Zostel Conversations: Hamid Shah | Kanyakumari to Kashmir Backpacker

When Hamid Shah set out on a journey from Kanyakumari, that was a mere 80 kilometres from his home, little did he know that the straight line that he had originally planned would stretch to encompass all of India! By the end of his epic journey, Hamid had traversed 60000 kilometres - some by air, some by foot, some by water, some by land and some by sheer determination. An engineer by profession, a traveller by passion, Hamid's sojourn will soon give way to an expedition to see the world. Till then, here he is talking about his experiences. Get inspired!

What made you travel from Kanyakumari through Kashmir?

I am like any other current generation Indian. Born and brought up with a set of values, to become either an engineer or a doctor, get a job, do a Master's degree, have a family and so on. I studied engineering, got a well-paying job and life was going towards this planned path. As a sales & marketing guy, I was lucky to have international exposure, handling a number of clients from Europe & the U.S.A. I met backpackers in my trip through Europe which gave me an insight into the western culture. I loved travelling, which is one of the reasons I was taking yearly vacations to the Himalayas. 

 In May 2012, I went for the Gangotri Gomukh Trek and I was sitting in a shop sipping tea, in the beautiful town of Harsil along with my friend. There came a lovely old foreign couple who were sitting right next to us. I greeted them and they responded by saying 'Namaste'! After a round of introductions, I mentioned I was from Tamil Nadu. The old man asked me to forgive him and said 'Vanakkam' (Tamil equivalent of Namaste) pronounced perfectly. I was a bit surprised and asked him if he had visited Tamil Nadu. He said, "My first visit was around 1990 with our first child. My son lost his balance at the sea in Mahabalipuram due to a big wave and was taken into it. We thought we had lost him but one of the fishermen went after him and saved his life. Since then, we come to Tamil Nadu every year. We also have a Trust fund to help that fisherman's village!". He even spoke about his love for South Indian food! When I jokingly said, "You seem to have seen more of my state than me”, he replied, "Son, you are so lucky to be born & living in this country. We save every penny of our pensions to visit India every year and we still aren't tired of this beautiful land. You should try to see India too."

I was gearing up to do my MBA. But I wanted to travel so I decided to utilize my time before my MBA for long-term travelling, about 3-6 months. A road trip from Kanyakumari to Kashmir is how I started out. As always, nothing goes as per the plan. After the first few weeks, I was so enamoured  by the road that I took a detour from the planned straight line and visited all 29 states!

How has travelling changed your preconceptions about India, if there were any?

Yes! Long-term travelling with a strict budget alters your perspective on everything. In fact, Mahatma Gandhiji spent a year travelling across India after his return from South Africa to understand her and her people, before taking an active plunge into the freedom struggle movement. Unlike other countries, we live in a place with a long continuous history and heritage. The one thing which fascinated me is how she accommodated so many races, cultures, languages and beliefs over the centuries. It was like an ocean accepting every drop. What made this possible was the culture that has transcended time. I hope we remain the same in these troubling times and serve as a beacon of hope.

You must have met a lot of different people and had a lot of interesting experiences. Is there a particular person or/and experience that sticks in your mind?

The best part about travelling is meeting people from different walks of life, which gives you a chance to learn something about yourself. There are many who have inspired me, but since the question restricts me to one, I'll go for the man who gave me hope to travel as long as I live.

There I was in Shravanabelagola (Karnataka), admiring the magnificent Bahubali Statue. I saw an old man walking towards me, huffing and puffing and exclaiming, “Isn't it beautiful?”. He asked me to take photo of him along with the statue and he thanked me saying that his wife couldn't come up due to the tall steps. On our way down together, Narasimhan explained to me his tour of Karnataka and his travels around India from Kanyakumari to Kashmir over many years. When I quipped up about my trip, he smiled and said, "Everyone has got a K2K trip within them. Haven't we?”!

With K2K, you've ticked off one thing off your list: Seeing all the 25 Heritage Sites in India. What's next?

Well, I left two UTs - Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Lakshadweep to keep me grounded and to say I haven’t ticked off India fully.

When I quit my job, one of my clients said, “I hope this break satisfies your wanderlust.” After this 2 year break, I feel I am still unsatisfied. I have just seen one country which is a continent by itself but I have got plenty more to see. Maybe another K2K trip but this time it would be Kolkata to Kochi and I'll take the long route, going around the world. Maybe hitchhiking the Pan-American Highway from Prudhoe Bay, U.S. to Ushuaia, Argentina. Maybe backpacking to 99 countries before I die. Maybe do them all, one by one.

Only time will tell if I can do this. But what I can say now is that, I have got plans to travel more and I am going to work towards that.

If you had the chance to have a do-over, would you change anything about your trip?

My parents would have preferred this trip without me getting hospitalized for a month due to malaria & jaundice but I don’t want to change a thing. This hospitalization resulted in a profound positive change. I came out stronger and more humble. Travelling is a mixed bag – you have your highs and lows. If everything goes according to plan, what's the fun in doing it?

How's that for 'Inspiring'?! If you're interested in reading more about Hamid's journey through India, head over to his blog K2K Stories, a collection of 50 stories to entertain, education and inspire you to get out there and travel! 

Writer, Gaya.