Why go to Switzerland when there is Leh?

Travel quotes

This was Arun’s first ever interview with Interviewing India. In case of most interviewers at II, the first interview is usually with a friend. And for Arun it was Anand. Arun and Anand are friends from school and have known each other since class 3. Read on as Anand, originally from Chennai, gets candid about a trip made to Leh Ladakh with his friends and how his initial skepticism about going to the North gave way to fond memories of people he met and a permanent distrust towards the media at large. Read on as he shares his eye-opening journey to the mountains with us.

Anand Sudarshan, 35 years, Finance Professional, Bangalore

Interviewed by Arun Maharajan

Why did you decide to give us an interview on travel?
Fundamentally, because I love to travel. That’s when you meet different kinds of people and that’s when you get to know about different cultures, topographies and geographies. It’s a learning experience. I believe in seeing things and learning rather than going through textbooks and looking at pictures.

Can you recall your most memorable travel incident?
I have traveled to a lot of places especially within India, but not so much abroad. I prefer to travel within India. My most memorable trip will always be Leh Ladakh, which I did with two of my close friends in June 2010. At that time we didn’t know much about Leh to be honest. The social media penetration, and this so-called Wiki Travels and Tripadvisor were not that popular in 2010. Or maybe they were popular but I was not aware of it. We went there without any expectations. We knew that it would be a mountainous terrain somewhere along the Indo-china border. Obviously, it’s trans-Himalaya, so we are going to the Himalayas. That’s the only knowledge we had. When we went there, we were in for a real surprise.

What surprised you?
It’s a completely different world. One doesn’t really need to travel to Switzerland and Alaska, when you can go to Leh.
But even the warmth and affection that the people there showered on us was touching. They were very interested when they learnt we came all the way from Madras. It was a different experience, and it was very hard to believe that such kind of people still exist in our country. I experienced such warmth for the first time.

Was there any specific instance that you would like to share with us?
We were travelling to Diskit and we got stuck in traffic somewhere in between. By the time we reached, it was way past lunch time. We got into a small hotel but the restaurant was closed. When they got to know we were hungry, they opened it up again and cooked some food for us. This will never happen in a city.

You mentioned that the trip was an eye-opener and then you talked about you being from Chennai, and that’s the southern-most and Leh the northern-most. It sounds like your expectations were completely broken and your idea was completely reversed. Is that what you implied?
What I meant is there is always a bit of skepticism when you go all the way from Tamilnadu to Leh. The first thing is that you are going to J&K. The second being that you don’t know Hindi. The third being that you don’t look like a North Indian. They can’t associate you with a North Indian. And you are not a foreigner. There was always a bit of skepticism about how the people would react to someone who is coming from down south. But it turned out to be a memorable and pleasant experience.

So did this trip change your view of the North or the rest of India? Did it actually shift you in some manner, after you came back from the trip?
It did shift me in some manner: the first being the perception about J&K. One of the major realizations for me coming from South India is that we don’t know much about J&K. We come to know about J&K only through the media. There was always a perception that people in J&K don’t want to integrate with the country. But people in the South hardly know that there is a significant Buddhist population in J&K, and they very well want to be a part of the country.
The biggest change after the trip was not to believe the media. There is always a bit of spiciness and exaggeration when it comes to reporting news.

Something very similar happened to me when I was in Iran. People told me so many things about Iran, but I think it is the nicest country in the world. So that experience also changed me.
Since, we are talking about travel, what places in India would you want to recommend to everyone?
Leh, obviously. Instead of going to places like Switzerland and US, this is a much cheaper option. I think right now you should be able to cover the trip within forty grand. And if you want to be a little adventurous, then do it in winter, it will come to less than ten grand.

Nobody will want to go there in winter (Arun laughs)
The other trip which I would suggest is Valparai in Tamilnadu. It’s a cluster of privately run tea-estates. And if you are lucky, you may spot a leopard or an elephant.

The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic. But we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
I don’t have an answer to this question to be honest. I am stumped by this. Suddenly you are asking this kind of question. It is out of syllabus.

Yes it is, right? But that’s what we do…okay fine…not even a guess…
Maybe affection. Honestly, I don’t have an answer.

Categories: Travel

Meet the interviewer

Arun Maharajan

Arun finds it harder and harder to describe himself. It makes him uneasy. So the easier thing to do would be to mention some of the stuff he does and likes. So here goes. He has traveled to 50countries, finished the Mongol rally, almost hitchhiked from Germany to India, plays the bass guitar in a rock band, is bloody serious about fitness and loves creative expression especially writing and visual art. He is curious, likes to experiment, reflects deeply, loves people and wishes for all to fulfill their potential. His deepest desire is to attain a state of oneness with the creation.

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