Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Eclipsed yet Wondrous Jungles of Chitwan National Park, Nepal


The ubiquitous whistle of Indian Cuckoo was echoing in the far distance and soon it would become the only sound I’d associate with Nepal for years to come. The golden of a dawn sky reflected in the glimmer of River Rapti flowing in front of me as a thin veil mist lifted from the lush hills where the river disappeared from my sight. The grasslands on the opposite bank swayed in the gentle morning breeze and a Riverine forest extended well beyond. It was just my first morning in Chitwan National Park but I was already in love with the magical serenity of Terai.

Deer at Chitwan National Park, Nepal
A misty morning in Chitwan National Park where curious Cheetal stopped to observe the intruders
When I think of Nepal, lofty Himalayan peaks were the only things that sprang to my mind for years! Home to seven 8000+ meter high peaks and many more impressive mountains, it’s hard for anything else to fight for attention living under the shadow of such a formidable presence.

So the first thing that sprang to my mind when I was planning to a trip to Nepal earlier this year was that I need to overlook the mountains and find something else to write about. And that’s how I ended up in the jungles of Chitwan National Park. Recognized as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and declared a World Heritage Site in 1984, the ecosystem of Chitwan is the last surviving pristine example of Terai region.

One of the only 3000 remaining wild One-Horned Rhinos in the world, seen in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
A one-horned Rhino basks in the late evening sun in Rapti River
I have had only glimpses of Terai before while passing through West Bengal; and I have always wanted to spend considerable time reveling in the beauty of Sal forests, Riverine forests and Savanna grasslands that form the ecosystem. Naturally, I was thrilled to have spent a whole week in the jungles of Chitwan that were bound by the Rapti and Narayani rivers where I was staying and Indian border on the other side. I had no clue what to expect from Chitwan in terms of animal sightings and activities that would keep my occupied during my time there. Now, I can safely vouch that you can in fact spend a whole week in Chitwan and not get bored.

Sauraha is the more famous and densely packed village where plenty of resorts and hotels have popped up, thereby creating a very touristy atmosphere. I, on the other hand, stayed at a faraway village called Meghauli where only two resorts existed including the one I was at. My days in Chitwan went by like a dream, calm and serene. I almost saw no other tourist apart from the ones staying at my resort and that’s a big deal considering how inundated Nepal is, with travellers from all over the world.

I spent my days hiking in the forest, going on wildlife safaris, bird watching and rowing up and down Rapti River. Given that Meghauli hardly sees much action in terms of visiting tourists, the animals in this part of the National Park were immensely shy and would run for the cover the minute they would hear the sound of an approaching vehicle. This made observing wildlife even more interesting.

Tracking animals on foot in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
Prem Gurung, one of my guides, looks for wildlife during a long hike in the forest
However, one of the most fascinating things that I had experienced in Chitwan was tracking animals on foot. Unlike National Parks in India, hiking in the forests of Nepal is allowed. I found it insanely exhilarating yet equally distressing to be walking in the same forest amongst the company of wild animals. We encountered massive 2000-kilo One-Horned Rhinos several times during our walks that got my heart racing like it was about to burst out of my ribcage!

Jackal in the grasslands of Chitwan National Park, Nepal
A Jackal in the grasslands next to Rapti River
The One-Horned Rhinos, Tigers, Leopards and other animals of Chitwan National Park suffered severe poaching during the 10 year Maoist Insurgency period in Nepal that lasted till 2006. However, soon after, Nepal’s government took extensive measures to protect the wildlife and doubled the numbers of Rhinos that had plummeted to 375 making it a rare conservation success story in a world where wildlife conservation is increasingly becoming a lost cause. The park is extensively patrolled by a battalion of army who are stationed at several spots in the area. I encountered many of these foot soldiers during my jaunts into the park and I was suitably impressed by Nepal Govt’s commitment to protecting their wilderness.

An 18-foot Rock Python in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
We stumbled upon a huge Rock Python basking in the sun during our forest hike
The jungles were indeed lovely and teeming with all sorts of wildlife creating strange dramas. I remember giggling at the sight of a tiny black Drongo chase a giant Great Indian Hornbill and marveling at the pulsating sound of Oriental Pied Hornbills flying over my head. I also remember feeling spellbound after my first sighting of the marvelous plumage of the exotic and long tailed Asian Paradise Flycatcher. I always thought of myself as a non-birder but somewhere over the course of several jungle explorations, I seemed to have turned into one.

Chilling out at the confluence of Rapti and Narayani Rivers in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
At the confluence of Rapti and Narayani, the two rivers that mark the north-eastern boundary of Chitwan National Park
Probably that’s the charm of Chitwan, it will turn you into an ardent admirer of all things wild. Now, I even fondly look back upon my heart-stopping encounter with a humongous 18-foot Rock Python while I was on foot in Chitwan! And to think that the mammoth mountains grossly overshadow all this glory. Next time you plan a trip to Nepal, do consider starting from the plains before you head up to the hills! You can thank me later.

Where to stay:

I was hosted by Pugdundee Safaris at their recently acquired Barahi Jungle Lodge in Meghauli village. Keeping in line with the Pugdundee ideology, the property is eco friendly, environment-conscious, uses locally sourced material and emulates the indigenous Tharu architectural design. During my fortunate stint as a travel blogger/writer, I’ve stayed in plenty of rather luxurious properties but without a doubt the rustic cottage at Barahi happens to be my most favorite one so far!

Barahi Jungle Lodge, Overlooking Chitwan National Park, Nepal
I'm usually not that in self portraits but had to take out the tripod to capture the blissful memory of watching over the grasslands from my room balcony 
Located on the banks of Rapti River, right opposite the grasslands of Chitwan National Park, location is golden in case of this property. My room had huge glass windows through which I could see the grasslands, night sky and the colors of sunrise sneak up at dawn every day. Every single minute of the day that I didn’t spend in the jungle was spent sitting in the lovely balcony overlooking River Rapti and the National Park. Without getting into lengthy descriptions of the property, I would just highly recommend spending a night or two here to experience the beauty of the Chitwan yourself!

As the tourism season for Nepal draws near after the devastating earthquake, I can't help but think of the immense beauty of the country and how it needs tourism to return now more than ever. Go now!

Disclaimer: My stay at Barahi was sponsored by Pugdundee Safaris, opinions as always are mine!

More Stories from the Jungles:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2015 - Review and Takeaways

3 weeks ago, I, along with almost hundred other photographers from all over the world were packed in a room somewhere in Ubud, spellbound by immensely powerful and beautiful visual stories by some of the world’s top photojournalists. I was at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2015 happening in Bali, Indonesia.



So what is this Foundry Photojournalism Workshop?

Few months ago, randomly scrolling through my twitter feed I stumbled upon a link to the Foundry Workshops. At the outset, the workshop is all about mentoring emerging photographers from developing nations so we can tell our own stories better. And the best part is that they get world’s top photographers, actually working in the field to mentor you as instructors for a whole week at insanely affordable cost($450). The instructors and the whole Foundry team volunteers their time to make this happen and the fees collected from attending students are just to cover the ground expenses of conducting the workshop. I took one look at the list of instructors for 2015 and I knew I had to sign up for this.

Represented by world’s top agencies such as Getty, Panos, VII and covering stories for reputed publications such as National Geographic, New York Times, TIME, etc, the list of photographers teaching at the workshop seemed too good to be true.(Anyone from developing nations who has considered or attended workshops with top international photographers knows how steep the workshop prices can be!) At that time, I had no idea how intense or inspiring that week would be.

This is how it works.

After registering at their site, few weeks before the workshop commences you get to choose your instructor(s) whose class you want to attend. You arrive at the location (changes every year) hopefully with a story idea already chalked out. Then you work on it during the whole week under the guidance of your instructor. There will be daily sessions where your work is edited, discussed, story is fine-tuned and you take the feedback and work on it the next day. At the end of the 5-day workshop, your work is edited down to a 10-image story and shown on the final night along with all other students’ work.

Along with all the shooting that you’ll do, the week is also packed with sessions - daily classes with instructors, additional classes on marketing, copyright laws, privacy, image processing etc and evening sessions where the instructors themselves showcase and talk about their work.

Despite being a travel photographer, why did I choose to attend a photojournalism workshop?

Months after registering, I was flying into Bali with much anticipation and equally anxious about learning the craft of visual storytelling from the best. I had chosen to attend Adriana Zehbrauskas and Paula Bronstein’s class. I was somehow very curious to know how women photojournalists worked in tough conditions. And my main motive of attending the workshop was to infuse some much needed story telling and if possible, few documentary style elements into my otherwise “just pretty” photography.

I knew I was sitting on a gold mine of important stories and had access to some insanely wonderful places and communities (a fact reinforced by discussions with few of the instructors). Going forward I wanted to be able to tell the stories of these wonderful places and communities in an insightful way and not just document them for the sake of posterity. For instance, imagine how awesome it would be if I could sensibly portray the tough life of Bakarwals, the nomadic shepherd community of Kashmir or document the mind-boggling water shortage faced in the world’s wettest place!

So what did I learn?

That photography is just like writing, actually it’s very stupid of me to not realize storytelling is the same no matter what the medium is. But this exact point was driven home like crazy during the one week, how to infuse your story into a compact set of images.

Beyond that, it was the complete approach that happened to be a great learning experience. Thinking of a story, finding your subjects then trying to form a narrative. And it felt so rewarding to go back to a place and shoot everyday on the same subject - trying to get more familiar with the story, predict what would happen and shoot images representing a specific idea.

Discussing daily with the instructors, I also learned how to interpret a story and individual images when I see one. Editing was an important part of the process; we had two instructors and two assistants. And everyone had their own way of seeing and editing a given set of images. I realized maintaining that individuality was pertinent to arrive at your own style.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible to have such a positive experience without the very patient and helpful instructors and the incredibly warm people of Bali who made me feel very welcome. I spent many hours every day in someone’s home watching and photographing them go about their work. We couldn’t communicate much because often I would be alone without my guide and my hosts would speak little or no english. But the lack of much talk notwithstanding, they always took great care of me and it felt amazing to be a part of their lives for that one week.

When I travel, this is what I look for and in many ways, I realized, working on a story leads to that exact outcome I’m after - immersive experiences that show me a glimpse of the local life and their culture. I specifically chose to document a Balian(traditional healers) who specializes in black magic. He commands unwavering faith and people take everything from him - beating, hair pulling and even spitting. It turned out to be a big challenge to first, find an authentic Balian and second, photographing the entire ritual stuck in a small box shaped room.

In the end, I'm quite happy with the story (not the result) I chose to work upon. Because any person you would speak to in Bali will have a story about visiting a Balian and this is a very integral part of Balinese culture. I will share the images from this project very soon. I found a direction and focus that I felt I was missing earlier. Hopefully, my stories henceforth will be more insightful and well thought out. *Fingers crossed*

Here are my tips to get the most out of this workshop!

  • Have a story idea ready by the time you arrive at the first class and if possible do the recce too. You will get the most out of the workshop if you get daily feedback on your shoots and image edits. Unfortunately for me, I had just one round of edit and feedback as I took long time to find my subject. Taking the feedback and heading back to shoot the next day is immensely helpful and so is the daily edit process. On an average, you’ll have classes on four out of the five workshop days before the final edit and presentation happens on the last day.
  • If there’s a particular idea or vision that you want to work on, fight for it and get guidance on how to make it work. Just doing something for the sake of doing something drastically different from your usual work won’t be helpful. Work on something that challenges you yet aligns with your end goal.
  • Do attend all the evening sessions to get massively inspired as the instructors and the assistants present and talk about their work. It’s also a great opportunity to strike a conversation with the instructors and network with fellow students who have come from all over the world. The community and the connections you make, I realized, become a very important and rewarding outcome of the whole workshop experience.
  • With a changing location every year, there are bound to be some challenges and unexpected issues. Be prepared for some minor setbacks and talk it out with your class assistants and instructors when you face any issue or feel like you are not getting enough time with the instructors.

Finally, here’s why I think Foundry is absolutely bang for buck, especially for Indian Photographers!

Storytelling and especially visual storytelling is a difficult craft that needs a lot of honing and mentoring. Above all, it needs a lot inspiration. During the 5 years that I have taken up photography, never have I been inspired so much to tell a story, any story. It was always about getting one good shot, just an independent shot that fit nowhere in the arc of storytelling. Without a purpose, I was as lost as a fish out of water. I always just thought of making pretty pictures, now I see that even a landscape can have a story to tell.

In the beginning when I had just bought my camera, I was eager to meet the photography community and go on one of those several photowalks where several DSLR-wielding people flocked a market or a slum or a busy street over the weekends. Try as I may, I could never get excited enough about the prospect of shooting in a market. They all came back with beautiful pictures but none of those images stuck with me. I forgot them as I saw. They made no sense. And when I saw a photostory, it all went above my head. Learning to see is just as difficult as telling I suppose. I related more to the traveller tribe(who always had the most outrageous stories to share) and never integrated into the photography community.

Now, it surprises me that there are so many wonderful amateur Indian photographers out there creating beautiful and strong individual imagery but so few of them actually work on a full story. I cannot even imagine the amazing work that will be produced with some guidance. I’ve noticed that many of the top visual storytellers of our country at the moment have studied in international photography schools where they possibly learnt how to tell and decode a story. Here in India, there seems to be no easy access to learn the craft and the difficult onus is completely on us if we want to find guidance, learn and understand the complex art of visual storytelling. We hardly have prominent photo festivals or a way to interact with the professional photographer community working on real stories across the country. Wish this would change in the coming years but until then, we at least have Foundry for that much-needed inspiration and learning!

P.S - Just in case you’re wondering, the entire trip and workshop was self-funded :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Monsoon Reverie in Goan Hinterlands - Rafting, Rains and Lush Greenery

Soaking wet in pouring rain, I stood on the banks of a wild Mhadei River trying to soothe my frayed nerves. But, with every word John uttered, my knees shook more violently than before. John was giving instructions on what to do should we fall into the water or get swept away by the strong currents. Looking at the raging brown waters of the river though, I felt falling into the water is not going to end well no matter how “well-instructed” we were. John was our instructor and we were about to go rafting on a swollen muddy river surrounded by the mist-covered peaks of Western Ghats.

Monsoon Rafting in Goa, on Mhadei River
Monsoon Exclusive - Rafting on a swollen Mhadei River
Here’s the kicker, I’ve never rafted before!

I’ve spent weeks around beaches, lakes, rivers and waterfalls but have rarely gotten into water. I’m a mountain person and I tend to get extremely nervous around water. Yet, the lure of an exclusive monsoon rafting adventure in my favorite Western Ghats wasn’t beyond me. With my knees shaking still and heart in my mouth, I sat on the edge of the raft and off we went into the brown waters.

When we hit the first of rapids, I braced myself for a violent jerk. Surprisingly and thankfully, it didn’t feel as rough as it looked. But my feet were still very firmly stuck under the straps inside the raft, so much that the rough edges were piercing into my skin. But I couldn’t care less as I was trying very hard not to fall into the water. After getting over the initial fear and anxiety, I began to relax and enjoy the pristine surroundings of Chorla Ghats. It helped that our guide was John Pollard, the person who pioneered the first commercial rafting operations in south India, by charting routes down the Kali, Kundalika and three other rivers down south.

Having trekked, camped, cycled and road tripped my way through the Ghats before, rafting through the heart of the forest brought forth a brand new perspective. Hiding behind a veil of mist, the lush forests of Mhadei National Park surrounded us in every direction, drenched in the spell of a monsoon-induced greenery. Where the river widened, it calmed down and so did I. Gentle drizzle and a warm breeze kept us company as we floated over the muddy Mhadei River, the milder waves lapping gently against the raft. Despite the sights that enthralled me, I would be lying if I said the fear of falling into the water disappeared entirely from my consciousness. It’s hard to let go of our fears, no matter how irrational they might be. But the thrill of overcoming such irrational fear is no less fun either. I waited with bated breath to celebrate my first rafting session until I reached the shore almost 90 minutes later. There’s nothing more awkward than celebrating victory before winning, now is it?

Driving back to Miramar from Valpoi where we had met John earlier that afternoon, I realized it was not the thrill of rafting that stayed with me but rather it was the uniqueness of the circumstances that entranced me more. The visible currents, the insanely fast flowing river, the muddy water and the lovely Ghats on a rainy day in a place as stereotyped as Goa, made my first rafting experience an unforgettable adventure. After all, we only came across three class 3 rapids, which is pretty mild come to think of it. However, to put this uniqueness into better perspective, do a quick Google search on rafting and tell me if you’ve seen any picture where the scenery is like this. Monsoon rafting on flooded rivers doesn’t sound very inviting to begin with but it’s half as scary and twice as exciting! I, for one, couldn’t have asked for a better way to start with rafting than with Goa Tourism on the flooded Mhadei river; it included three of my favorite things - Monsoons, Western Ghats and exquisite Outdoors!

Make it happen!
Monsoon rafting over Mhadei River is a monsoon exclusive and the rafting sessions operate only during a short window of 10-12 weeks between June to September depending on the flow of water. It costs Rs.1800 per person and takes about 3 and 1/2 hours starting from Valpoi in north Goa. Call up ahead and confirm if the rafting is in session for the day. For bookings, visit www.goarafting.com or email at info@goarafting.com or you can call at +91 7387238866 or +91 8805727230. More information here.
(And for more monsoon ideas, follow Goa Tourism's facebook page.)

Other essential “Monsoon in Goa” reading

And if rafting doesn’t lure you to experience Goa in Monsoons, perhaps these pictures might?
A quaint Church in the hinterlands of Goa

“ALT”
ALT
Lush greenery brought forth by the monsoon season lasting between June to September

On the banks of Mondovi, a flooded river and a forest draped in a carpet of greenery

The stunning countryside of Goa during monsoons
Have you ever been to Goa during the so called "off-season", the monsoons?

P.S – This trip was sponsored by Goa Tourism Department.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wander Tales #3 - The Anatomy of an Adventure

About Wander Tales
In this initiative, Ramya and I, bring to you little visual stories about travel experiences, insights, incidents and learnings. Check out the first comic in the link below and let me know your thoughts about the travel comic strip in the comments section! :)

(Read Introducing "Wander Tales" Comics)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

20 Images from all my Travels this Year - From Ladakh to Nepal & Kumaon to Arunachal!

It's been almost half a year already since I have packed my bags and left Bangalore for good to travel indefinitely. Since then I've been to fortunate enough to have seen some pretty amazing things and have experienced some unique cultures. I was planning to work on the go but with so many interesting things happening around me, it was really difficult to focus and write down stories as I had intended to. So I took a month's break at home after Nepal and finished up a lot of work that should allow me to travel for the next few months again.

Although, just before leaving home, Microsoft sent me a Lumia 830 to capture my travels and knowing how good the Lumia Cameras are, I jumped at the opportunity. I have only used a Samsung Galaxy mobile camera before and at best, it was just adequate. All these images are shot on Lumia and I'm in love with the 10MP camera. 

I will be hitting the road next week and will keep wandering for the next few months. There are some interesting things in store and I will announce as the plans gets confirmed. It's only fitting that before I begin traveling again, I look back on where I've been so far. Here are few glimpses of the amazing journey so far - from Ladakh to Kumaon and Arunachal to Nepal.

(All images shot on Lumia 830)

One Winter in Ladakh, tracking Snow Leopards and witnessing exotic festivals
After the previous year's winter adventure of walking over frozen Zanskar, I never really thought I'd go back to that freezing land again. But an opportunity to track the ghost of the mountains was just too good pass upon. So, one freezing February morning I landed back in Leh. As it happens, Ladakh was the first place I went to after embracing a nomadic life. Ladakh is the only place I've come closest to calling home, I've been there 5 times already and without a doubt I'll be returning again. That's my happy place, apparently. 

I spent almost 2 weeks taking shelter under the roof of the world, witnessed my first ever proper snowfall which turned Leh into a magical dreamland in white overnight. I saw a glimpse of the ghost and ran into the amazing Dosmoche festival, a festival that marks the end of winter and welcomes spring. Ladakh, as it turns out, was the perfect way to begin a new chapter in my life as a nomad. 

Dosmoche Festival, Ladakh
Dosmoche Festival at Likir Monastery

Dosmoche Festival, Ladakh
The surreal dance of the monks in the vast open spaces of Ladakh

Ladakh in winter
The barren landscape covered in snow

Ladakh
Ice Hockey is a popular sport in Ladakh where all the ponds and lakes freeze in winters

Read:


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The awe-inspiring beauty of Nepal
Having trekked a lot in the Indian Himalayas, I thought I had seen the best of it and that no other place could be as amazing as this. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Nepal blew my mind and I didn't even trek! I should've expected nothing less from a country that has a lion's share of all the biggest mountains in the world. And the diversity was no less either. From the jungles of Chitwan to the higher reaches of Himalayas, one could easily spend years lost in the country. This time, I could only spend few weeks in Chitwan and around Pokhara but I am surely going to return to Nepal, to spend a lot more time and to trek a lot despite the high costs(which are totally justified btw). 

Sun peeking out of the clouds after a storm that had just passed at Sarangkot in Nepal

The lush beauty of Chitwan National Park in Nepal

Dramatic stormy skies that brought a flurry of hailstorms, then a rainbow and magical light. Sarangkot, Nepal

The ease of access to Himalayan views is the biggest draw of Nepal. Sunrise at Sarangkot. 

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In the surprising marshlands of Assam
Assam always held a special fascination for me, but that was mostly because of the monster river Brahmaputra that ram amok in the monsoons yet inspired awe among others. But I had little idea on how rich the state was, biodiversity wise. I saw marshlands full of birds, forests full of amazing wildlife, tea gardens full of fireflies and on the whole, left the place more amazed that I thought possible. And yes, it was a whirlwind trip so I will be returning here as well. ;)

The marshlands next to Branhmaputra where I saw tens of Lesser Adjutant Storks

A brilliant find, Maguri Beel close to Dibru Saikhowa National Park where hundreds of birds can be seen, migratory and residential

A pleasant morning along the tea gardens in Hoolock Gibbon Sanctuary

***


An unexpected escape to Bhatkal
This was my first assignment as a photographer, I travelled along with a writer for one of India's leading travel magazines to cover Bhatkal as a destination. I was more excited about going on assignment as a photographer than the place, because this being in Karnataka, I thought I wouldn't really be surprised much. But what a surprise this place turned out to be, we hiked to a giant waterfall, explored some ancient yet little known ruins, got drenched in heavy downpour and had a great time in general. With travel, there's really no knowing what awaits you!

A small fishing village on the banks of Sharavathi River, Karnataka

Islands of mangroves in Sharavathi River, Karnataka.

Crossing over a rickety bridge over Sharavathi River.

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In the foothill of Himalayas, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
I am not much into property reviews as a blogger, but when Kosi Valley Retreat invited me, couldn't really pass on the opportunity because of they said the property is situated in an obscure valley with amazing views, hikes and rides around. That one week happened to be one of my best times in foothills of Himalayas. I never really thought much of the valleys hidden below the mighty snow capped peaks but this trip taught me a good lesson that the valleys are just as fascinating as the mountains.

Stunning views of the Kumaon Himalayan range and the valleys below from an old temple

First glimpse of Almora on a pleasant winter morning

The lovely terraced fields that dot the landscape in the valleys of Almora, Uttarakhand.

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A week with the fascinating Apatani Tribes in Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh
This week in remote Arunachal was one of the challenges I was so glad to have taken. Spending a week with the Apatanis photographing their unique Myoko festival pushed me a lot out of my comfort zone and I think I might have a good body of work finally. Like I've said many times before, this is the exactly the kind of work I want to be doing much more in the coming months and this happened to be a very good step in the right direction.

A rainy day morning in the splendid Ziro Valley, Arunachal

Local cuisine, including some ferns and preserved pork.

The tin roofed houses of Ziro Valley surrounded by the lush forest covered mountains

So that was my very satisfying first half of the year in travels. 

How has your year been so far? Where all did you travel? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

State of Things: A Year since I Quit my Job and Quarter since I became a Nomad

Last year this week, I had just quit my job of 7 years and was out gallivanting in the happy Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. I had a vague plan on what to do and didn’t have a lot in my savings account. All I had was a strange defiance of the life that was laid out for me - a life bound within the confines of familiarity and ennui. I took the decision to quit as soon as I learnt how to make money in other ways.



The plan
The only plan I had before quitting was that I should work diligently, 4-5 hours at desk every day. Frankly, that’s all it takes at this point for me to earn a decent living. Now when I’m traveling, taking notes and photographing, that’s work too but it being something I enjoy immensely, doesn’t really count as work. When I quit, I didn’t exit the structured corporate life with a hefty bank balance. I had already spent all my money on travels. What I did accumulate was plenty of words and images from my travels. I invested in my travels and stories were the product that I intended to sell. I didn’t have a financial plan. I planned to sell stories.

The Direction
One thing that I was looking for in the months after I quit was a clear direction. On some level I already knew the kind of work I’d like to do, telling deep stories from remote cultures and landscapes. But what I didn’t know was if I had it in me to take it up professionally. In the last few months, I found that direction. Earlier this year, I spent a week in Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh to document the fabulously interesting Myoko Festival. I attended all their rituals, learnt the local names by heart. Shot many many portraits, which is one thing I’m terrified of and ate plenty of weird food. That one week pushed me so much out of my comfort zone that I’d like to think I have inched towards becoming a better professional. In future, this is the kind of work I want to do - document faraway, bizarre cultures and landscapes. This, I believe, was a step in the right direction.

The Highs
The biggest high has been the opportunity to try something new. Earlier this year, I sold calendars which few of you bought (Thank you!). I priced them quite high at 950 and 1250 as the production cost itself was very high for small orders. I had outsourced the entire job of printing, assembling and delivery to another agency, all I did was choose the images and select a design. When the orders started pouring in, I began to wonder if it was going to be that easy to make money - sell an idea, delegate and earn profits!

But then came all the complications of managing the production logistics and delivering on time. That one week was one of the most harrowing times with insane sleepless nights and persistent headache. In the end, of course, I loved the fact that I sold a product, people actually bought it and I made some money out of it. I will be selling calendars and other products later this year again, armed with the learning from past mistakes and it’s going to be epic!

But there have been no lows. Nah, I’m kidding! No I am not.
You’d think I’m vain but let me go ahead and say it - there haven’t been any major lows in this journey. Sure, they were challenges, quite a lot of them. But that’s what they were, every potential low was a problem to be solved, a challenge to be tackled. Coming from where I did, anything felt better that doing the meaningless and miserable soul-crushing work I did earlier. When things went downhill, I was quick in counting my blessings. On some days, I just couldn’t believe this is my life - wandering about, taking pictures and writing stories.

I was full of bitterness in my earlier job - I remembered the bad days, the shitty meetings and the indignation. Surprisingly, now when I look back, I only remember the highs. That’s not to say there were no bad days, there were plenty. But it’s funny how genuine contentment can spill over into all parts of your life neutralizing whatever resentment you held.

Travel Writing, Money and the works
It’s been a bit challenging because I just wouldn’t get off my ass and pitch ideas. But on those rare days that I do manage to send my ideas out, I get good amount of work. I have written dozens of articles in the past one year and I’m secretly very proud that none of them were lists! (Okay, I’m lying. There was one.) When I thought of travel writing, this is what I had in mind. I am not going to tell where to go or how to do it. I am just going to talk about the reasons that compel us to travel.

So far, the only income I’ve earned is through travel writing & photography. There have been quite a few scary and penniless weeks, wondering how in the hell will I be paying those credit card bills because the cheques won’t ever arrive on time. But, I had decided a while ago that I’m not going to dilute my focus by dipping my feet into any other opportunities. I stuck to this decision and I couldn’t have been happier.

However, a lot of the stories I’m working on are from my previous travels. It essentially means I’m piggybacking on all the trips I paid for with my corporate salary. In about a year or more, I will run out of stories from my previous trips and the money I earn through writing will have to be put back into traveling again. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sustain myself for long depending only on income from travel writing but that’s something I’m not going to worry about right now. By that time in future, I should’ve also figured out how to get commissioned stories where all expenses are paid. At the moment, I travel on my own and then sell the stories. I do take assistance from tourism boards, hotel chains, travel companies and such but there’s a certain amount of money that goes from my pocket too.

There are some things I missed
Not having a steady base has been largely a liberating experience. On few days, I miss having a place to slow down and get work done but the fault largely lies with me in not being able to find a good guesthouse for long term stay. All world’s home now. Other than that, I really do not miss having a place that I call home.

What I do miss is writing good stories on my blog now. I am holding off the best stuff to write for other publications and I’m writing so much already elsewhere that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to write for the blog as well. Which is a pity because I love writing for you and reaching a direct audience. I do hope to post more anecdotes and unedited versions of published stories here soon. Meanwhile you can read my published stories here - www.neelima.contently.com.

***

It’s really crazy that I lasted a whole year. At some point, I imagined I’d panic, break down and go crawling back to a regular soul-crushing job. Strangely, a year after I quit, I don’t see myself heading towards a regular job anytime soon. I love the fact that I can experiment, think out of the box and keep myself open for opportunities. More importantly, all of this feels quite normal!

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