TODAY -

Couch surfing !

S Balakrishnan *



Couch Surfing?! Never heard this phrase before! Of course I am familiar with the phrase 'Couch Potato' (which I am not) and coast surfing (which I dare not) but not Couch Surfing.

It is a jargon of the Travel & Tourism Sector, meaning 'surfing/searching for a couch/bed'; it is the most economical accommodation method sought by travelers just the bed, a space of 6x3 ft. to rest the weary legs.

I learnt this jargon from a woman traveler. As they say, there is no end to learning in one's life, especially in these days of fast development in various fields. But this is all about that woman rather than about Couch Surfing.

No wonder that woman is an ex-teacher! Ms. Vanita Dogar is my Guru for this jargon. 'Dogra, right?' I flashed my superficial knowledge. 'No, the Dogras live in the Jammu region', she corrected me; after all, she was a Geography Teacher! 'I am a Dogar from Himachal Pradesh, not gra or ger but gar, Dogar', she emphasized - my next lesson from the Guru.

Ms. Vanita recently stayed with us in Chennai for two nights during her solo travel; my daughter, also a traveler, had met her in Assam sometime back. I could not suppress my surprise because of my (poor) idea of north Indian women with ghunghat (veil)-covered faces, shying away from outsiders. Don't blame me, I haven't gone beyond Delhi and that was also some two decades ago!

Ms. Dogar put me to further shame by valiantly declaring that she had solo travelled to many European countries, even to remote places where people do not know English. As regards India, she is yet to cover five NE States, and some more States. She gave up visiting foreign countries as she felt India is far more incredible with so much diversity. "Unbelievable!" She exclaimed. True, indeed! I agreed.

But she has one foreign trip dream that of travelling in the trans-Siberian train. Oh, well, my dreams are just local - to travel at least once in the Palace on Wheels train, Konkan railway, and now the Ganga Vilas cruise from Varanasi to Dibrugarh.

She ranked Nepal, our neighbouring country, as the best among her foreign trips. I could not help agreeing with her, though Nepal remains the one and only foreign country I have ever visited. Poor me, I could not help envying her. Her bonding with Nepal went to the extent of assisting there after the 2015 earthquake.

Though she is foot-loose all around India, her husband is charmed forever with Goa. But she decided to explore the rest of India after repeated trips to Goa, and she never regretted her decision. No wonder their daughter is also a traveler who has done BBA in Travel & Tourism.

'As a Geography teacher I very much relate with the places I visit', she felt happy. 'I eat what is available; I don't pamper myself. Sometimes I just survive on fruits alone', she revealed one of her travel mantras.

When she eats in restaurants or stays in a place with a boarding facility, she requests for "staff food" which is prepared fresh for the staff of the hotel and better than what is served to the customers another of her travel secrets. Locally she prefers covering the places on foot a daily coverage of 10,000 steps.

Why solo travel when all the three family members are interested in trips? I could not hold my curiosity. 'Well, when you travel with a companion you mostly interact with him/her only and not much with new people.' How true, I realized. My wife immediately jumped to a conclusion to desert me temporarily and go on a solo trip to the desert in Rajasthan.

My reaction? Oh, yes, you guessed it right! 'While travelling we family members do not bother each other by calling daily with routine questions like what did you cook/eat, where you are, what are you doing, etc. But we are always ready to reach each other if the situation demands', she exuded confidence.

The first time I saw her, what attracted was her nose ring which is rarely worn these days in Tamil Nadu. I have seen this among Nepali women in Sikkim; to my surprise it is called 'bullakhi' in Nepali which is so close to its Tamil name 'pullakku'. Adding to this surprise, Google said it is called 'bullaku' in Hindi.

Unity in Diversity! I could gather only little information from her about her State Himachal Pradesh as she was in a hurry to catch the bus to Auroville in Puducherry (Pondicherry), her next stop in her annual sojourn, breaking from her business. 'We speak Himachali and not Hindi', she said, revealing my poor knowledge about other States of India.

'But the script is Devanagari. There are many dialects of Himachali which I can't understand fully', she added. 'Travel teaches you a lot', added the ex-teacher. She keenly observed us celebrating the Pongal festival on Makara Sankranthi day, which is basically a harvest festival to thank Sun and the cattle that help in farming.

As Ms. Vanita Dogar bade us goodbye with a solo backpack bursting with her belongings, she shattered my backward opinion of Indian women as a whole. Hope many women come out of their 'homely' shackles and joyfully travel, including my wife! I am sure the husbands would only be too happy to see their wife pack off albeit temporarily.

In the end, I am also planning to provide a couch facility to travelers so that without travelling I can gain interesting travelling experience from such unique travelers. Ms. Dogar can definitely feel proud of herself. Bravo! Keep travelling!


* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on February 05 2023.



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