Time flies. 2018 just went past.
I traveled much less this year, but I traveled to all those places that I always wanted to go but somehow missed every time like Dwarka, Maheshwar, Naimisharanya and Kanchipuram. Every year I like to see my year from a different lens. Last year I shared the Hilarious Goa Stories, that many of us living in Goa face.
This year the highlight of my travels has been incredible people I met while traveling. They added the magic to my travels. Some of them assured me that Indian tourism has a lot of hope with them around. So, come with me and meet these people.
Incredible People, I met in 2018
I have put them in the order that I met them during 2018. There is no other way I could have ordered them.
Jayesh Rabari – Dwarka
Jayesh Rabari was driving me around Dwarka. When he saw me asking too many questions and not getting enough answers, and he meekly asked me if I would come to his home at Beyt Dwarka. He said his 90+-year-old grandfather was a former librarian and would be able to help me. Sure, I visited his home and his grandfather told me about Dwarka for 2 hours. I got to meet his mother and see the typical Rabari costumes and jewelry.
Thank you, Jayesh for inviting me home.
Jayesh keeps me connected to Dwarka as he discovers more places that can be visited by pilgrims and tourists. I get to see the day to day Shringar of Dwarkadhish Temple in Dwarka.
Saroj Kukreti – Uttarakhand
Saroj Ji managed the properties of Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam or GMVN, a part of Uttarakhand Tourism. I stayed at her Chilla property during my visit to Uttarakhand. Saroj Ji was me for 4-5 days when I explored Rajaji National Park and the city of Haridwar. She is one of the most dedicated, sincere and passionate people I have ever met in any tourism board across India.
She looks at each of her properties as her children. I remember at Kanvashram, she passionately shared her vision to make it a top tourist destination. She wants the world-class Kalidasa plays to be played here, ashram to be re-created with jungle walks conducted by the local Van Gujar youth. As we walked through villages, she spoke to families to enroll their children for ‘Hunar Se Rozgaar’ program of Government of India.
I hope Uttarakhand Tourism uses her strengths and recognizes her contribution. May every tourism board in this country nurture people like her.
Santosh Prajapati aka Amitabh Bachchan – MP
Santosh Ji of Bhopal is a driver with MP Tourism. He was with me for the MP tourism campaign when I visited Omkareshwar, Mandu, Maheshwar, and Burhanpur. Besides being a wonderful person, he is a replica of Cine Star Amitabh Bachchan. He not only looks like him, but he makes all efforts to behave like him. Call him Bachchan sahib, and he responds and behaves as if it is his name. He regularly gets his photo shoots and video shoots done in popular poses and scenes of his idol.
On the road, people stopped to take pictures with him and he obliged. The ease with which he does all this tells me that he is used to living his alter ego of being Mr. Bachchan.
I know there are many people who make their living as duplicates of film stars. This was my first experience of being with one for a few days. His only wish in life is to meet Mr. Bachchan or hear from him at least once in life. May his wish be granted.
Kunta Bai – Maheshwar
Kunta Bai ji runs the Ahilya Fort property at Maheshwar. She is the soul of this property. In her cotton Maheshwari Sari, she could be a grandmother at home. In fact, she is a grandmother of grown-up children. She runs the Ahilya Fort with so much love and care that she brings Ahilya Bai Holkar alive with her hospitality. She welcomes you, takes care of your meals and other comforts, chats with you and all this with perfect professionalism.
She makes you wonder where did we trade this innate ability to care for plastic smiles in the hospitality business.
May you teach the world what caring is all about.
Kanchi Mutt Shankaracharya Ji – Kanchipuram
I was like a lost kid in Kanchipuram. There was so much to see and learn, language was posing a barrier. Visited the Kanchi Mutt looking for some help, and the Shankaracharya Ji became my anchor. He not only asked people to help me but gave me all possible literature on Kanchipuram to read. He asked Bhuvana Ji to accompany me during the rest of my trip. I can not thank her enough for being my companion, my translator and my guide in Kanchipuram.
He connected me to Prof Shankaranarayan, who explained me the sacred geography of Kanchipuram. I was blessed to meet Shankaracharya Ji 4-5 times during these days that I would later learn is not that easy. His parting words ‘Keep coming to Kanchi’ will sure have me going back to Kanchipuram – a city that I instantly fell in love with.
The way this one meeting made this absolute stranger in the city anchored was nothing less than magic.
Amma or Ma Amritanandamayi – Kollam
I was at Amritapuri University Campus to attend a seminar on Shakti worship In India and present a paper in Devi Footprint in India. I saw the beautiful rituals of Bhagwati temples of Kerala like Kalamezhuthum and Padayani. As a part of the seminar delegation, we went to have the Darshan of Amma. She is the chancellor of the university, the presiding deity of the campus and the hugging mother to everyone who comes to her. I knew about her, I have friends who follow her, but I had never met her in person.
One evening, we sat in the queue to meet her, moving one chair at a time. On the live telecast, I saw a person standing next to her would ask you the language you speak and tell her. She would hug and say something in each person before moving on. I wondered what she says. At my end, I knew what I wanted to tell her.
When I reached her, the person next to her whispered Hindi. She looked at me, took me in her embrace and whispered exactly the words I had yearned to listen to all my life. This was magic. I told her that she was born on World Tourism Day and she must do something for the tourism sector of India. She pulled my cheek, the way we do with toddlers and gave me a broad smile. I know the message went across. I am waiting to see the results now.
Overall, 2018 has been a year of less travel and more rest, at times forced to rest.
Public Speaking in 2018
I also saw myself speaking at a few places in 2018:
1. Spoke on Travel Safety for Solo Women Travelers at Nation Women’s Summit, Hyderabad.
2. Spoke on Tourism as Soft Power of India at the Soft Power Conference by India Foundation, New Delhi.
3. Spoke on Being a Digital Entrepreneur at Breaking Barrier Event of Women’s Web.
4. Spoke on Tourism Infrastructure requirements for better Tourist Experience at IRTE Conference, New Delhi.
5. Spoke in ‘Ask me Anything’ fashion at Google Developer event in Panjim.
6. Did an Instagram Live on my favorite state to travel – Madhya Pradesh.
7. Moderated a panel discussion on ‘Digital Innovations in India’ at Innovation Dialogue event for Embassy of Switzerland and Bhutan in New Delhi.
8. Participated in the Brainstorming session for ‘Ideas for India’ by IGNCA, New Delhi
9. Presented a paper on ‘Devi Footprint in India’ at the Sakti Worship Seminar at Amrita University, Kerala.
10. Spoke on ‘Blogging as a platform for citizen journalists’ at the Department of Journalism and Mass communication, Awadh University, Ayodhya.
11. Spoke on ‘Convergence of History and Tourism’ at the Department of History and Department of Tourism, Awadh University, Ayodhya.
12. Spoke to Twitter on ‘Positive Use of Social Media’ and ‘Digital Media in Hindi‘ for their Tweesurfing Campaign.
13. Conducted a workshop on Blogging 101 at Panjim along with Helene Dsouza of MasalaHerb.
Moments of Social Media & Blogging in 2018
When PM Narendra Modi followed me on Twitter.
We also started an IndiTales Internship Program. This being the first year, we had a lot to learn. We had two interns traveling on behalf of IndiTales. Hope to make a lot more Indians travel with us, soon.
We wish you a very happy 2019!
May you get to travel to some of your dream destinations!