Why am I a Slow Traveller?


“Travelling makes one modest – you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Gustave Flaubert

I feel privileged to have travelled a bit across India and a few places around the world. I have experienced being:

  • stared at by a lioness in Mikumi National Park in Tanzania
  • scolded by a Bedouin in the deserts of Egypt for taking his picture without seeking permission
  • rebuked by a police officer in Washington for asking directions without saying “Good Morning” first
  • given a virtuoso performance by thousands of flamingos in Lake Nakuru in Kenya
  • treated to a dinner inside a Parliament in an East European country

The list is long but the common theme that runs across my experiences is their immersive nature. Over the years, I have somewhat unconsciously moved from ‘I have been there’ or  ‘I have done that’ syndrome to prefer experiences over sights.

I have realized that travelling slowly is a state of mind and it depends purely on the choices I exercise to make the most of my time. I have learned the art of standing still, even if it is for a brief duration. Every time I do that, I realize that the new destination reveal a new story for me to experience.

So what is slow travel? To me it entails tailoring my own trips, connecting with people (locals), removing the rush to do more and most importantly moving out of my comfort zone.

Sounds interesting? Here are a few things that you need to keep in mind before you jump in:

  • Slow travel is a mentality and may not suit everyone
  • Do less – soak in more from your experiences
  • Connect with the locals and act like a ‘Roman in Rome’
  • Throw away your travel guide and explore the unchartered paths
  • Do not be compelled to put a tick mark against the must-sees
  • Be prepared to explore Airbnb and Couchsurfing

If this still sounds appealing, watch a snail cross your nearest playground! If you can survive the test, pack your bags and Welcome to the Club!



The Elephants of Rajaji National Park


Till a few years back, a gentle pachyderm roamed the jungles of Rajaji National Park. The gentle giant, aptly named Tipu attained iconic status by displaying a unique brand of personality. He was fearless, he was a chronic crop raider, he was electrocuted by humans from which he recovered miraculously, he was radio collared which he dutifully discarded after a few years. He lived up to the age of 65 amidst all the dangers that tuskers experience as they struggle to adopt to the growing greed of human beings and the unbalanced need for development at the expense of forests.


Source: wpsi-india.org

Tipu’s feats attain extraordinary proportions when one considers that he was born prior to Independence and grew up amidst extensive grasslands and forests. As he grew up, large tracts of his habitat got gradually taken over by crop fields and human settlements. However, contrary to common wisdom, Tipu did not consider humans as his enemy. He simply readjusted and added the sugarcane and paddy grown by farmers within his home range to his menu. And he never killed a human being during his long life!

Unlike his peers, Tipu was not apprehensive of crossing the road and railway track in the Chilla-Motichur corridor area which served as the bridge between the two halves of Rajaji National Park. The exponential increase in vehicles and railway traffic in the corridor made most of his peers apprehensive but Tipu remain unfazed. He stuck to his usual routine and showed complete disdain to the vehicle movement while moving from one part of the forest to the other. It was largely due to him that the Chilla-Motichur corridor was saved by leveraging the knowledge gained via his radio collar. He was indeed the catalyst who reiterated the exceptional ability of bull elephants to move across disturbed areas and maintain the link between fragmented areas.

At his prime, Tipu governed a range close to 800 sq. km and it is extremely likely that his legacy would continue for a long time via his offsprings. Tipu was born free under colonial rule and breathed his last in Independent India. However, his end did not come via a collision with a train or a truck plying at high speed. Nor did he succumb to the stray bullet of a poacher. Tipu sustained severe injuries while confronting a much younger bull over a young female and fell down from the Motichur railway bridge. For a wildlife lover, Tipu epitomized the hope that man and elephants can co-exist after all. And for a romantic, he embodied the free spirit, the ability to live one’s life as per one’s own terms. Tipu does not have an epitaph that he can call his own but if he ever gets one, the following words would be apt.

“They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.”
― Robert McCammon, Boy’s Life

As we planned our trip to Rajaji National Park, my mind was preoccupied with Tipu’s exploits across the length and breadth of the national park. I was brimming with excitement at the prospect of seeing young bulls who may be the torch bearers of Tipu’s legacy. I read and re-read Anita Nair’s beautiful travelogue “The elephants are coming”. I hoped our sojourn to the forest would replicate these lines from her travelogue “In Wayanad, the road to celebrityville begins with the elephant. Everyone, almost everyone has an elephant tale to tell. Elephant wisdom to disseminate; elephant theories to propound and an I-don’t-know-how-I-lived-to-tell-you-this-encounter with an elephant”.

And we were not disappointed. Elephants were everywhere! Our taxi driver narrated stories of his numerous elephant encounters during our back breaking journey to the forest resort. The stories continued to pour in from the resort staff, guide and practically anyone we met and interacted with.

Rajaji National Park lived up to its billing of being the host to one of the largest Asian Elephant population in the country. As soon as we entered the forest in the morning, we heard the rustling of leaves and soon enough we could sense their presence. We did not get a good view of the animals but our guide assured us that we would have plenty of opportunities to see them in the afternoon.

We decided to shift our focus and were not disappointed. The birds of the park enthralled us. The Bee eaters, Kingfishers, Hornbills, Eagles took our breath away and for a while we stopped thinking about elephants.

Following a quick lunch, we were back at the park. The first encounter with Tipu’s clan came via a baby elephant who seemed to have strayed from her mom. While we could not see her, we could almost sense her presence and her stern voice “back off”.


We headed forward and came across a young family on the river bed. The setting sun, the presence of a pair of Spotted Deer and the family’s nonchalant walk towards the bush made it an almost surreal experience.

But our Tipu moment arrived when the guide stopped the jeep abruptly as we were coming down from the cliff. He pointed to the lone bull happily munching grass on the river bed below. The languid posture of the bull, unhurried and unfazed by his surroundings gave us a glimpse of the aura that Tipu was associated with.

As we were about to leave the park, we came across a herd of 8-10 female elephants. As we watched them carry on with their feeding and bonding session, I could not but help thinking what would it take to ensure that we carry on with each other’s’ lives without getting into a conflict.

I reminded myself that Tipu never retaliated despite being on the verge of losing his life at the hands of humans. I also reminded myself of the extraordinary tale of South African elephants paying homage to the man who saved their lives. Here is an excerpt from the article which deepened my respects for Tipu and his clan.

For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who saved their lives.

The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, were rescued and rehabilitated by Anthony, who had grown up in the bush and was known as the “Elephant Whisperer.”

For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in the South African KwaZulu – to say good-bye to the man they loved. But how did they know he had died March 7? Read more here


Atop the Benog Hill

“[Walking] is the perfect way of moving if you want to see into the life of things. It is the one way of freedom. If you go to a place on anything but your own feet you are taken there too fast, and miss a thousand delicate joys that were waiting for you by the wayside.” — Elizabeth von Arnim

The trek to Benog Hill Top offered the weary travellers (WTs from hereon) what they had set out for. They had craved for a basic B&B lodge which would act as their base prior and post the short trek. And they had hoped that the trek would allow themselves to be “free” for a few hours.

They were lucky that their initial plan to scale the Nag Tibba peak was ditched by a well-known hiking company. The setback facilitated an interaction with the affable Vipul from Yeti Outdoors who was sympathetic to their simple demands and put them under the stewardship of Manish, a local youth bubbling with energy.

The WTs were picked up by Manish from their lodge in Hathipaon which is conveniently located around 5 KMs from the hustle and bustle of Mussoorie and on the way to Benog Hill. A quick drive to the Cloud End Forest Resort marked the start of the trek which was a steady climb and took around 2.5 hours including all the pit stops along the way to soak in the sights and sounds of the hills and forests.


Your destination is at the top!

With spring around the corner, Mother Nature offered the WTs with a red carpet welcome. The hills were awash with the Rhododendron flowers. While the WTs marvelled at the red hills, Manish urged them to act as locals and bite and chew the flowers. The taste was more pungent compared to the Buransh (local name for Rhododendron) juice that they had tasted in other parts of the hills. The Buransh tasting session slowed down the travellers considerably but neither they nor Manish was complaining.

The climb upwards slowly opened up the beautiful vistas of Hathipaon, Doon valley, Aglar river valley and the distant peaks which were not clear on the day of their trek (on a clear day peaks like Chaukhamba and Bandar Punch can be seen). The climb continued and before the legs got too heavy and the alarm bells started ringing, the Jwalaji Devi Temple appeared and signalled the WTs that they were close. And wasn’t the climb worth all the panting and the money spent on newly bought trekking shoes from Decathlon? The views from the temple and the top was mesmerizing!

The cool breeze, the emptiness of the place and the 360 degree alluring views provided the WTs a perfect opportunity to relax and introspect. The WTs, despite being seasoned travellers, were taken aback when Manish opened his rucksack and offered them Frooties and Dairy Milk. The surreal combination of the offering and the Manish’s gesture on top of Benog Hill reminded the WTs the need to experience the simple pleasures of life.

As clichéd as it sounds, all good things come to an end. After frequent stops to turn back to take one last look at the blue sky atop Benog Hill, the WTs were back to where it all started in another two hours or so. They promised to be back in the hills and Manish vetoed their decision wholeheartedly.


Manish can be contacted at 9634187759.



Memories from Mukteshwar

As the sun peeked out from behind Shiva’s matted tresses, he glistened with pleasure at what he saw. The demon lay defeated at the Lord’s feet praying for his forgiveness. Shiva in all benevolence granted him ‘Mukti’ or liberation. “Lord” said the sun “You have displayed your unparalleled greatness yet again”. Shiva gave his divine […]

via Tales of Temples and Treks in Mukteshwar — SoWeTravelBlog

In the footsteps of Jim

“Eighteen miles to the North – North-East of Naini Tal is a hill eight thousand feet high and twelve to fifteen miles long, running east and west. The western end of the hill rises steeply and command one of the best views to be had anywhere of the Himalayan snowy range. This range, and all the hills that lie between it and the plains of India, run east and west, and from a commanding point on any of the hills an uninterrupted view can be obtained not only of the snows to the north but also of the hills and valleys to the east and to the west as far as eye can see. People who have lived at Muktesar claim that it is the most beautiful spot in Kumaon, and that its climate has no equal.

A tiger that thought as highly of the amenities of Muktesar as human beings did, took up her residence in the extensive forests adjoining the small settlement. Here she lived very happily on sambhar, kakar, and wild pig, until she had the misfortune to have an encounter with a porcupine…..” – Jim Corbett from Temple Tigers

One of my favourite childhood memories pertains to the story telling sessions hosted by my grandmother in our village house in Fulia. Since there was no electricity, we had to fall back on the flickering lights of the Lonthon (lantern) which added the much needed ambience in those cold nights. Google rebukes me that it should be Lanthana but like a true bong, I would vehemently deny and stick to the original pronunciation 🙂


Our story telling sessions were somewhat obvious as they were always focused on two things:

  • Stories from the Jim Corbett Omnibus (the Bengali translation) which I had received as a gift from my grandmother
  • Her personal experiences of staying in the vicinity of the forests and wild animals. My grandfather was a forest ranger by the way

Thanks to my grandmother, I learned that Jim Corbett was not just a hunter per excellence but was a conservationist to the core. Through the storytelling sessions she urged me to explore nature and not to get frightened at the mere sight of wild animals. Thanks to her and our village home which was home to many species of birds, stray foxes, mongooses and lots of snakes, I developed a love for forests and its inhabitants and Jim became my childhood hero.

Over the past two years, we have been roaming around Uttarakhand and have been to Lansdowne, Landour, Jabarkhet, Ranikhet, Vijaypur, Nachni, Nainital and Mukteshwar. Every time we visit a new place, I try to find out if my childhood hero Jim had been there. While there have been moments when locals did not get baffled by my questions about him and his tigers, the “Wow” moment did not come till we visited Mukteshwar recently.

No sooner had I started my customary enquiries, I was blown away by “Jim was here”. Everybody seemed to know of the place where he stayed and the path that he took to the forest to kill the man eater. I was enthralled by the Pahadi folklores i.e. how the local shikaris (hunters) and then the chest beating city based shikaris failed to even to take a shot at the tigress who proved much smarter than her human counterparts. Ultimately it was Jim’s turn to do a trek from Nainital and kill the magnificent tigress over a period of 72 hours of tracking the animal in the forest. The tales included details of his disappointment upon killing the tigress and unearthing the reason why she became a man eater in the first place.

Mukteshwar is changing! The 5 km walk from our resort to the PWD bungalow where Jim Corbett stayed is strewn with new hotel properties. Apparently, more and more city dwellers are choosing this quaint little hamlet as their second home but still my customary morning walks gave me the pleasure of watching gorgeous sunrises, listening to the chirping of Himalayan birds and not meeting fellow human beings for most parts.

What has not changed though are:


The bungalow where Jim Corbett stayed. Managed and maintained by the PWD for its special guests it has now been handed over to KMVN who plan to open it up as a hotel in 2017. Mere mortals would be allowed to book rooms and enjoy the uninterrupted view of Himalayas.

Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, Nandaghunti, Trishul and Panchachuli are among the major peaks visible from the rooms / lawns of the bungalow

The forest has also managed to hold on. And it is still possible to follow Jim in his footsteps to the waterhole where he encountered the tigress. I would let the photos speak from here on. If you are interested, please reach out to the affable Bhagwat (image and phone number right at the end). Bhagwat is a self-taught naturalist who plans to starts his own travel business soon.


This old house is more than 100 years old and was developed as the servant quarters. The trek starts here as you go down to the jungle

The forest path…


The spot where the tigress was killed

And here is Bhagwat! He can be contacted at 09719586398.


Happy New Year!