What’s it like to travel across India with only a backpack and a thirst for adventure? Ask Vinoth Kumar. KAMALA GOPALAKRISHNAN
Vinoth Kumar had the quintessential dream job: an IT professional in sales. For about five years, he worked from Monday through Friday. Selling software would have allowed Kumar to own a house, car, stereo system and live in general prosperity. That’s what he wanted, right? Wrong.
In November 2011, Kumar quit his job and decided to travel in and around India full-time with the savings he accumulated over the years. “The more I worked, the more I questioned whether I really belonged in the workplace,” Kumar said. “That’s when I realised that I was ready to drop everything and travel.”While he worked, Kumar still managed to travel in Kerala on the weekends, but Northern provinces eluded him due to time constraints. He soon began to understand that it was impossible to get enough leave to travel India as a whole and knew the only way he could do so was to resign his job.
His method of travelling is unique in the sense that he does not reserve hotels, taxis or buses. He also avoids popular tourist destinations; instead he focuses on small villages or towns. Going solo helps him get out of his comfort zone and meet people from other places.
“One of my goals is to meet many people along the way, especially people who carry a rich historical and cultural background of the area,” Kumar said. “If I ride in a taxi, there’s really no chance of meeting those people. It’s also like I’m distancing myself from the real experience.”
So far, Kumar has travelled around Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and many other states. He is currently planning his last mainland tour to Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. He feels that finishing his travels around India would give him the confidence to branch out to other Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, which interests him because of the unusual cultural linkage. After visiting Southeast Asian countries, he plans to join the military to acquire more funds to visit places in the United States like Arizona and the Grand Canyons in Nevada. He also plans to travel to the Andaman Islands. “Travelling gives me immense confidence and power that I can adapt to any place in India. Above all, it teaches me life lessons that I can’t learn anywhere in a book or class.”
One major challenge that Kumar faces is the language barrier. He is a Tamilian and does not speak Hindi fluently. Though he is not always able to get complex points across, he has learned that people are able to understand the general idea of what he is trying to convey, and vice versa. “Speak in English, and it seems like you’re showing off, especially with villagers,” Kumar said. “Speak in broken Hindi and people will be more likely to help with shelter and food. People are good everywhere; you just have to behave accordingly to get the help you want. A few months ago, I was trekking in Sikkim. It was around 10.00 p.m. It was cold, everything was closed and most people were asleep. Even worse, I was near some military camps on the Chinese border. I met some people in the village who spoke only Nepalese but they understood my broken Hindi and gave me shelter for the night. If it weren’t for them, I would have gotten in major trouble in the military zone.”
Through his travels, Kumar has become a strong advocate for wildlife conservation and has adopted a green lifestyle, reducing plastic usage and abstaining from using products associated with industries that have destroyed forests, ecosystems or other natural landscapes. “It seems like modern societies are against nature,” Kumar said. “What I’ve seen in villages across India is that they live with nature.”
During his work as an IT professional, he had assumed that new developments in software meant that an entire country was following suit but learnt otherwise when he visited remote villages. “For example, there are people in Rajasthani villages who don’t even know the concept of electricity. They’ve never seen the glow of a light bulb, let alone the technical aspects of a mobile phone. These people have been living like this for hundreds of years. They don’t disrupt the natural flow of the environment around them and yet they are still enjoying life.”
- Wear simple clothes: Avoid ostentatious clothing such as flashy training shoes or jewellery or carrying too much money.
- Avoid speaking English: Often, speaking English seems to imply arrogance and insensitivity, especially if villagers do not understand the language. Speak in their native tongue, no matter how broken it may be; it shows that you are attempting to relate to their environment and they*ll be more willing to help.
- Don’t take taxis or buses: They tend to gravitate towards popular tourist attractions so you won’t get to meet local people. Speaking of which. . .
- Avoid tourist-y areas: To truly take in the essence of a place, visit the rural areas or remote villages and get to know the locals.
- Use online tools like Lonely Planet and Crowdsurfing: Lonely Planet is useful for finding essential sites to visit within a place and a general idea of what a place is like so travellers can pack accordingly. Crowdsurfing helps travellers give and receive shelter and food without the exchange of money.
Kamala is a third year Journalism student at West Virginia University, USA.
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