When the pandemic put a temporary halt on everyone’s freedom to step out of their house, Visal Vishwanath, founder of Day Dream Events, saw this as the ideal opportunity to fulfil his dream of exploring every state in India. The ‘nomadic’ traveller gives an insight into his budget trip, the perks of solo travelling, and how this trip changed his outlook on travel. By Srushti Kulkarni; Photographs courtesy of Visal Vishwanath
T+L India: From running an event management company to travelling solo through India for weeks, you’ve undergone a huge lifestyle change. How did decide to travel the country alone?
Visal Vishwanath: One of my dreams was to travel all over India, and it had remained a dream for as long as I can remember. When the pandemic hit, my work-life came to a pause. And so, I could not think of a better time to travel. Hence, I began hatching a plan to fulfil this dream.
T+L India: How challenging was it to travel via public transport and hitchhiking during the pandemic?
Visal Vishwanath: I was tensed and confused during the first week of the trip as I was unsure how things around me would unfold. But as the weeks passed, I grew confident about completing the journey that I had begun. I was already aware that I would be traversing via public transport, but I couldn’t say the same about hitchhiking at the time. I was worried about not finding anyone to hitch a ride. However, 10 days into the trip, I was habituated to the travel style I had chosen for this trip.
T+L India: When and where did you take your first nomadic trip?
Visal Vishwanath: I took my first short solo trip to Gokarna in 2011. Since then, I’ve taken a liking towards unorthodox travel. I’ve continued travelling to Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. All my trips across South India never lasted more than a week, but all of them were not solo.
T+L India: For how long were you planning this escapade? Did you have a stipulated time in your mind to complete this tour?
Visal Vishwanath: When I began my journey to explore the country, I had no idea how long this trip would last or the exact number of days or months it would take to cross the finish line; I had no end date in mind. The only plan I was relying on was to return home once I travelled through all the states of India.
T+L India: Since you were on a pocket-friendly budget during this trip, how did you manage the expenses of food and stay?
Visal Vishwanath: Yes, I was travelling on a budget from the very first day. To maintain the same, I pitched tents whereever possible. Other times I would find shelter in temples, churches, gurudwaras and mosques. In North India, I was fortunate enough to find localities that offered me meals and a place to rest. For food, I used to munch on fruits for breakfast and dinner, while savouring the local street food for lunch. I also helped out at a few shops and dhabas, who in turn offered me food.
T+L India: What were some steps you took to accomplish this goal?
Visal Vishwanath: One of the steps I took to accomplish this goal was to completely change my lifestyle. I refrained from staying in hotels or eating in restaurants. Instead, I sustained on regional street food and fruits, and relied on free stays with locals.
T+L India: Any advice for solo travellers on a budget?
Visal Vishwanath: For those who wish to travel with minimal financials, you have to be prepared to explore different styles of travelling. One can travel for two days or an entire month with the same budget based on how you travel.
T+L India: Any lessons from solo travelling?
Visal Vishwanath: Many approached me during my trip enquiring as to why am I alone on this journey. Solo travelling helped me explore and understand myself better. It helped me become independent. [When travelling solo] you tend to be more adventurous and learn to overcome obstacles on your own. Solo travelling offers a lot more experiences than when you travel with friends, family or in groups.
T+L India: Have these experiences changed the way you view travel? How did it impact your personal and professional life?
Visal Vishwanath: I lived an entirely different life during these nine months. Many assume that one can lead a happy life if they have money. According to me, you can attain happiness even without money; just do things differently! Although I had a limited budget, I did things differently from what I am used to doing. These past nine months have given me immense happiness.
T+L India: A state you want to revisit?
Visal Vishwanath: I actually want to explore all the states all over again! There are many places I haven’t experienced yet, and would love to revisit—especially the locations perched on the mountains. I would want to dig deeper into Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and all the northeast states.
T+L India: A place you wish you could have stayed longer?
Visal Vishwanath: There were several places where I wanted to stay for a bit longer. There were places where I was meant to stay for a day but ended up staying for more than a week. But one place that stood out for me would be Turtuk Village in Ladakh. It’s one such place I would want to go back to but this time to spend a lot more time.
T+L India: Your most memorable meeting with the locals?
Visal Vishwanath: Pahadis of India are the best locals you will meet! They show respect, warmth and care. They also offer an invitation to visit their homes and stay with them for a day or two. I instantly connected with locals of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh, to name a few.
T+L India: Things you always have in your backpack while travelling?
Visal Vishwanath: A tent, my dear diary, clothes, and a few basic essentials.
T+L India: What’s next for you?
Visal Vishwanath: Depending on the mood and time, I will choose a place and be back on the road pretty soon. But as of now, I don’t have any immediate plans.