I have been asked this question very frequently that why I am such a big fond of villages. I love to answer this as it takes me back to some of the best memories of my life.
A couple of years back, Europe was the only destination I ever wanted to visit. I used to daydream about it. Envisioning myself walking through old European cities on cobblestone paths while listening to the melodious street music, sitting near a canal and smiling at the people wandering in boats, visiting old cathedrals, antique shops, bookstores, open air coffee shops, would always fill my heart with cheerfulness. I used to think that these are the finest travel experiences in the world as Europe has always been a highly romanticized destination. I had one short trip to Switzerland before I navigated this continent during Semester at Sea (SAS) Summer 2014 voyage. For those who don’t know, SAS is a multiple country study abroad program that happens on a ship. The ship is like a floating university campus equipped with all facilities of an educational institute. Students take classes on the ship while sailing from one country to another. When they are docked in a port, they go out and explore the place. In Summer 2014, we sailed from England to Portugal, Spain, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Poland and back to England.
Let me share this amusing story happened during SAS with you where these foreign cities reconnected me with my roots in Indian villages.
Getting bored in Romanticized cities
We were sailing to one big city after another. I was used to waking up in a new country every week. Going out and exploring the world famous landmarks had become like a routine. Visiting picturesque places, experiencing the nightlife, getting good photographs, trying out food in new cafes, striking conversations with strangers and buying postcards can probably sum up how I was exploring those countries. Though during this time my excitement knew no bounds, but very soon, I had started to feel dull. My energy to go out and explore was dying. I was spending more time on the ship instead of land.
What was happening to me? It was a dream voyage, and I was losing my enthusiasm?
The crowd in urban areas jaded me. I was sick of the long queue to get inside the Book of Kells museum, the unimaginable crowd at London Bridge, the constant clicking of cameras, and walking around with my backpack containing DSLR, cookies and a water bottle. Not that I did not like these places, but I could not travel without getting tired or being in a hurry!
I also thought that how do I spot cultural differences between different European countries? How do I feel Irish if I am in Ireland? How do I feel Scottish if I am in Scotland? What makes Ireland different from Scotland? Why there isn’t any difference between the food people are eating or the outfits they are wearing? All these major cities are just exposing me to the Subway, McDonald’s, and Starbucks. Why are all cities giving me the ‘same’ feel?
It took me a few days to figure out that my soul was craving for cultural experiences to understand the places better. At the end of the day, mere sightseeing doesn’t help us in getting the essence of the place, right? It was tough to get authentic cultural experiences in the metro cities. Was it because for the first time I was traveling outside India for so long that everything looked same? Or was it the effect of my tourism classes on the ship where our professor taught us a lot about cultural tourism?
One day, I seized a day trip from Dublin to visit the Cliffs of Moher. Our bus drove through picturesque Irish countryside where I came across many different things which I could never see in Dublin. The architecture of houses and dressing style of people were different than what I experienced in Dublin. There were cute little cottages that made the place look like a fairy tale town instead of tall buildings. I was so thankful to the local eatery where I had an authentic lunch – homemade bread and a bowl of soup instead of burger and fries. The aroma and taste of that food are indescribable in words. The local music was being played in pubs and restaurants instead of famous American songs. These places were timeless where people were not in a hurry. They had time to sit down with each other for a drink and laugh endlessly. We didn’t have to wait for the crowd to clear up the scenic places for the photos. The villages were far more peaceful than Dublin city. They looked like perfect destinations for me where I could understand the soul of a country, and experience the culture while being at my ease.
I figured out that villages are quite lesser exposed to globalization, as compared to the big cities and hence, they can preserve their culture to some extent. They are more peaceful as the footfall of outsiders is not so much. I guess I would not have comprehended this if I wasn’t continuously traveling to the major cities of so many countries, right?
Realizing the beauty of my own country
During the voyage, I remember talking endlessly to people about India. Every day I would tell them stories about Henna, Holi and Diwali festivals, grand weddings, spicy food, delicacies, and our countless traditional dresses. People used to ask me about the Indian way of life on my earlier trips to foreign lands too, but this left an impact on my mind because it was the longest trip outside India and conversing about our culture had become a never-ending story. I was humbled and surprised to see the excitement of people to know more and more about India.
What fascinated them so much about my country? Every country has its culture but why I was catching everyone’s attention?
I recognized that this is because we are a very diverse nation. There are 29 states, and every state is like a new country. Language, history, geography, cuisines, dresses, and festivals change after every 200 km. It’s a complicated country for Western people, yet they are captivated because India is not one culture, but a bundle of vibrant cultures! Even a lifetime is not sufficient to explore this country in depth. I have always loved and respected my country, but these are the people who made me understand the potential of my country. A big world out there is dying to visit my country!
Birth of Transforming Travels
You know now that how SAS completely transformed me and my thoughts as a traveler. It transformed the way I look at my country now. The experiences I had on voyage planted the seed of a travel company in my mind that would offer ‘authentic cultural experiences’ by taking guests beyond sightseeing. Staying with local families, eating homemade food, celebrating their festivals, volunteering in the farms, and learn their cooking methods are some of the heartfelt and beautiful best travel practices. These are the intangible souvenirs which we take home from our travels.
The villages are the heart and soul of a country, be it India or Ireland. They truly offer an opportunity to experience the local way of living. Moreover, this also becomes a source of the additional livelihood for the host families in the villages. I want people to see the world’s most famous landmarks too as I am not against any other form of travel as long as it supports the local economy, respects local culture and the environment. With all the thoughts and the ideologies mentioned above, with a passion to offer some of the greatest travel experiences, I founded Transforming Travels in Oct 2017.
I often tell people that SAS gave me the idea, but my network of entrepreneurs from Jagriti Yatra gave me the much-needed courage and support to get started.