Travel crossed the 2021 finish line like that frantic passenger, afraid of the subway doors shutting in slow motion, trouble nipping at their heels. This has been a confounding year of extremes—euphoric re-openings, shocking disruptions and, towards its end, nervous confusion. As ever, travel writing never stops, even when travel temporarily does. Our favourite narratives came from global cities, hamlets in India’s north east, islands on the other side of the world and valleys closer home.
This trip whipped across the smaller villages in eastern and central parts of the state, stopping by indigenous communities along the way. Communities that we, mainlanders, still know pitifully little about. Driving on mountain roads has its challenges but the cultural submersion into local life here is worth it.
“We have been on the road in Arunachal Pradesh for the past week of April as part of the Trans-Arunachal Drive, hopping across campsites and soaking in the beautiful outdoors. After a nerve-wracking river-rafting experience in Bomjir, some of us opt to break away from the convoy’s itinerary and head to Basar, while the rest proceed to the picturesque campsite at Geku up north. Why, you ask? The Mopin Festival, the Galo tribe’s annual harvest festival is set to kick off the next day and after a whirlwind adventure through the tricky Arunachali terrain, the festivities in Basar offer a pleasant cultural immersion to round off the six-day drive.”
A writer’s journey to Basar, in the state’s less explored central region, is dogged by curious misfortune and an even curiouser brush with some mysterious folklore. Read his account here.
A standout this year was the introduction of our photography series NGTIRawFile. Travel photographers shoulder and nourish our collective imaginations about places. And this is our ongoing effort to engage with and understand their work. September’s edition featured Dimpy Bhalotia, known for her transcendent iPhone shots, whose fear of dogs propelled her to capture her frame, Urban Animal. Also worth name-checking in our favourite photo narrators is Zahra Amiruddin, whose perspective on Maharashtra’s Kas Pathar plateau was refreshingly earthy and a break from the usually prettified coverage of the region.
Our second instalment of Raw File featured this shot, titled Urban Animal, part of a series where photographer Dimpy Bhalotia decided to take on her fear of dogs, and eventually got the better of it.
“Cynophobia dominated all my childhood, so much so that avoiding parks and elevators became a routine. It got worse when I got into street photography, as I had to be on the streets more than ever. But my belief that the universe is a piece of art and so is every soul and street, couldn’t kill my inspiration that makes photography my fitoor (passionate obsession).”
Baroque, bawdy and boozy, the story of London’s historic Victorian gin palaces bounces with the energy of a punch-drunk rapscallion swinging from the chandeliers. For the spirit connoisseur, there is too much fun to be had in this piece but in addition, they might also pick up unbelievably colourful nuggets about 19th-Century English life. Not far from the Old Blighty, an expat writer from Dublin assembles an impressively exhaustive guide to fine dining in her city. Name your craving—Indian, barbeque or Vietnamese—and she’s got you covered.
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, London lavishes in its Victorian gin palaces: 19th-century gin outlets that speckle the British capital, their birthplace. Chances are, if you’ve ever ambled around Oxford Circus, Covent Garden, or Holborn, you’ve passed one of them, possibly registering the flower-adorned facades as one of the city’s historical pubs. And you wouldn’t, exactly, be wrong. These days they typically pour more pints than tonic, and are oft owned by big brewers like Fuller’s, Greene King, or Sam Smith; but step inside, and you enter a universe of stained glass, heavy mahogany island bars, miraculous mirror work, and, now ornamental, gas lamps—all built in the name of gin.”
Images are the inspirational fuel for three filmmakers—Hansal Mehta, Nagesh Kukunoor and Onir—but so is travel. The directors share their deep, abiding love for Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kashmir in a series of interviews with writer Shaikh Ayaz, opening up about childhood memories, frequent trips to these places and their influence on the directors’ filmography. Then there’s Babish, a culinary fanatic with a cinematic heart. In his chat with NGTI, the YouTube celebrity (known for recreating dishes from pop culture), struck an unassuming presence, full of wisdom about how to start one’s creative journey, his favourite food movies and his mother’s cooking.
‘In Kukunoor’s 1998 debut, Hyderabad Blues, one character announces, “Once a Hyderabadi, always a Hyderabadi.” And food, he admits, is one way to bat away the Hyderabad blues. “I have a close-knit friend circle and we bond over food,” says Kukunoor, who was born in Narayanguda, a residential cradle close to Charminar, the city’s historic and spiritual centre. The city and its culture as captured in Hyderabad Blues is a reconstruction of his memories of the home he had left behind. “I remember we had a Hyderabad montage showcasing all the landmarks but due to budget constraints it had to be dropped. Looking back and as I grow older, it’s one of my regrets not to have done it, especially because Hyderabad has changed so rapidly,” he says.’
Prospecting for travelogues in Ladakh can seem easy; every brook, every stone tells a story. But there are reaches of this beautiful desert that are yet unmined and, chronicling a weeklong sojourn, ‘In Pursuit of Ladakh’s Soft Gold’, does just that, following the land’s entrenched history with pashmina, right up to its present-day custodians and the existential threats they face. Another example of cultural immersion transported us to Bengal’s artistic past. A writer, visiting the Kolkata exhibit ‘Ghare Baire’, lost herself in her hometown art, meditating on the undeniable impact and timelessness of greats like Jamini Roy and Sakti Burman.
“The nomadic camp is the pivot of this trail. It’s like watching the beginning of the life of pashmina, the opening scene of which for us is wave after wave of hundreds of changras scampering down the slopes. The golden hour is riding their soft backs as they descend clamouring like schoolboys, their bleats echoing all over the valley. Meanwhile, a kid with a wispy, white coat with blotches of brown, lets out plaintive yells from a little pen.
‘The poor thing has probably smelled its mother in that flock,’ Urgyan tells Tamchos. Tamchos, a smiling, persuasive young man in his early twenties is Urgyan’s cousin from Kargil who is here as part of the Mantra staff.
Before the goats, sheep, yaks and drimos make their way down, and are showed into their pens, Urgyan, who has been my only male company all these days, takes me to a village house owned by Norbu and his family. While a sale of sheep-wool rugs and carpets goes down in the courtyard and the group finishes their butter tea, Norbu offers me a spot of dried yak meat.”
Even the most nonchalant of Liverpudlians might have winced at the stripping of the city’s World Heritage Site credentials by UNESCO. For the rest of the world, it was a curious cautionary tale, something that had only occurred twice before. Our detailed explainer dove into why and how a place might find themselves in a similar position, where Liverpool faltered and what its fate foretells for those who take their cultural inheritance lightly.
“Liverpool has never struggled for bragging rights: be it the Beatles, Liverpool FC or Europe’s oldest Chinatown, travellers have swarmed the English city for reasons their own. However, July 21 was a minor blow to its reputation with the city’s historic waterfront, being removed from the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At a session held in Fuzhou, China, UNESCO stripped it of the prestigious tag, citing loss of its original maritime-mercantile character, which once made Liverpool a pioneer in global trading and a major port of trade and commerce in the British empire.”