I just hate the routine of everyday life. I would much rather wake up in a random, unknown place, hunting for a café where I can get a few hours of work done,” says Deepa Kumar, echoing the aspirations of many a travel enthusiast. But 22-year-old Kumar, who has set herself the task of visiting every one of the country’s 28 states and seven union territories, is no run-of-the-mill holidaymaker.
Curious, enthusiastic and more than prepared to rough it out, the political science graduate from St Xavier’s College aims to learn as much about the country and its people as she can over The 12 States Project’s 35 month-run.
“My plan for the 12 States Project is to visit one state or union territory (UT) every month,” reveals Kumar, who lives in Sion, Mumbai. “More than anything, I want to see as much of the country as I can and promote tourism through my blog and Facebook. While youngsters are so enthusiastic about seeing the world, I want to tell them there’s a lot to see in this country alone,” she adds.
When work meets play
But this isn’t the only reason why Kumar wants to cover the country. After she graduated, the aspiring politician took up a job in the office of a Member of Parliament in New Delhi. She realised that if she was to take her aspirations of standing for elections seriously, it would be essential for her to familiarise herself to the people of India, their culture and their land.
In January 2013, she kick started her initiative with a trip to Rajasthan, a state she had visited earlier. “I have always been a keen traveller and have already been to 21 states and four UTs, and so in some cases I will be revisiting the state,” says Kumar, whose talent for handball took her to several parts of the country.
Kumar is now nine months, seven states and two UTs down. While most of her trips are planned on an impulse, sometimes, her desire to study the region’s politics influences her decision.
Matters of state
“In March, I went to Kolkata to talk to the people about their government. I knew little about Leftist politics and believed that the best way to learn about it was through the people. I indulged in conversations at Flury’s with the upper class, but also with a contrasting hard core left-leaning group of people at Indian Coffee House on College Street. But the most interesting and eye-opening for me was the drive we took to the outskirts of the city. About 100 kms away, we spoke to people living in shanties. While the city folk seemed content with life, these people were truly struggling,” says Kumar.
The class divide she found wasn’t groundbreakingly different from what we might witness in a suburb of Mumbai, but what was interesting was the people’s attitude to the government. “Here we might find people blaming and trashing the government. But thanks to their deep-set Marxism, the people in Kolkata wondered why we needed a government at all,” reveals Kumar, who set up organisation GrassRoute India on her return to Mumbai a couple of months ago.
Kumar, who helps politicians reach the people through her organisation, has visited Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Pondicherry and Delhi. “I visited several of these places alone. People tend to worry about safety, but I think I’ve been incredibly lucky. I use all kinds of public transport, travel unreserved and yet I haven’t faced any bad behaviour. It’s been almost fairytalish,” says Kumar with a laugh. “But in all seriousness, that’s another myth I’d like to break. While I don’t believe that it is okay for people to take advantage you if you’re inappropriately dressed, I think it’s essential that you respect the culture of the people while you travel. So if I visit a temple in Madhya Pradesh, I make sure I stick to ethnic wear and keep a dupatta handy. I leave the shorts for Goa,” she adds.
Off the beaten track
Deepa Kumar recommends four of her favourite offbeat locations:
Ram Raja Temple in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
This is the only place in India where Ram is worshipped as a king. I love the atmosphere inside the temple — the dhol, manjira and devotees dancing.
Kumartouli in Kolkata (WB)
The Potters’ Street in Kolkata is where all the murtis are made. It’s a brilliant walk for photography!
This side of the Valley is absolutely untouched. There are hardly any tourists, only locals and breathtaking views. It’s an amazing place to cut away from the world.
The paragliding camp here is the second best in the world. It is 40-45 minutes of breathtaking beauty and fun over the valley.
In Pushkar, Rajasthan, Kumar decided to do as the locals do. Visiting a bunch of friends, she decided to try one of their ‘special lassis’. “This I found wasn’t really lassi, it was bhang and I was so badly hit that I was sick in bed for two days. The worst of it was that my friends didn’t get so much as a rash,” reveals Kumar. The experience left such a bad taste in her mouth, that she swears she will never return.
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