About this post: Reflecting on my year as an Indian travel blogger, digital nomad and travel speaker in India – and the most memorable moments of my travels, life and travel blog in 2017.
I’m not really in the mood to pen this post. One moment, I’m in the Slovenian Alps, cycling and hiking amid pristine alpine meadows, it’s the middle of the year, there’s so much I want to experience, there’s so much more I need to write about. The next moment, it’s December and my social media timelines are filled with holiday messages. Where did the time fly?
2017 has been a strange year for me as a travel blogger. This year, I struggled to write even a couple of blog posts every month, not because of a lack of stories or time, but because of the way the travel blogging (and social media) landscape is evolving. Attention spans are shorter, quality content is harder to come by and it feels like everyone is trying to sell the same travel narrative and perfect instagram shots, without a deeper connection to a destination.
So this year, I began experimenting with other things. I accepted speaking gigs to inspire people to pursue alternate lifestyle choices, spoke on topics close to my heart and tried to connect directly with my audience. I worked on environmental / community-based projects I feel passionate about, in Spiti and Sarmoli in India. And I tried to get more involved with the worldwide vegan movement.
Yet I literally had to scroll through my Instagram posts to realise what I got upto all year. Turns out, quite a bit:
Featured on the cover of National Geographic Traveller India magazine!
Back in April, while I was living out my Alpine dream in Slovenia, the editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveller India magazine reached out to me for a story for their special anniversary issue dedicated not to a place, but to the traveller. I was looking forward to seeing it in print, but was taken by surprise when I saw my name on the cover, in the revered company of inspirational travellers like Pico Iyer, Ruskin Bond and Sudha Murthy. The surprise soon turned to gratitude, for all the encouragement and support I’ve received on this journey.
Read my story for Nat Geo: My Home Has No Address
The year’s first snowfall in a tiny village in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia
What’s that feeling when you go to sleep admiring how the autumn leaves are turning red, yellow and orange all over the valley… and wake up with snowflakes dancing all around you? Yeah, I haven’t found a word for it either. But I remember my heart fluttering as I stepped into my balcony with a hot cup of tea, and put out my hand to catch a falling snowflake. Walking along the cobblestoned alleys of our picturesque little village in the dramatic Caucasus Mountains felt like living through the most dreamy chapter of a storybook. It was the only time in the year I had the illusive feeling of being home.
Spotting a humpback whale in the Maldives
We set out on the tiny fishing boat of our host at Madi Finolhu Guesthouse in the Maldives, to snorkel with the illusive manta rays and whale sharks… but were taken aback when a humpback whale surfaced near our fishing boat instead! Apparently they migrate from the Arabian Gulf at the beginning of winter, crossing the Maldives on their 200+ kilometre long journey, and we were lucky enough to spot one just as it surfaced out of the ocean. I’ve never seen anything so huge; our host was genuinely worried it might overturn our boat!
(I was too stunned to get a picture, so the video above is a glimpse of snorkelling with turtles in the Indian Ocean).
“I Love Spiti” – An initiative against plastic bottled water in Spiti
I’ve dreamt so often of going back to Spiti – a region that changed everything I knew about the world and myself. Finally in 2017, I travelled back with a purpose – to create awareness against the mindless consumption of bottled water by a growing number of tourists in Spiti, in collaboration with Spiti Ecosphere and fellow volunteers. We worked with the local tourism industry to offer alternatives like filtered water, and built a life-size installation – “I Love Spiti” – entirely with discarded plastic bottles, so travellers can pledge against their use. Hopefully, 2018 will witness less plastic bottles discarded into the dumping ground next to Spiti River.
Jumping off a cliff into glacial water – canyoning in the Austrian Alps
I contemplated life for an entire minute before deciding to jump off a cliff into the glacial pool of a waterfall – freezing cold in the end of September. Canyoning in the Austrian Alps – rappelling down waterfalls, sliding down rocks, swimming in glacial water – was one wild adventure!
Solo trek to Jhandi – Uttarakhand’s highest peak in the lesser Himalayas
I’ve never really been on a popular trek in India, simply because I can’t stand hiking in a noisy group. Luckily, you don’t need a group, or even a guide, to hike up to Nag Tibba, and further up to Jhandi, Uttarakhand’s highest peak in the lesser Himalayan region with majestic views on the snow-capped Himalayas. So I had to give it a shot. Although I was on the verge of turning back twice and got lost a bunch of times, I eventually made it and lay on the peak, in the warm sun, all by myself.
An Instagram and Photography workshop in Sarmoli
@voicesofmunsiari began as a humble Instagram account in 2016 but developed its own wings in 2017. It got featured as India’s first Instagram account to be run entirely by a village community by several leading publications including The Times of India and Conde Nast Traveller. In Sarmoli’s annual summer festival, we decided to take it to the next level with crowdsourced smartphones (thanks to everyone who contributed!) and a Photography and Instagram workshop, during which we were joined by Bangalore-based photographer Jayashree Ramaswamy. Most of the attendees were women, and I had so much fun sharing what I’ve learnt about Instagram over the years, and playing impromptu games (including a treasure hunt) with the curious audience.
Perseid and Geminid – two meteor showers in one year
If you follow me on social media, you know how much I love stargazing. So each time I read about a meteor shower, I desperately look for a place with dark skies to catch it. That’s also one of the reasons why I’ve strived so hard to build a nomadic life.
But this year, I almost didn’t see a meteor shower because of how last-minute and ill-planned my travels are… except that the universe conspired to make me see two – the Perseid Meteor Shower lying on a charpoy (cot) in the Thar Desert near Churu and the Geminid Meteor Shower in northern Thailand! The feeling of laying under the dark sky, witnessing multiple large greenish / blue meteors dash through the sky, is just indescribable.
Cycling in the Slovenian Alps
Before I went to Slovenia, I had only seen dreamy images of Lake Bled all over Instagram. I was rather underwhelmed by how touristy, commercial and built-up the lake really is. But it was further into the heart of the Slovenian Alps that I found true love! Every other day, we’d get on our mountain bikes and cycle amid the most dreamy, breathtaking Alpine scenery; think glistening blue glacial lakes, meadows filled with wildflowers, dramatic peaks all around us and not another soul in sight.
India’s biggest vegan festival in Mumbai
It’s been over two years since I turned vegan and stopped consuming animal products as far as possible… and since then, I’ve found the road to be somewhat lonely as far as my food choices go. In far off corners of Georgia and Latin America, I’ve wondered if I’m the only crazy one to have no cheese on my mchadi (corn bread) or tortillas. Luckily, I found my tribe in Mumbai this year, where the vegan movement is growing so big that in November, they hosted India’s biggest vegan festival. There were over a hundred vegan businesses selling everything from homemade desserts to almond cheese to even soy tandoori kebabs! There were inspiring talks, cooking demos, even an ethical fashion show. It was exactly what I needed to reinstill faith in my choice to go vegan.
Millions of fireflies in Taiwan
For the second time in my life (the first was in Purushwadi, Maharashtra years ago), on a dark night, I found myself surrounded by millions of fireflies – in a bamboo forest in Taiwan! As they sent beams of light to each other and our group silently looked on, a most magical feeling washed over me.
Friendships without a common language in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Even though I only spent a handful of days in an obscure town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was surprised by how warm and friendly the people are. From heartbreaking stories of the civil war to personal anecdotes, locals went out of their way to communicate with me despite no common language between us. Then I went on a long hike with my Bosnian hostess to a stunning blue river and a nameless waterfall, and we chatted late into the evening about our lives, joking how we managed to say everything with only 10 common words between us. It’s true, the language you speak doesn’t always matter.
Keynote speaker at the SoDelhi Confluence – “Blogging: A powerful tool for social change”
In 2017, I finally broke out of my shell and tried to conquer my public speaking fears. In January alone, I did four speaking gigs – on following your passion at a corporate event by ICICI, on responsible travel at the Nat Geo Travel Meetup, on how travel bloggers can work with tourism boards at Mumbai Travel Massive and on travel writing at the Parnassus Literature Festival. I accepted several more speaking invites through the year, but the highlight was delivering a keynote at the SoDelhi Confluence – a select gathering of bloggers and influencers from across India. While most speakers and panelists spoke about earning money through blogging, I tried to challenge the audience to think differently and channel our influence for social and environmental causes.
See the full video of my keynote: Blogging: A powerful tool for social change
The ‘Uttarakhand’ feeling in Goat Village
Just 3 hours from my hometown Dehradun, which increasingly feels overrun with traffic and construction, Goat Village is the kind of oasis I’ve dreamt of in Uttarakhand. This initiative aims to preserve the micro-culture of Himalayan farmers, especially those abandoning their farms in pursuit of city dreams. It is reviving organic farming and finding a market for superfoods like amaranth that often grow wild in the villages of Garhwal. I was ecstatic to be surrounded by wild chamomile flowers, eat a millet-based diet, live in a traditional Kumaoni house with urban amenities and snack on soybeans at tea time!
Hanging out with Odisha’s Munda and Bonda tribes
Just when I thought I knew India, I landed up in Odisha and it changed everything I thought I knew. I fell in love with the misty sunrises, cycling amid the dense mountain forests, endless mango orchards and the dramatic scenery of Koraput. But most of all, I fell in love with the ancient tribal way of life of the Mundas in the east and the Bondas in the south. They appeared much more progressive than us urban folk, in terms of the clothes they wear (or choose not to), the food they eat and their relationships. I remember drinking handiya (homemade fermented rice beer) with the Munda women as they socialised in the tribal haats (markets) – a rarity in India – and can’t wait to write all about it.
A digital nomad in Chiang Mai, Thailand
I might be a few years too late in doing the digital nomad thing in Chiang Mai, but after our plans to spend the end of the year in Oman fell through, Thailand seemed the only viable (affordable) option in busy December. I’m glad our plans fell through, because I’m totally in love with my abode on a private plantation outside the city, a ten minute bicycle ride into the mountains and ancient Buddhist temples. And the region is heavenly for vegan food, both Thai and international cuisines.
A surprise I can’t divulge yet…
Life overwhelms you in the most unexpected of ways. Something most unexpected happened this year but I haven’t yet found the words to share it with you… perhaps next year!
Leaving you with a little video that will (hopefully) inspire your 2018!