Before the whole world had to retreat into confinement, Sobhita Dhulipala was a creature of the road. Although her packed shooting schedule wouldn’t allow much breathing space, the Made in Heaven actor never compromised on her travel bucket list. Dhulipala’s natural habitat is away from home, whether she’s exploring retro art galleries in Tuscany, scaling the Khardung La or beach-bumming alongside crystal blue lagoons in Mauritius. In an interview with NGTI, Dhulipala opens up about her deep-rooted travel fever, an impulsive backpacking phase in the beginning of her career, her love for exploring spice markets around the world and where she might be headed next.
You were born in Tenali, Andhra Pradesh, you grew up in Visakhapatnam and you are now settled in Mumbai. Travelling must have been the norm for you, growing up?
The first travel memory I can conjure is visiting this wilderness area in Visakhapatnam on a school trip. I remember that we were just setting up a picnic, when suddenly we heard a cheetah roaring somewhere nearby. We were forced to evacuate the premises. That was a dramatic start to my travel life, yes. Growing up, I’ve had the pleasure of calling many places my own, but yes, home has always been in transit.
What does travelling mean to you?
Whenever I travel, it’s humbling to discover how little one truly needs in order to be happy and that no matter where we come from and where we’d like to go, our lives are the same everywhere. I actually had a backpacking phase right after college, when I had just begun my modelling career. At the time, it felt like I was living my life with one foot on the ground and the other in abyss.
You’ve vacationed in places like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Ladakh and the Andaman And Nicobar Islands. What did you take back from these travels?
Being a vegetarian in some of these places was a bit straining; What I also learned, however, was that feeling tiny amongst the vastness of beaches (of Mauritius and Andaman Islands) and mountains (in Ladakh) is something I now consider a treasured feeling. So is spending time with locals of these regions, learning about their culture and of course—sampling their unique dishes—all of which make for a highly gratifying experience.
If a place you’re shooting at is exotic, do you explore it?
I’ve been lucky enough to get a chance to explore parts of Ladakhi terrain when I was shooting for Bard of Blood, and parts of Purani Dilli during Made in Heaven—places which I may not have chanced upon normally.
Are you a kicking-back-with-a-book-and-cocktail kind of traveller or do you go jumping down the rabbit hole?
Good lord, I am a total museum junkie—I’m obsessed with history and literature. I spend a lot of time walking around old lanes by myself, with slow halts for coffee breaks in quaint cafes, forever armed with books and a suitable playlist. Every place I go to ends up having its own playlist, actually.
Does food play a role in your travel plans?
I think I naturally gravitate to local experiences, which includes satiating my culinary appetite. I do try to visit the flea markets and spice markets in whichever place I visit; it is the hustle-bustle of these markets that I find so invigorating.
Is there a place in this world that you keep returning to?
I’d have to call on Europe for this; I keep going back, although there are many parts of the continent that I’m yet to discover. I am hoping to visit the Nordic belt soon. I’m also extremely curious about rural Middle East. I’ve read so many books about living a life in those countries; I’m definitely drawn to the idea of it.
Where’s your next planned (or unplanned) trip?
I’m more impulsive. I dive headlong into my next trip based purely on instinct. As of now, I haven’t got a plan in the books.
Have you undertaken any solo trips?
It is my favourite kind of travel—a lot of my learning, unlearning and understanding of life has come from solo trips that I’ve embarked on with a full heart and a light bag. India itself is a treasure trove of so many solo travel spots—I’ve covered parts of Rajasthan, Punjab, the Northeast, Leh and Uttar Pradesh so far.
How does travel fuel your creativity as an artist?
The way I see it, travel isn’t a choice as much as a purpose. It is what feels most natural to me, almost like nourishment to my senses. I lead a simple life, almost a frugal one. I fuel my passions through the many tastes I sample casually along roads I may never walk again; or by the sunsets I stare at and choose not to photograph; or simply through the lives of strangers and fascinating stories, with whom I can experience a brief but fulfilling moment of human connection.
Sanjana Ray is that unwarranted tour guide people groan about on trips. When she isn't geeking out on travel and history, she can be found walking around the streets, crying for Bengali food. She is former Digital Writer at National Geographic Traveller India.