Quenching the thirst for wanderlust
Pooja Dadwal

Bitten by travel bug
: Sarika Pandit at the Volcano Island, Santorini

A passionate rover spills the beans on her sightseeing and talks about the joy of navigating different countries it was as a child, while reading books and following her favourite characters as they traipsed around the world, that she first dreamt of travelling. But it was decades later, while in her early twenties, that she swore to have a well-stamped passport before she hit the big three-O. And get it stamped, she did. Ten years, 25 countries, three continents later, and well on the way into her second passport, mind you, soon-to-be-published author, freelance writer Sarika Pandit gets candid.

Your driving force was to have, 'all the pages of your passport stamped'. What was the trigger for that?

Yes. Travelling is an intangible experience. For all the money that you spend, the experience, ultimately, resides within you. The only tangible proof of each travel, in a sense, is the stamp of that destination on your passport. Having a well-stamped passport for me seemed a much more concrete and, consequently, a more reachable goal, than an umbrella statement like “travelling the world.”

How did your first trip happen?

Ironically, for all my desire to travel abroad, I managed to get my passport at 24 and that too because I had to travel to Singapore for a conference. I haven't looked back since. I travel to at least two to three destinations abroad every year.

What was your family's take on your decision? Do you travel alone, with friends or with family?

My family was, initially, very amused at this, but has always been encouraging. They believe that travelling is an education of sorts. I have travelled either with my aunt or my sister, but I prefer travelling with one or two like-minded friends. When I travelled to places like Israel, Morocco etc, which are not as backpacker-friendly as one would desire, I have travelled with WOW (Women on Wanderlust).

How do you zero in on the countries and cities?

I intersperse countries of completely different landscapes with each other. For instance, after Spain, my next trip was to Egypt. After that, it was Italy and Brussels. I followed this the next year with South Africa, and later with Jordan, Israel and Morocco.

Do you plan in advance or let your mood decide?

I like to travel within a certain framework, i.e. broadly knowing the places of interest and restaurants and cuisine that I would want to try out within each destination. I don't like to have a rigid itinerary.

I like to linger at each place instead of running from one place of interest to another, frantically ticking items off a checklist. I usually carry a Rick Steves' destination guide to get a sense of the place and the places I should visit.

What do you look forward to experiencing?

I love experimenting with the local cuisine. In a sense it’s the window to the culture of a place.

Apart from that, there is something to look forward to in every place, for instance, when I visited the UK, it was with the goal of visiting places associated with some of my favourite authors, for instance, the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, Stratford upon Avon and so on; in Florence, I wanted to particularly see the art in the Uffizi Gallery; in Salzburg, I was keen to go for a Mozart concert; in Prague, a jazz bar, and so on.

What’s the advice you would give to neophytes?

You have to treat every journey as if it is the last time you might ever see that destination.

Any interesting incident that left its mark travel?

Travelling to Jerusalem was an experience, especially the Old Town, and in particular the Wailing Wall within the old town. I remember seeing throngs of Jews crying around the Wall and praying. Their grief was palpable.

Your most memorable Indian trip?

A trip to Ladakh and Kashmir. There is an other-worldy, haunting quality about both these places. I am yet to see a place in the world that can match up to these in terms of sheer natural beauty.

What are the five musts for a traveller?

A back-pack, a Rick Steves, a medicine kit, a swim suit, and a sunscreen.