The reDiscovery Project: Travelling through India on a budget — in truly immersive style

Editor’s note: You may have heard the saying ‘the journey is the destination’, but some travellers actually put that philosophy into practice. Presenting, #FTravellers — on-the-road (or air/sea) dispatches from travel enthusiasts on long journeys.

The travellers we're now featuring are Ambika Vishwanath and Hoshner Reporter of The reDiscovery Project. Ambika and Hoshner are doing an in-depth journey through Uttarakhand, and will be sharing their travel journals on Firstpost.

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Dispatch 1

Text by Ambika Vishwanath | Photos by Hoshner Reporter

In July 2015, we had a dream. We were in our early 30s, married for a year with successful careers and promising futures, but it was a dream that had been simmering under the surface, popping up every time we vacationed — one that seemingly couldn’t be silenced.

Our dream was to travel — not just on a holiday, or in short bursts and fits, but in an immersive manner — to truly experience places and to explore off the beaten path. And so, amid reactions that ranged from disbelief and stress (mostly from our mothers and family) to confusion and encouragement (from friends and random well-wishers on Facebook), we quit our jobs, packed away our ‘office’ clothes, dusted off our backpacks, and set off to travel India.

The advantage of being 30-something is that after a decade-plus of working, there is money saved. Added to that was the money earned during our week-long wedding celebrations, with two receptions (all that smiling is hard work). I am sure Aunty X was a tad unhappy the money she gave us didn’t go towards buying a house or saving for children, and Uncle Y was confused given that a ‘gap year’ was something foreigners or young people took — not responsible, young middle-class Indians. But that’s exactly what we did, and with thankfully no loans or rent to pay, we embarked on an adventure to travel the country for a year and to deal with life later.

Three years later, here we are, still travelling. Clearly it was foolish to think we’d ‘finish’ India in a year — a lifetime wouldn't be enough. Today we are, for lack of a better word, travel bloggers (though we like to call ourselves a writer and photographer couple, explorers and storytellers). As we began travelling the first year, on a budget of Rs 2,500 a day, which included everything for the both of us, we started writing a blog, mostly to keep our friends and family updated, and set up all the usual Instagram and Facebook accounts. Our journey began in September in the North East, where we had tea with the jawans in Bum-La, at the Indo-China border and danced at the Ziro festival in Arunachal, moved to Meghalaya where we struggled to climb down to the double decker root bridge (and now can’t stop talking about it), before travelling to the other end of the country to explore the south. Over 77 days, 56 buses, 17 trains and countless auto-rides later we had travelled the five southern states like few others have, and needed our own beds for a while. We swam in turquoise waters off the coast of Tamil Nadu, watched the sunrise over the highest organic tea estate in the world in Kerala, played with schoolchildren amidst unknown ruins of Bidar, and somewhere along the way realised that we wanted to keep doing this and that the sabbatical was about to extend indefinitely.

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Photos courtesy The reDiscovery Project

Photos courtesy The reDiscovery Project

There was no eureka moment or some philosophical switch while watching a sunset, but rather an understanding that we’d discovered new loves and joys, about each other and ourselves, one that we were not willing to let go in a hurry. We discovered a profound love for Islamic art and ancient architecture, a joy in chancing upon tiny villages in unknown corners and a fundamental satisfaction in exploration and connecting with the diverse people that make up India. And thus was born The reDiscovery Project. We would have liked to called ourselves the Discovery of India, but the name was already taken. And so we slowed down and tweaked our travel style, stories on the blog became more focused for a growing audience and social media opened up a whole new world, one that we were least equipped for (and one where we're struggling to keep up with the millennials).

Photos courtesy The reDiscovery Project

Photos courtesy The reDiscovery Project

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Today, three years later, we have covered about half the country, travelling state by state, giving each place its due, making amazing connections as we slowly unravel this grand old soul that is India. We’ve hung out in the tribal markets of Orissa drinking tadi, discovered pristine empty beaches in Maharashtra, walked amongst the corals in Gujarat, documented the Madhubani paintings in Bihar and eaten some of the best food in the homes of villagers in Nagaland. It is true when they say India has everything to offer and the more you travel the more she opens up to you. As we tell stories of places we have seen and experiences we have had, we try and break myths and stereotypes, make it easier for the next person to reach the corners we have, and always tell the truth. This sort of travel is not always easy and pretty, but in writing about reality we hope that those who might follow will be tempted to travel to places they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Ambika and Hoshner of The reDiscovery Project

Ambika and Hoshner of The reDiscovery Project

Now we are in Uttarakhand, our 17th state — the place, in a way where it all started (but that's a story for another day) and we’re extremely excited to be in the mountains. Given our small budget, which has increased a little over the years, we use only public transport and largely stay only in homestays and villages, both of which ensure that we explore a place in a very real sense. As always we have made a loose plan, starting at Mukteshwar and slowly making our way up the Kumaon region, checking out Ramgarh (the fruit bowl of India), 9th century temples outside Almora, through the hippie region of Kasar Devi and literally to the end of the road, in the lap of the Himalayas at Munsiyari before traipsing across the state to the Garhwal region. Plans however tend to change: a random conversation at the bus stop might lead us in a different direction and as always, we will drop everything for yummy homemade food. So stay tuned for stories told through words and pictures from Uttarakhand, some familiar and others new, as we slowly journey through this beautiful state.

Writer Ambika Vishwanath and photographer Hoshner Reporter are the team behind The reDiscovery Project. Follow their journey here.


Updated Date: May 19, 2018 14:27 PM

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