My tryst with "Ni hao"

When I started my journey, one of my biggest challenge was to overcome the difficulty to trust strangers. “Don’t talk to strangers” has it’s own local and regional flavours in our families and like most of us, I have grown conditioned on it. In new places, I have been warned of people who will put me in harms way and therefore to not drink water, to no eat anything a stranger would offer. The warnings are endless and the outcome is a castle of fear, which you spend more time trying to climb over.

The first destination on my solo travel was Aurangabad. As I climbed into the train and found my seat, I made acquaintance with a young researcher, Masters in law and currently working for the Justice Department. He was on an assignment to collect data on check bounce cases across India. We connected and talked and discussed quite a bit. Eventually deciding to accompany each other and explore Ajanta Caves together.

We took a ‘Shivshakti’ bus (government bus service) to Aurangabad. The ongoing infrastructure constructions made the journey very difficult, both as an experience and for the time taken to reach the destination. As we set out to explore the caves, we noticed that the bus staff was trying to communicate with an elderly East Asian man about the time of return. Both of them were trying their best to communicate and comprehend, but the attempts were futile. Obviously, your’s truly volunteered to help.

Having visited china for 10 days on work, many years ago, I had picked up a few words and greetings. ‘Ni Hao’ is the Chinese greeting for ‘hello’. I had taken a note of his passport before greeting him. “NiHao” I said and he looked at me surprised. His face lit up like a neon bulb. Very greedily, he tried responding to me, and obviously, I had to disappoint him. All my knowledge of Chinese language ended at ‘Ni Hao’. I could not converse with him beyond the greeting.

Thanks to the dumb charades that I and my wife were damn good at, with careful choice of animated actions, I was able to get the message across to him. He knew no word of English and we didn’t know any Chinese. Even then he decided to tag along with Hussain and me for the rest of the journey. Now, I would like to you to visualise the conversation between me and this man because it was all via actions!

With our guide at Aurangabad, Hussain and Cheng. Our Start.

After a lot of effort, I was able to pronounce my name to him and he gladly shared his name as Cheng. We shook hands on it.Now, he officially showed me his passport so that I get his name right. Continuing in actions, I showed him how old I was, which was 40years and he shared his as 55. He we went ahead and used the calendar on his phone to show me his date of entry into India and his date of departure. I was amazed, he had been around for a month already.

India-China Bhai Bhai- My man Cheng

We spent a lot of time in each other’s company, which was an experiment in itself. We explored Ajanta Caves, had dinner together and also shared all the expense. He also asked me what I was paying for my stay. I told him that I was paying Rs.350 and he very emphatically responded that he is coming with me.

I introduced him at the hostel. He stayed the night there and we continued explore Ellora, Daulatabad Fort on the following day. He was set to leave for Bombay (mumbai) that night. He showed us his wallet to tell us that his Indian currency is exhausted and he needed help. He reached in his pocket to draw out a 100 dollars and gives it to me to help him with the exchange. I was honoured at the trust he had placed in me. That feeling in itself was something I will cherish all through my life. I negotiated on his behalf and got him a good deal. He left for Bombay after saying a warm bye to us.

On Day 2 at Ellora with Deb.

The learnings were significant on this first solo destination after attending the course with traveler’s university on “Transforming from Tourist to a Traveler”.

Here is this alien man who knew no word of English, travelling in India with just a translator app, trying everything non-native to him and placing trust in someone non native. This was my moment of understanding that the Universe takes care of everyone and everything in it, we just have to trust the Universe and have faith that that it is all going to be okay. The roads might not be as smooth as we want, but eventually each curve, each stone, each ditch and each high will be an experience adding to this journey.

My take away from the interactions and experiences with Cheng, Hussain were many. I have put together a few points for anyone who intends to start traveling solo.

  1. Start with the belief that you can survive
  2. Acknowledge other travelers, they are in the same boat as you are, with same anxieties and excitement.
  3. Learn the art of small talk with any stranger- Name-Place-Eat-Weather-Clothing-Music-Age. Use your identity card, and google translator wherever necessary
  4. Learn greeting of the land. Google helps here too
  5. Smile more often
  6. Share and give more to your fellow travelers
  7. Be in the interest of the others

Go Solo!

Narmade Har!

I have been travelling for the last 6 months experiencing north and west of India (so far). To be honest, my first 100 days of travel was impulsive. There was greed to move quickly and cover the places I have never been to. I have lots of stories from that period, which I will continue to share.

I began my second round of travel with a leadership intervention called “The Passage of the Being Leader”. It was an 8 day walk over 120 kms on the Uttaravahini stretch where River Narmada flows North to South. 12 men were selected through a careful screening process and were invited for the walk.

All men reached Baroda in anticipation of what’s in store. We acquainted ourselves and to the beginning of building a relationship which would stand the test time. While I don’t want to delve into details of the content, I will try to share with you a synopsis covering the essence of ‘the walk’ which every man should do at least once.

We submitted all our electronic devices including mobile phones and wallets. We also had leave behind anything that seemed heavy. These items were under safe storage until our return.

After that, the group of 13 men huddled for a quick grace and set out on ‘the walk’ with one of us assigned to lead the walk on the banks of river Narmada.

Each day, we had targeted destinations to reach by night. Our nights were usually spent in dharam shala or homes of generous village people who were kind enough to host us, provide us dinner, a place to sleep and freshen up until we set out the following morning. Our daily schedule included several exercises, councils, rituals and gratitude circles. Our diet was vegetarian food, twice a day.

‘The walk’ was grueling. We pushed our limits, walking through a very tough terrain and additional fasting on food, walking without footwear and walking in noble silence. Our discussions in the circles were profound and thought provoking. Our undivided commitment “to leave no man behind” kept the brotherhood in empathy of any challenges we faced and we stayed course to ensure every man on the walk reached the destination.

Some of the themes on the days we walked were “letting go”, “allowing to accept”, “being uninhibited”. Our activities and discussions were around these themes, which guided our direction towards welcoming consciousness and competences of a being leader

The experiences on this walk are unparalleled with any other. One of the best things that happened was the realization that there exists a world within the world where we live, where humanity thrives on trust, compassion, and generosity.

To children, to old men and to women on the routes we walked, we were aliens. We lead very different lives from theirs. There was just one ‘key’ that helped the people from two different worlds to connect. And that key was “Narmade Har!”, the powerful greeting of this trail.

As we touched 8 destination villages and several others, Narmade Har! was used generously as a greeting to everyone who passed us. Seeing us huff, pant and exhausted, these people whose language we didn’t know, would offer us tea, lemon, resting place and anything else we needed to continue our walk.

As about me and from the perspective of my travel something significant happened. I learnt to slow down, significantly. I learnt how to become more aware of my surroundings. I am now able to enjoy and see everything more. I can now truly embrace the spirit of travel. I learnt that the journey is more important, than the destination. My senses are active and tuned in. Dopamine and serotonin levels are definitely higher. I am in gratitude to everything that has happened and is set to happen in future. My journey just got better than before by manifold.

This journey has even changed the way I look, which I am sure is for better and definitely not for worse. I love that I experience an inner state of ‘being inspired’, that I live in an abundance-less is more, that I am in service of others and significantly aware about myself and the elements around me.

I owe it all to “The walk, The river, People of Narmada, My band of brothers and My teacher.”

Narmade Har!

Hunt for the Blue in Sun City

Where is the Blue?

As I set foot out of the Jodhpur railway station on 2nd January 2020, all I wanted to find was the the much hyped ‘blue’ in the Marwar region of Rajasthan, Jodhpur, also known as the Sun City of India.

There is much branding out there in the virtual world about Jodhpur, it was a disappointment to not see the town painted blue in the Blue City. It appeared the Sun City had bowled over the blue of the Blue City.

After having seen some photographs of Umed Bhavan, I decided to not visit the palace, and turn my focus to visit the grand Mehrangadh Fort.

Like anyone else would do, I took an auto rikshaw to reach the palace. There was the usual drill of security check, long line for tickets, audio guide, and follow the ant line of tourists to see what’s defined under the 33 spots of historical importance at the fort.

The grandeur of structure on a sandstone mountain loomed over me like a beautiful Giant. I got me wondering what it would been like to travel back in time, when the Raus of Marawar ruled Jodhpur. What would it have been every time the kind marched on his horse or the elephant after triumphantly winning a battle? what would it have been like for Rapunzel to be an Indian Character trapped in of those high towers? The fort is an aesthetic marvel and gifted creation from the past.

Marwar Majesty-Mehrangarh Fort
Peace on gaurd! Mehrangarh Fort

After walking through the castle, clicking snaps, I manage to spend some time with the local musician Nainuram, understanding his life and music. The walk wasn’t complete with covering the Canon point, which gives you a good view of the Jodhpur city as well. As I walk towards the canon point I stop a young man to ask for directions and strike a conversation. My ears were pleasantly surprised to be in conversation with a Graduate in History, who was involved in the documentation of the history and its evidences at Jodhpur.

In my conversations with a local, I usually ask them what does the city have to offer that I must not miss. He said “If you want to see what is Blue about Blue City, then walk to the farthest point of the fort ahead of the canon point. You will reach a temple. Go behind the temple and there are some vantage points that will let you have a view of the Blue City”. And then he suggested that I also immerse in the Blue City walking through it and accessing the 2 water Bodies at the back entrance of the fort from “Nav Chokia”. I was glad that I have a start point to explore for another day at Jodhpur.

After wishing each other luck, I continued to walk towards the temple. Reached the backside of the temple to peep over the little window of the fort wall overlooking “The Blue City”.

The Hunt for the Blue City was over. I now knew where it was and what I am going to explore the following day.

The sun had set and it was time for me to find my way back into the city. As I began asking directions to get to my destination, a kind guard at the fort recommended I take the winding stone paved way just beside the fort’s entrance to find my way back to the Clock Tower or Ghantaghar, which is a market square at Jodhpur.

The walk back was a yet another pleasant surprise with a night lit views of the fort and enough visual of the local settings in the old part of Jodhpur City.

To know all about Jodhpur, read my post here

Unleashing Columbus In Me

If travel was free, you will never see me again


This quote has always inspired me in ways unexplained.

One of my greatest fantasies has been to travel the world. Countries close by, countries far away, big regions and small, nook and corners of the world holding treasures of stories and knowledge.

My Appa used to say, one of the things I was never scared about as a child was, sleeping in the open at night. Such was my comfort with ‘Darkness’. It helped me discover that, I had no concept of ‘the unknown’.

I had to fight a hard fight inside and outside my head before I could decide to push the reset button at 40.

Tougher than what I am able to put in words, letting go and allowing myself to accept whatever is coming my way, has been the key to ‘unplug my life’ from noises of entanglement.

After a series of unfortunate personal events, I decided to quit my job, to walk out of my business, to give up my dog to a friend, to let go of my possessions and to set out to on a journey to discover myself.. whatever that means!

‘Late Bloomer’ someone said in awe. So be it.

My journey till now has been to wade through my challenges, sometimes break down incessantly with pain and pick myself up with difficulty to breathe, look in the mirror hoping to heal my broken heart, push my limits in each and every way possible.

The ability to be in awe and amused about surroundings, uninhibited, vulnerable, exploring, experience, to fail and bounce back, to find new possibilities, to have unfiltered fun, to be in goodness, kindness and constant state of gratitude makes me who I am today.

Today, I am available for anything, anyone, anytime, anywhere, as long as there is acceptance for who I am, the way I am…as perfect as imperfect can be.

For the last six months, I set sail on a solo trip.

Here and now I start to share my stories from travel, not just as travel pointers, but hopefully to inspire you to explore life as a package.

Here’s to Unleashing ‘Columbus In Me’

Columbus In Me