In 2015, after 11 years of working in foreign and security policy, I quit my job to take a break. To breathe, to stop and smell the flowers (I’m not big on roses) and to travel. Hoshner, my husband, quit as well; he’d been at IBM for a decade working in sales. We set out, unencumbered by a countdown of approved vacation days, on a journey to explore and discover India.
We were going to travel on the cheap and journey the way the majority of the country does, on trains and buses, and along the way attempt to experience the real India. Our first journey on the road was 77 days across the 5 southern states, from the stunning temples and beaches of Tamil Nadu to the unique winter festivals of Kerala, from the hidden gems of Karnataka to the Andaman Islands and finally the unexplored colonial history of Andhra. We were exhausted, fed up of cheap travel, forgettable hotel rooms and generic food.
In the age of the internet, is there was anything ‘new’ left to discover? If you’ve seen 5 temples haven’t you seen them all?
In the years since, we have slowed down our pace of travel and extensively explored a small handful of states in India. We spend time in places we like, skip the ones we don’t and actively seek out ruins and forgotten pieces of history. India is a maze and a conundrum, dig deep and you’ll be richly rewarded. After three years, 18 states, countless temples, monuments, forts and villages, many places start to look familiar, art and architecture blend together and we can’t always remember the names and history of things we’ve seen.
Being on the road for weeks at a time, we are sometimes asked if it is enough, if we have ‘over travelled’ in this short period and if there is still wonder left in exploration. All pertinent questions we have asked ourselves. About a year ago I was on a panel hosted by NGT India where the discussion revolved around travel in the age of the internet and if there was anything ‘new’ left to discover.
Travelling to some of these places as an adult, opened up perspectives… [it’s] new and special because we often discover something about ourselves
I’m happy to assure you, the answer is a resounding yes; there is still wonder left in travel and despite the internet (or perhaps sometimes because of it) there is always something new to discover. Travel, for us especially, is not always only about seeing new places, but meeting people, trying new cuisines, and most of all understanding a place through new eyes. This for us happens in two ways. Because we travel as a couple, every place we are at is different, from the visual understanding through Hoshner’s lens (he’s the photographer half of us) to the seeking of stories that I prefer. Growing up in Madras, I’ve been to popular places in the south, on school trips and family vacations. And yet, travelling with Hoshner to some of these places again as an adult offered up perspectives that I would never have considered a couple of decades ago. Travel also then turns new and special because we often discover something about ourselves, as individuals and as a couple.
Places seem new also because of how we travel, and where we choose to stay. While villages are somewhat the same, and this is true of many parts of India, it’s no longer about discovering a village but understanding and uncovering it. So while villages in central India might all merge into one after a point, the people we’ve met and stayed with, the hospitality and stories we heard, little bits of their lives we claim for ourselves all stand out.
Places seem new also because of how we travel, and where we choose to stay.
We’d seen the magnificent temples of Hoysala Empire long before we went to Khajuraho and couldn’t help but compare the two. This happens often. Random old houses in parts of Almora remind us of the homes in Rajasthan, food in Odisha is familiar, and the Islamic architecture of Lucknow took us back to the Indo-Saracenic monuments in Gujarat. We don’t see this as a negative, but more as a means to connect the growing threads of India we unravel.
“Hey, doesn’t this look familiar?” is something we catch ourselves saying often, but it never gets old. Every time we travel, even if it’s someplace we’ve been before, it’s new because of a sense of discovery and as always, a chance to make new memories.
Ambika Vishwanath loves stories and believes that there is one to be found around every corner in India. She is the co-founder of The rediscovery Project and is always happy to swap experiences over coffee or whiskey.