Travelling is not just about the places you see, it's about the people you meet. Nine people. Nine stories.
Last year I spent nine months backpacking across India, mostly around the North, the North-east and parts of South India. During this time I met some incredible people, each with unique and inspiring stories that have stayed with me. Meeting these people I realised, it is not so much the journey, but the people you meet and the friends you make along the way that make travel memorable.
Here are some of those people:
Kamala, a tea shop owner at Dharamshala
I’ll always remember this lady, Kamala. She was the first encounter I had with the humility and pride embodied by many Indians I have met throughout my travels in the country.
I met her one afternoon in Himachal Pradesh, just outside Dharamshala. She owned a small tea hut on the side of the road, which also happened to be her home. I had been riding for miles, so I stopped for some chai. She invited me in and we sat quietly smiling at one another, unable to verbally communicate due to speaking different languages.
On my leave I paid her more than I owed for the chai. She came running after me with change. I had intended for her to keep it but she wouldn’t have it. When I refused again she went back into her modest home and brought a handful of snacks and thrust them into my folded arms.
I could literally have been her only visitor that day but still, she didn’t want anything extra from me, just what I owed her.
It was such a simple gesture, and to her it probably didn’t mean anything. I guess that’s what makes it so beautiful.
Ramesh, the guardian of Matunga Hill, Hampi
“It is my duty to protect the tourists that come here and to offer them rest,” he told me as he stood tall with pride. “This is my special place. It’s where I sleep.”
The White Lady
They call her ‘The White Lady.’
Dressed all in white and carrying only five items of white clothing, she travels barefoot across India staying in ashrams or in the homes of kindhearted strangers she meets along the way.
Our paths crossed in Hampi. She sat cross-legged on the floor of a music shop, owned by a friend of my friend who I was visiting. She was lost in the hypnotic and melodic music of the hapi drum that another visitor was playing, swaying gently as her arms twisted and whirled above her head.
We spent the next two days together before parting ways.
The Buddhist Monk of Sarnath Temple
“He has been coming here every day for 50 years. Studying the Buddhist scriptures in this very spot,” the temple guard told me.
I met this monk in the gardens surrounding Sarnath Temple, a sacred place for Buddhists located 8 km from Varanasi.
Pawan, the smiling musician of Pacha Mama
“I love music and I think music is the best thing because it makes everyone happy. I like to sing and play the guitar because it is my dream. Music is a universal language. I think it is one of the best things in human life. No one hates music.”
Wind Pawan Sundas aka Paul, is a musician and co-owner of Pacha Mama, a restaurant with branches in Bhagsu, Dharamshala and Agonda (South Goa). He hopes that one day he can travel the world with his guitar, just to put smiles on people’s faces.
The boy goat-herder from rural Rajasthan
I was out photographing landscapes in rural Rajasthan, about an hour from Pushkar, when I encountered this young goat-herder with his flock. He must have been walking for miles in the dry heat as there was nothing around as far as my eye could see.
I approached him and showed him the photos I had been taking. He then started gesturing for me to take photos of him and proceeded to pose with his goats, a flock of 30. He even picked one up and beamed with pride, as it it were a prized trophy. I’ll never forget the smile on his face when I showed him the pictures after!
The 90-year-old guesthouse owner of Skyu village, Ladakh
Resting at an alltitude of 3500 mt, this gentleman runs a 5-bedroom guesthouse in the village of Skyu-Kaya. His guesthouse is one of only nine households that make up the tiny, remote village adjacent to the Markha River valley in Ladakh.
Tenzing Migmar, the Tibetan monastery painter from Tibet
Tenzing Migmar, a painter and tattooist from Tibet. He was one of 14 artists who spent 548 consecutive days painting the Drepung Loseling monastery in Karnataka. As a child he was forced to leave his mother behind and flee Tibet with his three sisters after his father, a soldier in the Indian army, was killed.
Aloo Baba, the mysterious sadhu of Pushkar
Aloo Baba of Aloo Baba Temple, located a short distance from the town of Pushkar in Rajasthan. The sadhu has lived in this temple for the past 15 years, and become a bit of a local celebrity among foreigners interested in his now legendary practice of only eating potatoes, which he has been upholding for 38 years.