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?
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.
Best Restaurants and Bars of Downtown Calgary
Located on the prairies, Calgary receives the most sunlight of all of Canada’s major cities. Summers can be hot and humid, while winters are generally mild especially in contrast to the rest of Canada. The city receives so much sunshine throughout the year, even during the winter months, that living there is a desirable option for many looking to relocate.
Although this expanding metropolis is wealthy, living expenditures in Calgary are lower than in its coastal neighbor Vancouver. Calgary Homes for Sale are selling at an all-time high, with individuals migrating from townhouses and condominiums to single-family homes, and those who already own a home are choosing to upgrade.
Calgary has achieved significant progress in the culinary business during the last decade. The city is presently thriving with a rich restaurant culture that rivals that of any other big metropolis. Below are some of the best restaurants and bars of downtown Calgary.
Healthy eaters typically develop a big craving for Ten Foot Henry. They provide a fresh veggie menu and family-style eating, and they’re open until 11 p.m. every day to accommodate those who might have a late-night yearning for really tasty (and healthy) cuisine. Also, if you’re in a hurry, you can stop by the Little Henry café for a quick bite.
Holy Grill is a must-visit if you’re in the downtown area and searching for a decent lunch spot. They understand that your lunch break is limited with work or personal obligations, but that you don’t want to trade outstanding taste for convenience. Customers can order hot meals from the grill, which are cooked using fresh ingredients. Meals are carefully prepared and the service is generally quick so you can return to work or get back to touring Calgary’s streets as soon as possible.
Betty Lou’s Library is considered Calgary’s best kept local secret because discovering the library’s entrance is half the pleasure. You’ll need to remember the password given to you while making a reservation to get through the concealed doorway. Once inside, you’ll be transported to the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, where you’ll be able to relax on classic furniture while sipping cocktails named after notable 20s-era icons such as Zelda Fitzgerald. When you’re here, you can snack on little dishes of wonderful cuisine while reading The Great Gatsby, or enjoy stimulating conversation with members of your party.
Taste Restaurant serves tapas and specialty cocktails in a trendy and modern setting. The cozy and low-lit atmosphere is ideal for a date night. Visitors have the opportunity to observe their cuisine being prepared in the open kitchen. The tiny plates of food are designed to be shared and are brought to the table on a regular basis throughout the night. Taste’s menu changes seasonally to reflect the availability of local and seasonal products, ensuring that you always receive something new every time you visit.
The Lake House is a beautiful restaurant perched above Lake Bonavista with large glass windows lining the building’s façade, providing panoramic views of the lake and surrounding landscape. The menu features distinct rocky mountain cuisine, reflecting Western Canada’s regional tastes that are so flavorful that you’ll certainly return for seconds.
The future of travel – an all-hands-on-deck effort
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly shaken up the world, with travel and tourism, a major global growth driver accounting for 10 per cent of the world’s economy, one of the hardest-hit industries. The outbreak has in its wake created severe domino effects in the ecosystem; not only the major airlines or chain hotels affected, but also the 80% of the tourism sector made up of smaller accommodation providers plus the peripheral services associated with tourism, including food and beverage, cleaning service providers, local tour guides and transportation. With World Travel and Tourism Council’s latest forecast that up to 75 million jobs will be at risk, it begets the question: Is the industry going to recover?
The answer is yes, but it will take all hands on deck, and a strong collaboration among all parties.
Government support is crucial
The travel industry supports one in 10 jobs within the global workforce in Asia Pacific, the Americas and Europe, and rising to 13.3% of total employment in Southeast Asia. Governments can and are playing a critical role in supporting the industry to protect individuals’ livelihoods and in turn lead to economic recovery. Several governments have already announced stimulus packages to cushion the impact of the outbreak. This funding is proving crucial for the travel industry to maintain business continuity in the short term, but further to that, collaboration and cooperation with key industry players is important to help drive sustainable recovery within this sector. And the industry has not waited for smoke to clear to commence such conversations. For example, governments have already started working with key players and SMEs to develop and promote new, transparent safety and hygiene standards across tourism-related businesses, which will be crucial in driving traveler confidence again. Tourism ministries and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) can partner with online travel agents (OTAs) to inspire desire to travel and attract travelers to destinations right across their markets in a sustainable way, which supports communities outside of key tourist destinations that were also impacted by COVID-19. These digital travel platforms, with their expansive reach and marketing tools, act as a bridge to help DMOs reach domestic and international travel audiences, while DMOs can encourage future travel planning by funding traveler incentives, while properties offer flexible cancellations.
Role of industry players
Agile travel players can take the opportunity to improve their offering and build new capabilities, preparing for when travel picks up again. In fact, the recent guidelines from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to help the global tourism sector re-open smoothly and safely, emphasised the importance of innovation and technology in building the industry’s resilience. Accommodation providers, airlines and tour operators need to be attuned to changing travelers’ expectations, which may look quite different post-pandemic. Innovation to anticipate these evolving needs is essential and identifying solutions that prioritize safety and flexibility now during travel downtime, will go a long way to rebuilding confidence.
Research from Agoda.com shows that travelers expect more from their travel experience in the 2020s with advances in technology improving the efficiency and ease of booking and traveling. In fact, aside from improving payment options and booking processes, one in two South East Asians anticipate that mobile app check-in will become the norm at hotels or holiday accommodation this decade. This desire may be even more prevalent for travel post-COVID, as people may demand contactless processes as far as possible.
In addition, hoteliers and airlines for example, are reviewing and updating their cancellation policies and procedures to align with travelers’ new expectations. These updates will likely to include more flexible booking options, making use of data analytics to better review occupancy levels and pricing strategies according to demand, as well as working with different distribution channels to reach travelers with their accommodation offers or flight deals. Other players, such as credit card networks and banks, have a role to play as well and can support by promoting safe travel campaigns.
Most importantly, across the travel ecosystem, all parties should work in tandem to not only align the conditions for such new policies and strategies, but also coordinate on campaign themes and periods, making it easier and more attractive for travelers to plan and book their travel. OTAs are well positioned and equipped to connect these players, from DMOs, hotels, airlines, activity providers, and other supporting partners, to a wider consumer audience.
Travelers also have a part to play
Last but not least, travelers fuel the sector. People will want to travel again, to explore the beauty of the world on their doorstep and further afield, though we expect the pace of travel industry recovery will differ across the world. However, without the collective understanding for responsible travel once governments begin to lift travel restrictions, the recovery process will be a slow and arduous one.
Agoda’s Next Decade Survey found that more than 25% of people want to make more eco-friendly travel choices in the next decade. The pandemic may make us reflect even more on sustainable travel; travelers may become more aware of the impact of their decisions and habits, which may lead to seeking out more environmentally friendly hotels, or picking destinations in less visited secondary cities to help spread tourism dollars and rebuild local communities.
Travel was one of the fastest-growing industries and over the years we have seen that the industry is resilient in bouncing back from crises. People’s desire to travel will not be quelled. However, bringing back tourists and re-building confidence in travel is going to take new approaches and collaboration. Like the story of the bundle of sticks, where a single stick can be easily broken but not when held in a bundle, it will take a collaborative effort from all players to pull through this together and reinvigorate the travel sector in a safe and sustainable manner.
Sea Adventures: Athens Riviera
Athens may be known for its archaeological attractions, but it’s also one of few European capitals blessed with a swimmable coastline of EU-designated Blue Flag beaches and idyllic coves.
For those yearning for adventures on the water, you’ll feel spoiled for choice. Greece is home to some of the world’s most desirable sailing grounds, so there’s plenty of boating fun to be had, starting with the Athens Riviera. And there’s no better jump-off point than Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens, which sits at the edge of a secluded peninsula that juts out into the Saronic Gulf.
Choose between the slow and steady rhythm of a sailing yacht and the adrenaline rush of slicing through the water in a high-powered RIB. Whatever it is that floats your boat, a private yachting trip is the best way to reach the nearby islands of the Saronic.
Greece’s culture and way of life is inextricably tied to the sea, therefore, adventures on the water are a signature resort experience. Here, water therapy comes in all sorts of forms, from scuba diving and kayaking to open water swimming and beyond. Consult our concierge, who can tailor the experience to your specific interests.
Sail Your Way to Serenity
Few moments in life invoke a sense of freedom and serenity like casting along the water in a sailboat, the wind rushing through your hair. There’s something about being on the water and relying on the wind to chart your course that allows you to rediscover your spontaneous side. You’ll set off from Astir Marina for a half-day skippered sunset catamaran cruise around the islets of Hydrousa and Fleves, whose crystalline waters are ideal for swimming. Raise a toast to the generosity of Mother Nature with a glass of prosecco along with finger food, traditional Greek delicacies and fresh fruit. Make the experience even more memorable with a candlelit dinner at anchor in a sheltered bay.
Reach Remote Coves in a RIB Boat
Not only are RIB boats the fastest mode of marine transport, they also allow you to reach the most remote coves located along the Riviera and off the Saronic islands, many of which are inaccessible by land. Hop aboard and, in no time, your skipper will have you flying across the water, jetting between secret bays and inlets. You’ll be surprised to find aquamarine waters reminiscent of the Aegean, in locations such as tiny, pine-dotted Agistri island, situated a relatively brief boat ride away from the resort. All you need do is drop anchor and take a soul-reviving dip. As late afternoon rolls around, dock outside casual seaside taverna Apónēssos at the southwest tip of Agistri and sample grilled sardines and tuna carpaccio, the house specialty.
Take to the Sea on a Traditional Caique
One of the most unique ways to sail the Saronic is aboard a traditional Greek caique, or trehandiri, with a captain who knows these waters like the back of their hand. Powered by motor and, in some cases, sails, these boats are renowned for wide wooden hulls that are specifically designed for navigating Greece’s waters in safety and comfort. Guests can choose between lovingly-refitted wooden motor sailing boats such as the 48 foot (15 metre) Faneromeni, which was built from pine on the Sporades island of Skiathos in 1945. Like most of these hardy vessels, there’s a story behind each one: Faneromeni originally transported food and other goods to the islands. Today, many caiques feature cabins, dining facilities, deck lounges and water toys such as SUPs and snorkelling gear. Ask our concierge about packing a Four Seasons picnic basket filled with culinary delights. You may prefer one of our chefs to join you on the trip to prepare a delectable menu on board.
Scuba Diving for Everyone
Newbie scuba divers often find it hard to paint a picture of what it is like to see the underwater world for the first time. Below the sea surface, the world falls beautifully silent. Looking at the delicate marine ecosystem up close, one feels a deep sense of peace, wonder and delight. For those wanting to try scuba diving during their stay in Athens, the calm, protected waters of the Saronic make for ideal conditions. Our expert team can provide a one-hour taster lesson in the basics of diving close to shore, whereas private dive sessions further out at sea can be arranged for the more advanced.
Kayak to Cape Sounion
Test your form and explore the spectacular coastline around Cape Sounion, at the southeastern tip of greater Athens, on a guided sea kayak tour. Our kayak experts will show you rugged cliffs, take you to hidden caves and introduce you to Archi islet and the sand dunes of wild Legrena beach. You’ll have the opportunity to swim in refreshingly cool seas and fuel up with a snack before you continue to Cape Sounion. There, you’ll park your kayak on the shore and take a wander around the painstakingly-preserved fifth-century BC Temple of Poseidon, dedicated to the Olympian god of the sea. British poet and philhellene Lord Byron was so impressed that he carved his name on the white marble structure when he visited in the 19th century.
Swim Freely in the Open Sea
Recruit our professional swim coach, who is also a trained lifeguard, for an open water swimming session in the exceedingly safe, shallow Blue Flag waters of Vouliagmeni Bay. Treat it as a training session as part of your regular program or make it a leisurely swim in the sunshine, taking in sweeping views of the verdant peninsula. Your coach will wear a floatable safety device for the duration of your swim to ensure added peace of mind.
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