Roby Das earned a special mention in the Limca Book of Records for his 28-day solo bike ride from Srinagar to Kanyakumari, in 2011. An avid photographer and travel enthusiast who is always on the move, Roby has traveled the length and breadth of India, held 10 photography exhibitions and explored every nook and corner of the country, all on his own. Here is this wandering spirit in conversation with Meera Nair.
Do you ever tire of solo travel?
No. Not at all. There is so much freedom in solo travel. I enjoy traveling alone. When I travel on my own, I feel there is no need to make any compromise. If it is chicken biriyani I want to eat, I eat it. There is no compulsion to alter my likes to make someone else comfortable. I enjoy my own company. I have taken many of the important decisions in my life while traveling alone. And, most importantly, when I travel alone, I can truly be myself.
What or where is ‘home’ for you?
I lived in Kannur for the first 19 years of my life. Then in Delhi for 10 years. For the last three years, I have been living in Thiruvananthapuram. The flat that I live in is my home. There I have my favorite white bed sheet spread out on my bed, chairs of my choice, my fridge, my kitchen and everything arranged according to my taste. Each time I set out on a journey, my flat in Thiruvananthapuram is where I want to come back to. That is my home.
Do you have a dream destination?
Yes. I want to visit Pakistan. Pakistan is like an estranged brother. It saddens me to see the enmity between our country and theirs when fundamentally we are one.
Do you think people everywhere are the same? Or does geography define them?
There are definite features that define the people of a region. For instance, if you look at the people of rural, coastal Saurashtra in Gujarat, they are simple, straight, good human beings. But when you move a little towards Ahamedabad, you find the people cunning and with all the vices of a city. Likewise, a Malabari is different from a Southern Keralite. The people of a particular region no doubt exhibit common characteristics.
Are there destinations that you have wanted to revisit?
I have been to many places more than once due to official commitments. But I have been to the Pushkar Mela in Rajasthan six years in a row out of pure love. Likewise, Mcleodganj in Dharamsala is a destination I am very fond of and have visited several times.
How does travel become economically viable for you?
From the very beginning, I have always thought about how to make money from travel and not about spending money earned elsewhere on travel. I enjoy photography. And, initially, I used to turn my portraits into post cards. They were very popular and sold like hot cakes. I have held 10 solo photography exhibitions. Along the way, I have met many kinds of people who turned sponsors. And now, of course, there is this regular travel show I do for a television channel and a column that I write for a travel magazine.
What do you think makes a good traveler?
I think the most important quality is to merge in with your surroundings. When I visit a temple, I follow the customs there, when it a gurudwara, I follow the customs there. I speak to the people on the streets. I identify with them. Likewise, wherever I go, I try to fit in.