What are you thoughts on being part of the first generation to make a living out of social and digital media? How important is it to you that you can connect to people with similar blogs and passions?
Being the first generation in any profession carries the responsibility of defining the norms of the trade. We are only just discovering what the potential ways of generating revenue through a personal blog are. It is challenging but every day is a new experience, a new experiment. It is important to meet people who are going through the same struggles, as there is a lot to learn from each other. For example, when a picture was stolen from my blog by a leading publication, I got a lot of support from fellow bloggers and, in return, I wrote in detail about what the options are for digital content creators if their content is plagiarized. Being in a technological space that is constantly changing, we need to learn through collective group experiences, we do not have the time or the bandwidth to go through the cycle all by ourselves.
What message do you wish to convey through your work? Why do you think it is one of importance?
I want to build trust in this world by connecting distant people through shared culture and history. In today’s world, where terrorism has erected so many barriers to free flowing communication, it is travel that builds trust, for it is impossible to hate the people you have visited. In my country, India, travel also has a huge potential to create employment for our large population. It does not require degrees or special skills, so anyone with a will to work can find employment in the travel sector. I want to promote tourism in India so that we can generate a lot of employment, while showcasing our amazing country, its ancient history and incredible heritage to the world.
You must have a collection of rich experiences from around the world. What has been your favorite or most memorable?
Over a period of time, I have seen that all my travels connect to my roots, to India. I have found ancient connections, sometimes trade connections and sometimes cultural connections, in most parts of the world that I have traveled to. For example, in Czech Republic I discovered that Bata is a Czech brand, while we in India always thought of it as an Indian brand. In Thailand, I found Ganesha and various other Indian deities everywhere. In Jordan, I learnt about ancient cities like Ayla that traded with India many centuries ago. To me, the discovery of our common roots is the most fascinating aspect of my international travels. Of course, I also enjoy the ancient districts of every destination I visit.
You have a passion for walking tours; why is this?
There is no better way to engage with a place than to walk around it at a slow pace. My observation and my involvement with a place is at its peak when I walk around a small part of a city. Most big and old cities have a soul that you can connect with if you spend some quality time within it. When you walk and stop and walk in an area you see everything that your eye is bound to miss from a moving vehicle, or even on a guided tour. It is the best way to start conversations with people, gather nuggets of wisdom and discover the places that locals do not really think are worth showcasing. It is also a healthy, responsible method of traveling, as it has a low carbon footprint. I want people in big cities around the globe to start walking in their own backyards and discover the wonders that are hidden there.
How do you find subjects to write about? Do you stumble across them, or are you looking to fulfil a certain vision?
I have an endless list of places I want to visit, books I want to read and experiences I want to go through in life. So, my subjects are a combination of what I seek and what seeks me. At this point in time, my overall mission is to spotlight the incredible heritage of India and generate more jobs in India’s tourism sector. Having said that, it really is an effortless job for me, as I enjoy traveling and sharing my travel experiences through my blog, IndiTales. When I travel to a destination, I do some research to find experiences that I shouldn’t miss out on and I also leave some unstructured time for surprise discoveries. I am yet to have a trip where there weren’t any unknown discoveries waiting for me.
Where would you advise culture lovers to go in India?
India is a potpourri of cultures. If you seek one culture, you will meet at least ten others in one place. You can either travel India without any expectation and take whatever comes your way, or you can choose to explore a few aspects of it. There are so many avenues and experiences to discover in India. A good way is to stick to a small region and experience it well, but do not make the mistake of likening it to all of India. If you are seeking colors go to Rajasthan and Gujarat, if you are seeking quiet cultures go to Himachal Pradesh or any other hill state, if you want to see tribal culture go to tribal pockets in central India or North East India, if you are seeking festivals check out the calendar, we have so many of them. To experience India, step out of the big cities, as the big cities across the world have now started looking alike.
Henry Miller wrote 11 work schedule commandments in his book, Henry Miller on Writing. Number 7 is ‘Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it’. Do you have a particular morning routine or way of working which helps you to create?
I am a morning person. I am at my creative best in the morning; post lunch I can hardly do any creative work. I do most of my writing in the morning and for this reason, I push my reading to the afternoons or late evenings. When I’m traveling, I love going for a morning walk to see the city wake up. I think that is when I meet the place in its purest form, when it is yet to wear its assigned mask. It’s lovely to see children going to school, shopkeepers opening their shops and praying for a good day ahead, women running around before they sit down after finishing the morning chores. People are moving at a pre-defined pace in the morning. It is also a good time for photography as roads are not very crowded and the morning light is good.
You have had the opportunity to teach travel writing, what does this mean to you? What advice do you give to your students?
Teaching travel writing is similar to teaching people to observe when they travel. My first lesson is always to help them observe better, and then the rest follows. In my own journey as a travel writer, the biggest change in the way I travel is in the power of my observation. Often people who travel with me and then read my blog say, ‘we were with you but we didn’t observe this’. A lot of it has happened because I know I have to write about it and because of the way you engage with the destination.
What’s your favorite restaurant in India?
I enjoy the simple and fresh food served on the roads and highways of India at the Dhabas. In the cities I enjoy street food, the chatpata snack food that you can find on every street corner. Although, as I grew up in North India, I prefer it there. Street food is best in Indore, Ahmedabad and Lucknow. I like the Udupi restaurants that serve simple south Indian food; they have the best breakfast spreads. I am a vegetarian so my choices are quite limited, but anywhere that has simple home cooked food I enjoy, especially now that I travel so much and end up eating out all the time.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us?
In 2014, my debut book, The Mouse Charmers, came out and became a national bestseller. I want to write another book of the same genre, but I would need lot of support. So I’m working on generating that support and as soon as that is done, I will start working on a new book.
What are you reading at the moment?
I also have a Book Reviews Blog and in 2013 it got placed in the Limca Book of Records for being the largest book blog in India. I read and review four to five books every month for this blog. I like to read a lot of non-fiction: business, biographies, art history, philosophy, psychology, and of course, travel.
Anu Goval is one of the winners of The Culture Trip’s India Local Favorite 2015 Award. The Local Favorite badge is awarded to our favorite local towns, restaurants, artists, galleries, and everything in between. We are passionate about showcasing popular local talents on a global scale, so we have cultivated a carefully selected, but growing community.
Interview by Isabelle Pitman