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Shivya Nath: A bold solo traveler who is breaking gender stereotypes

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Image source: the-shooting-star.com

In a majorly patriarchal Indian society, Shivya Nath found it in her to be a bold solo traveller. She leads a nomadic lifestyle, travelling across the world with her backpack. Shivya is the author of a best selling book, “The shooting star”, in which she highlights more about her life and experiences travelling. The book is an inspiration to women who are staying at home, craving a free lifestyle, and want to travel the world solo.

In this interview with Modern Diplomacy, Shivya tells us more about her life experiences journeying the world. She tells us what it takes to travel the world as a solo woman and narrates her experiences both bitter and sweet.

You have travelled so much and seen the world so intricately that you might as well be a nomad. The most obvious question – what convinced you to travel the world?

I grew up in a protective Indian family in Dehradun, a valley at the base of the Himalayas, and spent my childhood wondering what lay beyond the mountains I could see from my rooftop. Upon finishing high school, I went to Singapore to study, with big dreams and a big student loan. As luck would have it, I graduated in the middle of the financial recession of 2009, when most companies I wanted to work with had ceased hiring. I landed a job with the Singapore Tourism Board, where my experiments with social media began, and I first began following the journey of travel writers / bloggers around the world. It was impossible to tame my restless cubicle-bound soul, so in 2011, I took a 2 month unpaid sabbatical from work. I went flash-packing across Western Europe with a friend, and volunteer-travelled by myself in the high Himalayas of India. In those two months, I saw, experienced and lived more than I ever had before. Within a week of my return to work, I decided to quit my first and only corporate job with a dream of travelling the world on my own terms.

Your new project, Voices of Rural India is picking up steam and picking accolades for telling the most unlikeliest of stories. How do you envision it forward?

Voices of Rural India is an effort to turn this unprecedented pandemic into an opportunity to create alternate livelihoods by upgrading digital skills in rural India, while also preserving grassroots knowledge that is slowly disappearing. Voices of Rural India is a not-for-profit digital initiative that hopes to revolutionize storytelling, by hosting curated stories by rural storytellers – in written, photo or video format. Unlike most existing online platforms, the stories of rural India are told directly by local storytellers. In the short-term, Voices of Rural India is creating a revenue stream for affected communities through digital journalism. In the long run, it aims to develop digital storytelling skills at the grassroots level, along with becoming a repository of local culture and knowledge, documented in local voices. We are currently working with rural communities in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat, through on-ground community-based tourism organisations like Global Himalayan Expedition, Himalayan Ecotourism, Himalayan Ark, Spiti Ecosphere and Grassroutes Journeys. The initiative is supported by the Digital Empowerment Foundation. We’re eagerly looking forward to a post-Covid world, where we can physically travel to visit the communities we’re virtually working with, conduct digital storytelling workshops, identify local talent and hopefully bridge some of the gaping urban-rural digital divide.

Your favourite place so far? You can give multiple answers of course.

There’s so much to love about so many places! I love my home country India, because despite its challenges, nowhere comes close to the diversity of natural beauty, food and culture it offers. It’s perhaps one of the few places in the world where strangers are the quickest to become friends. Other than that, I feel a deep connection to Guatemala, Bhutan, Georgia and Iran.

Your passion for environmental protection and climate change issues is also noteworthy. What do you think should be the biggest change that can make mankind save itself?

Unlearning.

The more I slow travel around the world, the more I unlearn conventional ways of doing things. And that’s exactly what we need on a massive scale – politically, economically and individually.

We need to unlearn our reliance on fossil fuels, the issues based on which we elect our leaders, the way we treat some animals as friends and others as food (speciesism), the way we measure development and so on.

A deep unlearning will (hopefully) allow us to re-establish a world driven by mindfulness and compassion, rather than money.

Your book ‘A Shooting Star’ is a bestseller. Along with the travelogue, it is also about a spiritual journey one undertakes. Do you thus agree with the phrase that humans can better understand oneself and another with more communication and a better experience of diversity?

The Shooting Star charts my battles and adventures from the cubicle to the road, and from small-town India to remote corners of the globe. I write candidly about my struggles of transitioning from an average Indian girl to a free soul, who wanted to live on her own terms, explore the world meaningfully and smash stereotypes along the way. I write about my relationships, battles, triumphs and life-changing encounters, and how I tried to conquer my deepest fears.

There’s no doubt that travelling is as much an inner journey as a physical one.

Tell us about a time when you were travelling alone and felt challenged?

After traveling safely and adventurously through some of Central America’s more notorious countries (like Honduras, labelled ‘the most violent place on earth’),  I had pretty much let my guard down in Costa Rica. On a hurriedly hailed cab ride to the airport to impulsively catch a flight to the Pacific Coast, the cabbie and I chatted like long lost friends. Closer to the airport, he told me we’d get stuck in traffic so it’s better to drop off a street before and walk; I agreed without thinking twice. When we arrived, I paid him and got off the cab, only to see him grabbing my small bag – the one with my passport, laptop and everything precious – asking for more money or he’d take off with it. I had the equivalent of 50$ in my pocket and gave it to him, shivering at the idea of being left alone without my valuables. In retrospect, there were a lot of hints I didn’t catch; he asked me if I had family in the country, or if I had a local SIM card – pointed questions that should have made me wary. I felt shaken up for days, refused to trust anyone else I met along the way, and found solace in places crowded with other tourists, much unlike my usual travel style. It really wasn’t about the money I lost, but the trust I lost, and it took me months to rebuild it.

What has been your biggest achievement till date? The most satisfying moment in your career?

There have been many satisfying moments on this journey: Publishing my first book and seeing it become a national bestseller in just over a month of release; recognition, awards and international features for my work to promote responsible, immersive travel; launching a clothing collection inspired by The Shooting Star that raises funds to grow forests in my home state Uttarakhand; and most recently, co-founding Voices of Rural India to challenge the way digital storytelling is typically done in India. But I think I feel the deepest satisfaction when a reader reaches out to me to share how my work has played a role in inspiring them to make different life or travel choices.

Travelling, that too alone is still considered a taboo for women in large parts of India. What do you think will change that?

As more of us choose to travel solo and share our stories online or offline, change is bound to happen. While female solo travellers are still considered an anomaly in some parts of India and the world, there’s a lot more chatter, acceptance and encouragement online now.

Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.

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Norwegian Cruise Line Introduces Norwegian Viva

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Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), the innovator in global cruise travel, today unveiled Norwegian Viva, the next ship in its brand-new Prima Class.

Providing guests with elevated experiences including more wide-open spaces, thoughtful and stunning design and exceptional service, Norwegian Viva will begin sailing remarkable Mediterranean itineraries in June 2023, homeporting in key Southern European port cities including Lisbon, Portugal; Venice (Trieste) and Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy; and Athens (Piraeus), Greece. She will then sail the Southern Caribbean for her 2023-2024 Winter Season offering warm-weather getaways from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Mirroring the upscale design and structure of her record-breaking sister ship Norwegian Prima, Norwegian Viva, also built by renowned Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri in Marghera, Italy, will debut at 965 feet long, 142,500 gross tons and accommodate 3,219 guests at double occupancy. Travelers will live up every second of their journey in the most spacious accommodations including the brand’s largest inside, ocean view and balcony category staterooms.

The world-class vessel will not only offer the highest staffing levels and space ratio of any new cruise ship in the contemporary and premium cruise categories and largest variety of suite categories available at sea, but will also boast a redefined The Haven by Norwegian, NCL’s ultra-premium keycard only access ship-within-a-ship concept. The Haven’s public areas and 107 suites designed by Piero Lissoni, one of Italy’s most renowned designers, will feature an expansive sundeck, a stunning infinity pool overlooking the ship’s wake and an outdoor spa with a glass-walled sauna and cold room.

The Prima Class’ variety of recreational activities also make their elevated comeback on Norwegian Viva with only-available-on-Prima-Class experiences including the fastest freefall drop dry slides at sea with The Rush and The Drop and the largest three-level racetrack at sea with the Viva Speedway.

Norwegian Viva will feature Ocean Boulevard, the 44,000 square foot outdoor walk way which wraps around the entire ship;  Indulge Food Hall featuring 11 varieties of eateries; The Concourse boasting an outdoor sculpture garden; expansive pool decks and infinity style pools at Infinity Beach and Oceanwalk, showcasing glass bridges above water.

Harry Sommer, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line, said: “Norwegian Viva sets the standard in the premium segment, illustrating our commitment to pushing boundaries in four main areas: wide open space, service that puts guests first, thoughtful design and experiences beyond expectation. We have taken everything our guests love to the next level with this brand-new class of ships designed with them in mind.”

Norwegian Viva will boast eye-catching hull art designed by Italian graffiti and sculpture artist Manuel Di Rita, commonly known as “Peeta,” who also illustrated the exceptional hull design on Norwegian Prima. World-class architects who helped design Norwegian Prima including Rockwell Group, SMC Design and Miami-based Studio Dado, also have returned to influence the aesthetic of various restaurants, staterooms and public areas.

“Norwegian Viva, the second of six Prima Class vessels being built with us, reinforces the great collaboration between Norwegian Cruise Line and Fincantieri,” said Luigi Matarazzo, General Manager Merchant Ships Division at Fincantieri. “We were extremely satisfied that Norwegian Prima, the first of the new class, earned record-breaking bookings and we are excited to see how Norwegian Viva will live up to her sister ship. As we proved our resilience during these challenging times, this announcement represents another testament to Fincantieri´s global leadership role in the cruise sector.”

The first two Prima Class vessels, Norwegian Prima and Norwegian Viva, will feature cutting-edge alternative technologies, such as a NOx reduction system (SCR), that reduce the ship’s overall environmental impact.  SCR catalysts filter out sulfur oxides up to 98% and nitrogen oxides up to 90%, ensuring the vessels meet Tier III NOx compliance. Further, they will be equipped with an Exhaust Gas Cleaning System (EGCS), an Advanced Wastewater Treatment System to treat and clean all wastewater to meet stringent international standards and Cold Ironing functionality to connect to onshore power grids to further reduce emissions while in port.

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Surprise Your Family with These 3 Memorable Gifts

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Finding the perfect gift for your family can be a challenge, especially when you’re not quite sure where to start. And since chances are everyone in your family has different tastes, you might be wondering which types of gifts will appease everyone. Fortunately, there’s a long list of gifts that will cover all of your family’s bases. 

Narrowing down your list will ensure you’ve given plenty of thought to each idea, ideally ending up with your family being beyond thrilled with what you’ve chosen. Here are three memorable gifts to consider giving your family. 

1. An Unforgettable Travel Experience 

Traveling with your family is one of the best ways to spend quality time together away from it all. It’s a way to explore, experience new things and make plenty of memories. Surprising your family with the trip of a lifetime would be a wonderful gift for everyone, so why not add one to your list this year? 

One of the best parts about traveling as a family is that there are so many options for where to go and what to do. And when your goal is to give the perfect gift, choosing a trip that will go down in the books as one of the best family memories ever is a good place to start. 

Let a Europe cruise immerse your family in gorgeous scenery, amazing food and rich history. A ski trip would be a fun way for everyone to enjoy the great outdoors together. Imagine your whole family enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of a tropical island, maybe snorkeling or even giving parasailing a try. 

2. Family Heirloom Pieces 

One of the nicest gifts you can give anyone is something that comes from the heart. Investing in a personalized, one-of-a-kind piece for your family will add a wonderful touch to your home for years to come. What’s great about this is that there are so many directions you can take it.  

Depending on your home decor style, you may find that some types of art are better suited than others. Getting creative and making a thoughtful decision will ensure you choose the best piece for your family.

A wrought iron or hand-carved wooden namesake sign could grace your front entrance for years, bringing a sense of home each time you pass it by. A family constellation print would not only be beautiful to look at, but a fun activity to do together time after time (try pairing it with a telescope!). There are so many other options for other personalized items, including DIY projects as well. 

3. A Home Improvement Project

Is there something in your home that everyone can agree needs updating? Is there something you’ve always wanted to add to your home but haven’t gotten around to doing? Now’s the perfect time to take action. What better way than to make it a surprise for the rest of your family?

It could be that your kitchen is outdated and cramped, but it’s also the place where your family spends the most time. While a full kitchen renovation is certainly an investment, it’s also something that will pay you back in no time. Or maybe your family has always dreamed of a backyard pool, so you decide to make that a reality. It could also be something like finishing off an area of the basement and creating a game room.

Since home is where your family spends the most time, it only makes sense to do all you can to make it the best possible space for everyone. Presenting it as a gift will make whatever you do that much more special and heartfelt. 

Surprising your family with a gift can be approached in so many different ways. Remember that a gift can be anything — an experience, a material item, or a project of some sort. Spend time thinking about what would best benefit your family and bring the most joy and get ready to give the best gift ever.

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Pakistan – A Wonderful Destination For Adventurous Sports

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Pakistan is famous for its exciting cities, historical sites, hospitality, great cuisines across the world. However, most of the international states are not aware of the fact that it is an excellent destination to enjoy adventurous sports as well as cultural festivities. The variety of adventure sports in Pakistan is enormous. There are a number of adventurous destinations for extracurricular activities in Pakistan, which anybody can travel to. From fishing to river rafting, skiing to camping and jeep safari to mountaineering, Pakistan is gifted with such vibrant geographical landscapes that makes it outstanding tourist destination.

The northern areas of Pakistan are known as hub of Adventure sports and open to tourists and sportsman’s wonderful opportunities. Its rivers falling down from the snowcapped mountains and glaciers are great for water sports like river rafting, canoeing, sailing and kayaking. Horse and Camel safaris are other two exciting activities to enjoy. There are various destinations in northern Pakistan that provide wonderful opportunities for jeep safaris. Some of the destinations that can be visited for jeep safari include Gilgit, Hunza, Shandur, Sust and Skardu. Rivers Chitral, Indus, Gilgit, Swat, Hunza, Kunar and the Neelum offer exciting opportunities for water sports. There are mountains that offer wonderful trekking trails that lead to some beautiful spots.

Likewise, Swat is being called as Switzerland of Pakistan. Pakistan also offers beautiful spots for skiing. Swat’s Malam Jabba is one of the best skiing resorts. If Jeep Safari is what gives one thrill, perhaps there is hardly any destination as exciting as the Northern Areas: hence one should come here without any fear and must enjoy the adventure.  

Mountaineers from all over the world continue to test their minds and bodies by ascending some of toughest terrains in the world. Mountaineering is a highly specialized sport, especially on the 8,000-meter high mountain peaks, five of which are located in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region of Pakistan. These include K-2, Nangaparbat, G-I & II and Broad peak. Besides, 70% of mountain peaks above 7,000 meters are also located in Pakistan. An elite group of mountaineers, some of the best in the world, challenge the limits of what is thought to be humanly possible by attempting every winter to climb these summits.

Pakistan has produced wonderful legends in the field of mountaineering like Nazir Sabir, the first Pakistani to summit Mount Everest; Muhammad Ali Sadpara, the first Pakistani to summit Nanga Parbat in winter; and his son Hasan Sadpara. Muhammad Ali Sadpara has put Pakistan’s mountaineering in limelight at the cost of his own life.

Pakistan also has a lot of scope in the field of rock climbing. Unlike mountaineering, rock climbing is not an exciting sport in popular perception. Rock climbing is probably one of the toughest and most dangerous forms of extreme sports.

The season, which attracts mountain climbers from all parts of the world, creates a hoard of opportunities for mountaineering-related businesses in the country and helps Pakistan generate millions in lieu of taxes and fees every year. The life of common people is very tough in Northern areas of Pakistan due to extreme weather conditions specially winter. Pakistan govt has built various lodges along the whole routes, and has offered more services, this step has enticed more people to come. Visa process for foreigners to get tourist visas for Pakistan has been made very easy.

There are few suggestions which can help in bringing more charm in these games. International federations must contribute funds which assist in making the life of public better in the northern areas of Pakistan. The doors of President and PM houses should be opened for national and international mountaineers who summit main peaks and those success stories should be highlighted on international media as well. This adventure sport should be made top priority by government. There is a need to establish an international level professional mountaineering school and a trained rescue team of experts.

The Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) should be given more strength. The ACP needs thorough professionals on board to make it more vibrant organization to promote and mainstream mountaineering in Pakistan and attract foreign mountaineers and trekkers. Government and state departments should make more focus to check the bottlenecks and facilitate the trekking expeditions. It is suggested that Mountaineers and High Altitude Porters (HAPs) have no insurance schemes, proper training and sponsorships, they should be facilitated at all levels.  

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