Bollywood diva, Aahana Kumra loves travelling solo. From growing up in Lucknow to making a career in Mumbai, and from unconditioanlly loving Kolkata to travelling the globe one country at a time — this actor has been bitten by the travel bug. She talks to us about her recent solo trip to South Korea. By Priyanka Chakrabarti
Excerpts from the interview
South Korea was an impropmtu and solo holiday! So, my film Yours Truly was being screened at the Busan International Film Festival. This film also features Soni Razdan, Pankaj Tripathi, and Mahesh Bhatt in the lead. The film was being screened at the festival by my producer. It’s a very small budget film, and my producer wasn’t even sponsoring my trip. He said, “Listen, if you really want to come and see the festival, you’re free to do that. You’ll have to figure it all out by yourself.” I said okay. So, from the tickets to the stays… I had to figure out everything by myself. I took this as a great opportunity to visit South Korea. It’s a great country to travel, especially for solo women travellers.
Now, there’s a funny story here. I had applied for the visa through an agent, and he turned around and said, “Listen I can’t get the visa in five days, it’s impossible; but, if you go to the consulate yourself and if you request them, they might just expediate the process.” I think there was a Korean festival happening at that time, because of which Korea was shut and so was the embassy, for one day. Moreoever, I think there was some festival happening at Mumbai for which there was a two to three days holiday. Finally, I ended up going to the consulate. I was sitting there and when my turn came, I went to the person for my form and everything, and the guy recognised me. He was like ma’am, you were in Lipstick Under My Burkha. I had not even told them that I am actor or anything! I went solely as a passenger. I was going to tell them that I am going for a film festival, and that my screening is going to take place at the film festival. And, he just called me in, the Korean Consulate General was thankfully there that day. I met him. He was very kind. Although, we didn’t understand each others’ language, I got my visa within a day! It was really nice of them. In fact, I was flying in Korean Air, and they spoke to the airlines, asking them to make sure my trip is comfortable. It was very sweet of them.
So, I finally went to South Korea! I hadn’t planned it properly because I didn’t know what to do. I had to finish booking my tickets, doing my visa, and my stays — and everything within the two-three days that I had in hand. I hadn’t even researched on where I had to go, or what I had to do. I only knew that Namdaemun is the main market area in Seoul, so I had to find a place to live right there. I found a small hotel there (I don’t even remember the name of the hotel). They gave me a tiny room, but they had a canteen downstairs. One could just go and make his/her own breakfast or one could bring his/her own food and eat there. I stayed there (in Seoul) for about four days. I was in Busan for about two or three.
Namdaemun is insane! It has the best street food I have ever eaten in my entire life. It’s so colourful and crazy. There are so many types of meat you can try. You can literally be lost in the food market out there. That’s why I love travelling in Asia. Asia has the best food, and you never have to spend exorbitant amounts on food.
Now, apart from the food, I also explored Korean markets for their skincare products. Now, before visiting South Korea, I met my friend Biswa Kalyan Rath. He had visited South Korea before and he told me that they give away a lot of samples! “Ask them for samples!” he said.
I went to this skincare store; it was huge! I saw the store manager and asked for samples, and she said, “Ma’am we don’t have samples.” However, after much negotiation, I told her that I’m an actor from India and I’m travelling for a film festival in South Korea, and my film is being screened in Busan. And that girl was awestruck. I showed her my Instagram handle. She was fully impressed, and she gave me so many mask sheets. I didn’t even know how I would carry them back!
Coming back to my travel tale, I remember, on my last day in Seoul I visited a tea house in Bhukchon village. It was so beautiful. This place is walking distance from the Gyeongbokgung Palace. There weren’t many Indian tourists there. Some local people asked my which country I belong to. When I said I’m an Indian, they were shocked to know an Indian girl is travelling solo in a foreign country! They’re pretty traditional with their thoughts. They’re very cool as people, but very traditional.
One of the key highlights of my trip was to eat the Korean Bibimbap. I had never eaten this before. I didn’t know how to go about it, but this kind lady sitting next to me figured that I am struggling, and she came over and made the whole bowl for me. Pretty sweet, huh?
I finally, bid adieu to Seoul and flew to Busan. I met my producers, directors, and co-actor Soni Razdan. I did my own solo travel there, too, and mapped each and every step of mine to not get lost. In Busan, I got lost a lot of times because I was mostly walking, but I always found my way back.
When I attended my film’s screening in Busan, I could sense a lot of similarities between our film and Korean films. Our film is about the lonely Indian woman and her journey in life. Women in Korea are usually lonely, too. As an Asian country, they identified with the loneliness, beautifully. It was a great connection.
Every time I’ve travelled, I’ve made friends with random strangers. There was a little eatery next to my hotel that served beautiful crepes, sandwiches and coffee. I made friends with the girl who owns that place. She would give me a complementary coffee, everyday.
Over all, this has been a great journey and the experience will linger on my soul for a very long time.