new DSLR. And there’s a different kind of thrill in these thwarted plans too. But despite all that, Sikkim is India’s Switzerland (wait, or was it Kashmir?!)
But more than the views, the valleys, the hills, the colors, the food, the Buddhist temples, the beautiful flags that you see everywhere (patakas with Buddhist mantras – Marathi), it is the people that captivated me.
Colourful Patakas with Buddhist Mantras
People are open-minded and never poke noses in other people’s businesses unless specifically asked to give opinions or directions. People do not judge your clothes and they definitely do not stare at your legs. They are not concerned where you are going, at what time of the night and with whom. They just mind their own business. Like we’d like everyone all over India to do.
People here are honest. To an extent that you find many unmanned vegetable shops right on the roadside. You pick the vegetable you need and put the money in a marked jar. Should you require change, you take it out of another jar. You do all this and you leave. No one comes to check your bag, no one checks whether you have put in your money and absolutely no one questions whether you have picked out the exact change on not. That is the quality of trust here. Truly absolute.
Local Vendor: Sikkim
The fact that Sikkim is a 100 percent organic state is something that requires special mention here.
Making Friends Everywhere
These people are Indian, They respect the country, its culture and the flag. But they have still preserved their distinct identity. I love them for that. And of course I love their ‘ningru‘ – edible fern that’s considered a local delicacy.
Durban, South Africa
I’ve lived here the longest and obviously learnt the most. Absolutely everyone who’s been to South Africa will tell you about its natural beauty, beautiful infrastructure, glorious safaris, wonderful adventure sport opportunities, unbelievable sport infrastructure and opportunities, and of course, the crime. But not many will talk of people, at least not beyond the cursory mention of – multiple ethnicities, Apartheid-era crimes, Black Economic Empowerment and more currently Zuma’s final exit or what to do about the Guptas and the Oppenheimers.
Back to Durban: After 13 Long Years
But there’s more to the people of this rainbow nation than what any tourist guide or online synopsis will tell you. All people here, of all ethnicities, are beautiful people. You will never jog past a person in the morning without an exchange of pleasantries. You will never go to the gym and not have every single person come around and say hi (or convey through gestures via the multiple mirrors) before you start your workout. You will never go to the dog park and not make instant friends of like-minded dog-loving people, it is as if you’ve instantly connected over a shared passion. And you will most definitely never have a dour-faced, unhappy-with-his-life car guard, even when he’s been out in the sun all day minding cars in the open lot.
That’s not all.
No one will tell you that these people live life to the fullest. And when I talk of these people, I am completely mean my people, the local black Africans. They laugh the hardest and are totally unconcerned of who’s watching, where they are and who’s judging. When they hug, they hug tight; some may even do a little jiggle with their bodies just out of excitement. When they eat, they can finish off an entire steak and then wonder what’s for the mains. When they hear their favorite music, they may start dancing right there on the street, or in the cricket stadium or even in varsity. They really know how to live life without inhibitions. They live life just for themselves, totally unconcerned for what someone else might think of them.
This is simply fascinating to watch, especially when on the other side, you are watching your ‘p’s and ‘q’s in public, avoiding sushi because you’re an uncoordinated idiot with chopsticks, and rushing to the ladies room because you’d rather not tear up in public. To them, feelings and emotions are natural, what’s to hide.
Craziness With Bunmi
Well I love them. I love my varsity friend Jack who used to stalk our super-hot-and-hunky IT professor Mr Forer with me, all across campus, right up to his room. And my finance team’s Paulo who could gobble up an entire steak and chips platter and then ask us if we minded that he was just getting started. I love Bunmi who teaches me that a career and a hobby can go hand in hand, even when the career is that of a full-time doctor and the hobby is that of a competing Jiu Jitsu practitioner. I love Thabile who handles a spirited Mojalefa with just as ease as she aces at her job. I love how they all literally laugh out loud, do crazy (seriously crazy) stuff and find time for laughter and friends and social meets. My maid Salomi keeps chanting ‘Meera, Meera’ just as hard as my two year old keeps repeating ‘Aai, Salomi kuthay?’. In the short bursts that I’ve lived there, my daughter has already bonded with her. That’s how they all are – warm and open.
Thabile’s spirited Mojalefa
South Africa really did open me up to the experience of judging people for who they are on the inside and not what they look like on the outside. It really did teach me to be myself, whether it is in my home or whether it is out in the public. There is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide; at least not for society.
In conclusion, travel really does open you up to exploration – personal exploration, like a self-appraisal or assessment. You change with every kind of people you meet. You change with every kind of culture and belief-system you expose yourself to. And you change your view of everything with every kind of perspective you chance across.
You may accept the change and assimilate it, or refute it all you like. But travel changes you on the inside. It really makes you love the world. If you don’t believe me, take your next flight to whichever country ranks as your number 1 travel inspiration. Stay there a week if not more. Take in everything, the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the feel. Then come back and do your own assessment. You can lie to me, but your soul will always know the truth.