Having grown up in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, in 2011 at the age of 23, Shivya Nath quit her corporate job, sold her possessions and began to travel the world. She lives a nomadic life, seeking adventures off the beaten path, and works on the go to fund her travels. A top ranking travel blog in Asia, The Shooting Star, along with her Instagram feed is the home to all her travels. She lives and breathes responsible tourism and her mission is to connect with local people as much as possible. Here she recounts to Responsible Travel how lucky she feels to have met World War II Polish refugee, Karol in the vineyards of South Australia. She also tells how long term travel, although not the norm, can be a viable and fulfilling way of life.
Shivya Nath interviewWhere’s home?
The road is home. Almost three years ago, I gave up my apartment, sold most of my stuff, stored some in the boot of a friend's car, and hit the road indefinitely. I've been traveling the world at a slow pace, connecting with locals and their way of life, working on the go to fund my adventures.
Tell us about what you do and the main idea behind it.
I wear a couple of different hats in my nomadic life.
My travel blog - The Shooting Star - is the home of my adventures. Through my stories and practical tips, I aim to inspire my readers to step out of their comfort zone and explore the world, slowly, responsibly and adventurously. It has been ranked among India's and Asia's best travel blogs, and as a professional travel blogger, I often collaborate with tourism boards and travel outfits that share my travel philosophy.
I also freelance as a sustainable travel consultant, advising responsible travel initiatives across the world on their digital marketing strategy, as well as helping travel companies incorporate sustainable travel practices in their existing business model. I've recently worked on projects in Ecuador and the Indian Himalayas.
I believe that responsible travel is not just the path to sustainable development, but also a more immersive way to experience the world. My past corporate and entrepreneurial experiences - as a social media strategist at the Singapore Tourism Board and the co-founder of India Untravelled - have given me a strong foundation for my work as a blogger and consultant.
With the young nuns.What’s your first ever travel memory?
Unlike many passionate travelers, I didn't travel at a young age. I did explore a bit of Southeast Asia while I studied and worked in Singapore, but the most distinct early travel memory for me is the first time I travelled solo - to volunteer travel in the cold mountain desert of Spiti, in the Trans-Himalayas of India. The journey to this high altitude region took me on precarious roads cut through the mountains and filled me equally with excitement and nervousness.
On that first trip, I slept under the Milky Way, swapped life stories with Buddhist monks and nuns (as I helped research a "Monk for a Month" program for a social enterprise in travel), and hiked and hitch-hiked to remote villages that practically get cut off from the rest of India for six months during winter!
Describe yourself in three words?
Introspective. Restless. Determined.
What inspired you to start traveling?
Curiosity. I wanted to experience how people in faraway places live; what it is like to put your faith in a complete stranger when you find yourself in a helpless situation; whether it's really possible to build friendships without so much as a common language. The answers continue to surprise me every day.
What do you dream of for our world in the future?
I dream of a world where people everywhere have access to a good standard of living, yet keep their culture and traditions alive. A world where animals live where they belong - in the wild - without humans captivating them for food, entertainment or work, or interfering with their natural habitat. A world where we respect, value and protect the abundant and awe-inspiring nature on our planet. Too idealistic? ;-)
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
It's one I continue to face. The constant man-animal conflict I see on my travels. Especially in the developing world, where local communities rely heavily on animals for food, farming, livelihood and local traditions, I find myself extremely conflicted. On one hand, I want ancient traditions to survive the test of time, and understand the role of meat and dairy in subsistence living. On the other hand as a newbie vegan , in a world where man has "progressed" enough to use technology and develop sustainable alternatives to nearly everything, I feel heartbroken that as a race, we continue to enslave animals for our needs.
Where’s the best place you’ve woken up?
A couple of days back, engulfed by clouds just before sunrise, atop Phu Chi Fa - one of northern Thailand's highest peaks!
I also loved waking up amid the stark 'make-your-eyes-sore' mountains of Wadi Finan, where the Bedouins still live in makeshift settlements in the interiors of Jordan; in the backdrop of the snow-capped Panchachuli range in Uttarakhand (my home state in India); and at an off-the-grid home among the volcanoes of Nicaragua.
With Karol and Rosemary, in their house in Willunga.Is there one person you’ve met who you feel you were so lucky to connect with?
That's a really long list! But one person I'm never going to forget is a World War II Polish refugee named Karol, who I met in the vineyards of South Australia.
His story went like this. The year was 1940, the world was at war. Karol, then a child of six, was one among many Polish kids to be sent to a gulag (labor camp) in Siberia, in the southern Artic in Russia. Karol and his family managed to escape, but he got separated from his mother and siblings. Going back to Poland wasn’t an option, so he journeyed alone, walking and riding on trains and trucks, through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Persia, all the way to Gujarat in India (my home country). Jam Saheb, the then king of Nawanagar (now called Jamnagar), who later became the Indian ambassador to the UN, took him in, together with 500 other impoverished Polish children. He gave them shelter, food, education in a fine school (St Mary’s in Mount Abu, complete with a Polish-speaking teacher), and a place to call home.
For four years, from 1942 to 1946, 500 Polish kids lived in Balachadi in Jamnagar, under the personal protection of the Maharaja, when no other country was ready to take them. And what are the odds that of all the vineyards in South Australia, I would find shelter at Karol’s? I wrote about it on my blog.
Has anyone ever told you that you won’t make it?
Not in so many words, luckily! But indirectly, I've heard far too often that my way of life is neither practical nor sustainable. That's one of the primarily reasons I continue to blog and share my (mis)adventures - because having experimented with it for years, I do believe that long term travel, though not for everyone, can be an achievable and fulfilling way of life.
Tell us about a time when you felt like walking away from an adventure?
I felt that way a few months back, deep in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, without electricity or connectivity, with the rain lashing the forest and a shaman chanting hypnotically. I was about to join an intense Ayahuasca ceremony - and if you google it, you'll be able to guess why I *almost* walked away!
What keeps you going if you ever feel like giving up?
Travel-wise, it's the restlessness in me, a constant urge to keep moving, to wake up to new horizons, to open myself up to more adventures, to experience more unique ways of life.
Work-wise, it's the unshakeable belief that responsible travel can indeed be a path towards sustainable development, and the answer to many of the world's pressing problems.
What are you most proud of?
Having built a life that doesn't conform to any norms but my own, a life I don't need to escape from.
What’s your happiest travel memory?
Heartwarming friendships, incredibly starry skies, unexpected acts of kindness... those are memories that always put me in a happy state of mind.
What’s always in your bag – no matter what adventure you’re on?
As a digital nomad, I always need to travel with my gadgets. Boring answer - sorry!
What do you still dream of doing that you haven’t yet done?
Riding a motorbike solo through Iran, maybe!
Where would you like to be right now?
In the dreamy rice paddies of northern Thailand, indulging in some farm-to-table spicy curries. Oh wait, that's where I am right now ;-)
What does responsible tourism mean to you?
A conscious choice to support local communities and make environmentally-friendly choices, not just because it's the need of the hour, but also because it's a more immersive way to travel.
Join her adventures on Instagram @shivya
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