How the Pandemic Changed My Perspective on Life.

shivya nath, indian travel blogger, sustainable travel writer india

One morning, I stood at the beach, soaking up the warm winter sun after a refreshing swim. Every few moments, a wave would roll in and pull away the sand from under my feet, no matter how tightly I tried to hold on to it. Gradually, I conceded to the waves and stopped resisting.

I think that feeling kind of sums up life during the pandemic. I suppose we each tried to maintain some illusion of control over our lives, travels, work and other plans, but ultimately had no choice but to let go.

As a long term traveller and travel writer, it has been two mentally and financially challenging years. Yet I’m immensely grateful that my family and friends are in good health, and those who did succumb to Covid-19 have recovered. I know not everyone has been so lucky. If you’ve suffered, or lost a loved one, I hope you’ll find the strength to get through this difficult time. My heart is with you.

In the midst of this storm, I’ve been learning to readjust my sails. As I tried to stay afloat, some bittersweet realizations dawned on me. Lessons that I perhaps overlooked during the past decade of a (digitally) nomadic existence:

I’m not really a global citizen

My idea of “home” as a digital nomad was never a place, but a feeling.

For a long time, I’ve fooled myself into thinking that I’m a world citizen. I might be equipped with a weak passport, but in my mind, I belonged as much in Tbilisi and New York, as say Mumbai. When I dreamt of “home”, I conjured up images of Thai food, Urdu poetry, conversations with Iranian friends and my writing spot overlooking three volcanoes in Guatemala

But when the pandemic hit, most countries closed their borders to outsiders, shattering my illusion.

Turns out, I’m just who my navy blue Indian passport says I am – the citizen of a developing country with a multitude of challenges that I can’t escape from. Of course, I share that status with 1.3 billion people, and feel very aware of my privilege.

But the stark difference between my freewheeling mind and the constraint of physical borders has still been a sobering realization. 

Also read: What’s the Future of Travel Blogging When Nobody’s Travelling

Despite all the sh*t India throws at you, it is one incredible country

In June 2020, when domestic flights finally resumed after a 3-month national lockdown, my partner and I reunited in Goa, the only state that would allow us entry with panchayat permissions, Covid testing and institutional quarantine. I had no idea then, that we’d still be here (on and off) 18 months later – the longest I’ve spent in one place since I embraced a nomadic life in 2013!

But even after all these months – and having visited every monsoon for the past many years – I’m STILL discovering Goa!

This time, in an attempt to avoid being in the vicinity of people, we ended up discovering majestic, nameless, sign-less waterfalls. Hiked in landscapes that could have been plucked out of the African bush. Witnessed majestic sunrises and sunsets. Kayaked in riverine backwaters, spotting fierce-looking crocodiles amidst the mangroves. Connected with local zero waste suppliers, organic farmers and home chefs to complement our (mostly lacking) culinary skills. And serendipitously found fragments of Goa’s past that have mostly been eroded with time.

Living long term in India, with its myriad challenges of erratic water, electricity and internet supply, and hard to comprehend local politics, has not been easy. But that a tiny state like Goa can continue to surprise me after all this time is a testimony to just how incredible India truly is.

Also read: How to Embrace Sustainable Tourism in India

Don’t call me a travel “influencer”, please!

Dear Instagram, your algorithm is ruining travel!

I’ve often heard seasoned photographers and writers complain how the internet and smartphones have bastardized their professions. On the other hand, I’ve long thought of myself as a digital being. My blog helped me carve out my niche in the world and allowed me to make a living on the go, while social media helped me find my wings.

But the exploding Instagram influencer phenomenon has changed that feeling.

Over the past few months, I’ve seen hordes of travel Instagrammers and Youtubers pass through Goa. Once while hiking along the coast, I saw something jarringly colorful in a cave far below. I zoomed in with my camera to spot a woman in a bright red gown and a man in a suit, posing in front of a photography crew capturing this “candid” moment. Stroll along any popular or ‘offbeat’ beach at sunset and you’ll find plenty of Insta-hubbies contorting themselves in strange ways to capture bikini-clad women in rather strange poses. Drive past the infamous Parra road with palm trees and paddies on either side, made popular by the Bollywood movie ’Dear Zindagi’, and you’ll find traffic obstructions caused by dudes with slick hair and clean-shaven chests, posing in the middle of the road!

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against dresses, bikinis or slick hair, but that these staged photographs will circulate on Instagram with deep quotes on Goa’s susegade life or how travelling can change you, ruffles my feathers.

One of my goals for 2022 is to shed the “influencer” label I carry by virtue of having a readership on Instagram, because there’s nothing I now detest more.

Also read: Why Long Term Travel is More Like Real Life and Less Like Instagram

Time is one big continuous cloth

Time really goes on and on, and the seasons always change. (Autumn in Kashmir).

I vividly remember the evening India went into its first 21-day lockdown. I was visiting my folks in Dehradun and 3 weeks sounded like an infinite stretch of time, considering I rarely stayed longer than a week on a single visit. But in the panic and chaos that ensued, the traveller in me took over and convinced me: this too shall pass.

This is the mantra I’ve followed many times in the past decade, especially in challenging times – in my early travel days when my bank balance would often hover around triple digits. During painfully long and uncomfortable journeys. When I landed up alone somewhere so remote and daunting that the butterflies in my tummy would just not stop flittering.

In one of my favorite Murakami books, A Wild Sheep Chase, he writes, “Time really is one big continuous cloth, no? We habitually cut out pieces of time to fit us, so we tend to fool ourselves into thinking that time is our size, but it really goes on and on.”

As we shuffled from one lockdown to another, and then into a state of semi-unlock limbo, I tried to cut out pieces of time for kayaking, poetry and baking, hoping to make life more palatable. But in reality, it flowed on and on, and here we are, at the start of 2022. What a triumph!

Also read: How to Indulge Your Wanderlust at Home During the Pandemic

I’m a bit of an outsider everywhere

An outsider, always trying to look in.

During the peak of the Hindu–Muslim disharmony before partition, my great grandparents found themselves compelled to pack their belongings overnight, abandon their home in what is now Pakistan, and move to Amritsar. Then at the peak of the Sikh agitation in the late 80s, my parents and grandparents yet again packed up their lives in Punjab and moved to Dehradun. I was in the womb then…

When people ask me where I’m from, Dehradun – where I was born and brought up – is the easy answer. But in reality, I feel like quite an outsider in my home state of Uttarakhand, as I do in Punjab, and as I presumably would in Pakistan – if my passport ever allowed me to travel there.

Punjabi blood flows through my veins. I write and dream in English. I feel an inexplicable connection to Iran. My heart yearns for the idea of India. And I suppose, through all my travels, bits and pieces of me are scattered in many parts of our physical world.

In the words of the poet Nida Fazli, whose work has been a source of immense solace during the pandemic:

Waqt ke saath hai mitti ka safar sadiyon se

Kisko malum, kahan ke hain, kidhar ke hum hain

(The soil has been journeying with time for many centuries

Who knows, where we’re from, or where we belong…)

What’s life been like for you during the pandemic? What would you like to read more about on my blog in 2022?

The Shooting Star Academy

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  1. I too had this weird feeling when people only meant Bikinis and shots for GOA as the photographers were showing to garner views and traffic for their respective profiles but for me GOA has always been a PEACEFUL way out for me. I had been to Goa in 2019 and still it is indeed one of the place for me to run away from this chaotic world. People are making this peaceful world a PHOTOGENIC genetic disorder.
    Thanks to us where we have people like you all in our Ecosystem where we can still find fresh air in your articles itself.
    It feels so realistic.
    Thanks @Shivya Nath for penning down such beautiful articles.
    Not only I was inspired from your travel blogs, I started penning down my own inspired from your natural writings. I am a NOOB when writing is concerned but yet trying to pen down my views.

    Thank you.
    Happy New Year.
    Stay Safe and Keep Amusing us with your beautiful articles.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Social media – and especially Instagram – desperately needs to rethink its algorithm! But why would they, if it keeps people longer on the app and sell a lifestyle that people don’t actually need? In all this, it is indeed the destination and its people that suffer.

  2. Rajendra Nargundkar says:

    Strange life, yet interesting, in many ways. I am in an educational institute with mostly missing (online) students, ever since I joined a year ago. Never did so many online things -events, meetings etc. – in my life before. Yet, learnt to value personal interactions though they were far fewer. Our changing relationships with each other, technology, and living in constant anxiety and learning to cope will be the theme this year too, if January is any indication. The new normal? No idea..

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      That must be so challenging, Rajendra. I have so much respect for teachers who’ve adapted to this new medium of teaching despite all odds. But like you say, coping is the theme and will continue to be, given where we seem to be heading!

  3. Je ne suis pas assez jeune pour tout savoir. Pandamic a prouvé que notre monde est connecté. Vous êtes un voyageur mondial Shivya. Le passeport n’est qu’un morceau de papier.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Must confess I had to use google translate for that, Bob! Yes, the passport is just a piece of paper, but the pandemic is proven just what a critical piece it is.

  4. Thanks for sharing your views here. Hope you continue discovering more! I enjoyed your book and took a fair few lessons and vicarious experiences out of it, and realised that armchair travelling is a viable option at times too! But for me, the lockdown, 2 years now almost, on and off, has been an opportunity to do some inward travel – sit, pause and observe myself as definitions and images come up and fade away. While I’m getting itchy feet again, I’m grateful for this forced inward travel which I would have likely missed had the situation been “normal”…

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      So glad to hear you enjoyed my book and could live vicariously through it. At my end, I made a conscious effort NOT to read travel books because it just made the lack of travel that much harder! Instead I read a lot of non-fiction about nature, the environment, the secret life of trees and plants etc. Like you said, this has been a time to pause and reflect and try things we wouldn’t have otherwise, and I’m emerging feeling grateful for it all. Just hope 2022 is a more normal year though 😉

  5. I often think about the duality of social media- what you want people to believe and the reality. I feel someday people will grow up and stop creating the illusion. Nothing in this life is permanent, and so things will change. Of course, people will find new ways; life will go on.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Maybe. In current times though, it feels like we’re more controlled by the algorithm than our own minds! Will we trump that in the near future? Only time will tell.

      1. Humans are influenced so much by emotions. That’s why social media has taken over and thus algorithm business. Let’s hope for better.

  6. Venkataranga says:

    Loved the blog. It’s been a difficult time no doubt but this too shall pass. I am hopeful that by end Q2 of this year things will be fine again and life can assume some past sense of normalcy. Good on you for seeing the positive when your work has been so badly impacted by your inability to work.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Amen to that 🙂 I guess we have no choice but to find the tiny sliver of silver lining in this garbage dump of a situation. We’ll all emerge stronger and wiser, I hope.

  7. Pandemic has been a boon as well as a curse too. It was during the pandemic that I started blogging genuinely and aspired to be a travel blogger. Though I was growing and learning everyday, the second wave of covid hit hard on our family, and we lost our Mom to post covid complications last year. It has been hard since then to focus on anything. Blogging is the only hope that has kept me alive, the only good thing that has happened to me during the pandemic. I sometimes want to just be a way from everything, like walking beneath those trees n Autumn in Kashmir. Do stay safe wherever you are.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      I’m so so sorry for your loss, Joydeep. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be for you and your family, and hope you’ll find the strength within to cope. I’m sure she’d be proud of you for following your passion, and hope that this year, you can indeed walk beneath those autumn colors. Virtual hugs.

      1. Thank you so much! This year has already been full of life and opportunities. I recently went to Nagaland where I stayed I stayed with a friend’s family. I learned about their community, their efforts and we hiked the nearby Mt. Tempii and Dzukou Valley together too. The best part was those conversations in their local tongue. I started working as a freelance content writing work for a digital marketing agency too. Virtual hugs! Take care and stay safe in Chile!

  8. Shivya, as always you are very inspiring. I do like your approach of the path you took to discover Goa and other places in your home country and somehow being content with the global situation. The pandemic has changed our travelling over the globe but also it has changed our mind in looking of other possibilities which might be right at our door steps. I think it is all the matter of changing our minds, even in a postive way. Wsihing you aNew Year in health and happiness filled with inspiration and creation for a new found way in your path.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Nice to hear from you Cornelia. Your comments always nudge me to blog more often so we can keep connecting in this virtual space! I think this difficult time has taught us so much; it might take years to crystallize the unexpected ways in which our perspectives have changed (hopefully for the better). Wish you a safe, adventurous and fulfilling 2022 too 🙂

  9. I have to agree about the posers on Instagram—I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pressed the “I don’t want to see posts from this a/c”—and not just photos taken in Goa.
    If you have a strong attachment to Iran, there’s a possibility your ancestors came from there. A DNA test would answer that. I suggest this from my own attraction towards Japan—my favourite movie’s from there, I love reading authors from there, etc etc to discover only recently that through a DNA test the country runs in my genes!
    Perhaps you could revamp some of your old posts. That’s what I’ve been doing while stuck at home. It’s been enjoyable to revisit places I journeyed to from years ago and be reminded of small details I’d forgotten.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Haha, you’re right, Instagram’s probably tired of my ‘I don’t want to see these posts’ too! How interesting to learn about your Japanese ancestry. It’ll be fascinating to do a DNA test, though I’m not sure I’m ready for what I might find. Maybe some day.

  10. Hey Shivya, I resonate with your thoughts. And what a coincidence that just yesterday I wrote a poem on the question if I’ll ever be able to travel again like the way I did before the pandemic. And I used the a similar thought of how life feels like sand slipping through our hands right now 🙂

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Great minds think alike? 😉 Would love to read your poetry Gauri. Where can I find it?

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