We are Param and Shikha, the Untourists, film makers who travel to explore this beautiful world we live in. Trying to avoid the regular routine, seeing the same places different and some unseen places which we often don’t write about.
What’s your favourite place so far?
Planet Earth. Actually impossible to pin point a particular place. We love Jaipur as well as New York City. The Jungles of India make us want to keep coming back so do the cafes in Paris. Hampi was so spectacular we want to go back again, and so was Spiti Valley. We think Udaipur is perhaps India’s most romantic city. We had the most relaxing trip in Puducherry. As travellers it’s so difficult to say which is your favourite city. It’s like asking a painter what’s her favourite colour.
What can’t you travel without?
Our cameras, aluminium water bottles (prevents us from buying plastic ones), an internet dongle (often cafe wifi doesn’t work too well), Spare towels (sometimes hotel towels are too mouldy), some dry fruits for the occasion when you are stuck on the road with nothing to eat…
Do you prefer solo travel or with someone else?
We travel together as a couple. Sometimes it’s fun to travel with like minded friends too, but its generally the two of us.
Which country has the friendliest people?
There are friendly and slightly cold people everywhere. We were on a road trip in America, where you have to fill your own fuel, unlike India. I was taking time to understand the process and another friendly driver walked up and explained to me how the thing worked. In remote Spiti Valley we were in a village and hungry, knocked on a door and asked where we could find lunch. They invited us in and prepared a delicious lunch for us. There are nice people everywhere. Perhaps more of them in villages and rural areas.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met so far?
Again so difficult to name one person. There was this Russian para-jumper who was so interesting in Nepal. Or the forest guard at Ranthambhore National Park who has so many stories of the jungles, and how his face was torn apart by a tiger who was chased away by villagers. He survived, but has no complaints against the tiger. Says she was made to panic by an entire village. Or this friend in Jaipur who used to be a travel writer decades ago, is now semi-retired but still has the best stories to tell and is always effervescent with life! He took us to this amazing road trip of Rajasthan via hair pin bends in the Aravallis and discovering Akbar’s Hunting Lodge or Ashoka’s Epitaph… That’s the joy of Planet Earth. So much interestingness packed into it.
What’s been your scariest moment?
Not that scary. But we have reached a remote village in Nako, towards the end of October. We had reached rather late, and as we were entering into winters most hotels had shut down. We were told there wasn’t a place to stay, I had altitude sickness and it was extremely cold and getting very late. The only one room available (for five of us), was in a truckers lodge and the room was filthy as a public toilet. For some time we were very afraid that we would have to spend the cold, uncomfortable night in the car.
What is your dream travelling experience?
Travelling all over India with nigh a worry about work. I really want to visit this entire country, there is so much see. We still haven’t explored the North East or the wonderful temples and jungles and beaches of Orissa. It would be ideal to be able to see all these places with no work related calls, and to be able to find quaint and charming places to stay and eat local food.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
What was the best place you stayed in?
Vintage Coffee Estates in Coorg. Charming old cottage in Edinburgh. A tiny apartment in a Tony building in South Kensington, London. A forest rest house with limited amenities in Pench… A 100 plus years old house in Kannur… there are so many. The best places are often those that give you the most comfort while having the heart of what the place is about.
How many photos have you taken?
Over 10,000 perhaps…
What’s the most interesting animal you’ve seen?
Tiger. Up close and on foot. Mesmerising, royal, mysterious, gracious…
Do you prefer hot, cold or temperate places?
Not too hot for sure, because then you can’t really step out to explore. Cold is manageable. But there is a beauty to every season. In India, summers are terribly hot in the plains and central India. But the deciduous forests shed their leaves; the grass returns golden and the sky a rich azure blue. There is a burst of a bright red Palash or Mahua or Semal in between. In the Indian summer, if you can brave the heart (which is quite manageable in a forest) you have higher chances of wildlife sightings because the trees have shed their leaves allowing for more visibility.
Winters and Temperate weathers are ideal for treks and long walks in the woods. The joy off travelling is in choosing the best places in the best seasons.
Would you rather see a lot of places or get to know one really well?
Get to know many moderately well? Am I being too greedy? How long do you spend at one place? One needs to visit a place more than once, and also in that one trip one must explore as much as is possible. The best local gems can only be discovered with time. Popular places are often not the best places.
What’s the longest single journey you’ve taken?
Mumbai to Kaza in Spiti Valley by road (not counting the flights). Also San Francisco – Yosemite – Death Valley – Los Angeles was a long long trip, spread over days.
Which religious or spiritual sites have you visited?
Many, though they aren’t the subject of our travel. From Gurudwaras to Churches to Temples to Buddhist Monasteries…
Which country has the best weather?
California (though not a country). So does the Himalayas in India and the Western Ghats.
Do you prefer to walk, take public transport, or take private transport?
We prefer to drive where possible to a destination. Lets us explore more of the land. Once we have reached, we prefer to walk around if possible. Walking is the best way to explore local places and neighbourhoods. It also helps you slowly settle into a new city, gives you acclimatisation time.
What destination have you found to be overrated?
Most touristy destinations like Shimla, Lonavala etc. Though even in such destinations one can find something quaint every now and then. Sometimes I feel some food is also over rated. Take for example Chikki from Lonavala. Every damn shop is selling Chikki (so it must be having great demand), but it’s so not-interesting a thing!
What’s been the best street food you’ve had?
There’s plenty. But for sure, Kolkata has one of the best street foods in India. From the ‘egg rolls’ to the ‘fish chops’ and ‘begoon bhaja’ to momos, Kolkata is the delight of street food lovers. In the Tiretti Bazaar of Kolkata, one can find the most amazing authentic Chinese breakfast sold on the streets. Where else can you find such wonders?
Beer or wine?
Lemonade! We don’t drink, but have realised over time a fresh glass of lemon and water (no sugar or salt) can be really helpful in rejuvenating tired and mildly dehydrated travellers.