In a recent video, Shriya Pilgaonkar documented her 82-year-old grandfather Arun Sabnis’ travels through 90 countries. In a conversation with us, the grandfather-granddaughter duo talk about their top bucket list destinations, the fond memories they’ve shared together and on Sabnis’ wish to visit a total of 100 countries. By Anushka Goel
T+L India: Tell us about your adventures of traversing through 90 countries. Did you face major challenges due to the global lockdowns?
Arun Sabnis: There’s a lot of adventures to choose from, but travelling to Antarctica was the most thrilling one. I’ve also seen the Northern Lights and have been awake through the night in the hilly areas of the Northern Alps. It was thrilling to see the green, purple, yellowish lights coming from behind the mountains suddenly flash through the sky. Another experience was seeing Mount Kailash at 6:00 pm when we were damn tired and suddenly [the] sunlight made the whole mountain [look] golden. There was such an emotional upheaval during that journey that it was incredible.
During the pandemic I could have easily completed my target of 100 plus countries but unfortunately, I had to sit at home. But my time wasn’t wasted, as I started writing about my journeys looking at my travel diaries and I was able to publish a book.
T+L India: And what about you, Shriya?
Shriya Pilgaonkar: Growing up, I’ve taken trips with my grandfather and seen how he was inspired by his father and his geography teacher who hadn’t even left his village but would tell them stories that taught his students to dream. There are similarities in the things I’ve taken from my grandfather with respect to who I am as a person – for example, every time we travel, I also maintain journals. As an actor, my profession takes me places, but if I don’t get to travel because of work, I make sure to go somewhere, even if for a few days. Travelling gives me perspective and makes me look within, and I think it makes me a better person.
Amid the pandemic, while it was hard to be at home for so long, I think the larger feeling was of gratitude. Luckily, when the lockdowns eased, I travelled for my shoots. But what I really missed was that I had promised my grandfather I’ll do more trips with him. We haven’t been to South Korea, so I think that’s a country I would love to visit with him. However, I used the pandemic to make a video. I’ve filmed my grandfather on our trips, and also used his travel videos to make a film I gifted to him on his 82nd birthday this year – like an ode to his travelling spirit, and to celebrate him and the inspiration he is to a lot of people. We also helped release his book in Marathi, so I think that while we couldn’t travel, we tried to travel mentally and explore.
T+L India: Did you face any problems while you were exploring so many countries?
Arun Sabnis: Except crossing the stormiest passage on the way to Antarctica, I haven’t faced any other challenges. But the sea sickness that sailing through Drake Passage gave me was nightmarish – for two and a half days, I was stuck to my bed, and only got up to vomit. It gave me horrible nightmares – I imagined I was dead in the ocean. My people were trying to search for me and I was trying to shout at them to catch their attention. In that moment, I had almost banged the doors of hell!
T+L India: What is the one thing you missed most about India while travelling abroad?
Arun Sabnis: I think it’s the informality we have in India. You can go to anybody and ask anything, and they cooperate. When you’re abroad, you don’t know the language and who to approach, and you can’t chitchat with anyone because everyone appears to be busy. It is not so easy to start a random conversation because you’re always worried whether you’re observing the etiquette etc. All that formality suppresses my desire to communicate with people—something I can [easily] do in India.
Shriya Pilgaonkar: When I travel to places where public transport is not as convenient, I miss the ease of travelling we have in India. Many times when you’re travelling to remote places abroad, you end up having to walk a lot, and once in a while, you miss that independence of transportation. Secondly, I feel like, in India, I can order food anytime and it’ll be delivered to me, whereas abroad, I feel that often, you might not [opt for] home delivery at odd hours – you might have to step out to a restaurant.
T+L India: Tell us about your next bucket list destinations. Any specific ones from India?
Arun Sabnis: I’ve been to most of India and have done all the religious yatras. But as soon as COVID-19 restrictions open up, I’d like to visit Bharatpur to see the birds. There’s a huge lake and [there are] timings when birds come to breed or migrate during certain seasons, which is a sight to watch. I haven’t visited hill stations such as Pachmarhi in Maharashtra. I also want to witness the jatras (village carnivals) in Maharashtra, especially those after the harvest season. In rural areas, there are various jatras, and I want to have a feel of all just once. Internationally, I would like to do the Trans-Siberian journey, boat at Lake Baikal and stay by its side, then travel to Mongolia and stay in Ulaanbaatar and see the huge statue of Genghis Khan.
Shriya Pilgaonkar: I think the next few places on my bucket list within India include the North East. It’s incredibly beautiful, and I’ve never had a chance to go. I love experiencing a place through food, so I’d love to do a road trip around India where I try local foods from different parts of the states. Abroad, I’d love to visit South Korea, Sri Lanka and Australia. I really want to see the Northern Lights. I also want to do a few adventure sports like bungee jumping, cliff diving and skydiving. Also, I love Japan and I’ve been there during the cherry blossom season, but I’d love to go there to do the Mt Fuji trek.
T+L India: Your favourite travel memory with Shriya?
Arun Sabnis: It was my trip with her to Pompeii. We stayed in the heart of Rome first, where she managed to book a homestay, and we walked to all the places together. We ate authentic Italian pizza in Rome. Then we travelled to Naples and from there, to Pompeii. It was a dream come true – a dream of my father’s, actually – that I fulfilled with Shriya’s help. It was thrilling going there and remembering the pictures I had seen in my father’s cupboard and matching them with the actuality in Pompeii.
T+L India: And what about your favourite holiday moment with your grandfather, Shriya?
Shriya Pilgaonkar: I think every travel memory with ajoba (granddad) is special, but if I could mention two: one is, of course, Pompeii because it was his father’s dream to see that place which he couldn’t fulfil. So, I took my grandfather to Pompeii, where we saw the Pompeii ruins, Mt Vesuvius—it was an emotional moment for us. Another incredible trip was when ajoba and I went to Iceland. Just to be in that landscape, which was so serene, and visit the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, which is a beautiful place, is a really fun memory we share together.
T+L India: Shriya, your top advice to youngsters who would like to go on holidays with their grandparents.
Shriya Pilgaonkar: I think grandparents teach you what Google cannot ever give you. They have their life experience to offer. Many a times our parents and grandparents – especially our grandparents – may not voice out that they want to spend time with us, but I think it’s up to us how much we value them and what they have to offer. If you’re lucky to have grandparents that are healthy to travel, please go with them. Just take them somewhere and speak to them. As you grow older, what you really crave is to speak freely and have beautiful conversations. My grandfather and I are like friends, so I don’t feel I have to make any major adjustments – I genuinely have a great time travelling with him. And who says you can’t have fun with grandparents? There is so much they’ve experienced, and that gives a new perspective to the journey you might want to take.
Also, I feel like people often make the mistake of waiting for a particular time to do things, but I feel that in the pandemic, we’ve realised that life is fragile. So, don’t wait to have these experiences. If you have the opportunity to travel with your grandparents, do it now. The present is all we have, and we need to value the time we have now.
T+L India: What’s your top three tips for multi-generation holidays?
Arun Sabnis: The first is your health and financial planning. For any trip, you must be sure that you are perfectly healthy. Before starting the journey, you must have adequately provided yourself and financially covered yourself and your family. Secondly, before going anywhere you must find out about the kind of situations you’re likely to encounter, the kind of people you will be with, and the kind of environment you’ll be faced with. For example, what to wear and when to wear needs to be planned in advance depending on the weather that you are going to experience. And finally, I’d say you should be mentally prepared to accept and adjust to any situation. The mind has to be open throughout your journey abroad.
T+L India: What kind of a traveller are you?
Arun Sabnis: I am a passionate traveller who is always looking for something new that fulfils my curiosity and challenges me. Though I am a planner, at times I feel like doing something that is unplanned. Many times, I dream that I take a vehicle and go to places without having decided anything. Just go, stay at a place if I like it, and if I don’t like [the place], go on driving further and just enjoy the unpreparedness of the mind.
Shriya Pilgaonkar: A part of me is a planner, but there’s also a part of me that wants to take it as it comes. So when I am travelling, I leave space for both these sides of me. But I’m an explorer at heart, so I’m constantly seeking adventure. There are times I do luxury travelling and times when I rough it out. I enjoy both, depending on who I am travelling with. There are also times I travel by myself – I had gone to Japan where I went backpacking. The trip was largely unplanned, and I loved every bit of it. There’s a certain freedom you get when you don’t know what your day is going to be like, and I think I am open to adventure like that.