Back in 2019, I journeyed across three continents, dancing through rugged landscapes, forging connections with extraordinary souls, and immersing myself in a meaningful volunteering program. Little did I know that the world, brimming with life and possibilities, would come to a sudden halt in 2020, veiled in the melancholic shadow of COVID-19. My once vibrant bucket list, carefully folded and set aside, echoed with the silent hopes of a world on pause, yearning for healing.
It did heal, and two years passed by the wink of an eye!
So when 2023 was setting in, I didn’t wait to flap my wings to fly away. The year was a kaleidoscope of emotions, cultural revelations, and unexpected encounters as I traversed the globe, discovering more than just picturesque vistas.
Here are the 5 best things I learned from my journeys.
Bangladesh: I traveled to the land of my grandmother and felt like a pilgrimage to my roots.
Growing up in a Bengali middle-class household, the very mention of Bangladesh held a special place in my heart. It carried the echoes of my grandmother’s childhood tales and long-hidden family secrets inscribed on crumbled pieces of paper. But my familiarity with the land happened through a dear friend, who later got posted in Dhaka.
I traveled to Bangladesh twice last year, once in February and then again, in October. And both trips meant so much more than mere vacations! During my first visit, I spent most of my time with Jishu, in Dhaka, exploring the vibrant chaos of the city, listening to the melodious prayers echoing through ancient mosques, and soaking in the simplicity of rural life as we traveled to Chottogram (Chittagong) and Cox’s Bazaar. There were moments when I paused, to think of Thamma (my grandmother, as I would call her), and I wondered how she would have felt seeing today’s Bangladesh.
The second sojourn to Dhaka held a different kind of magic – an invitation to witness the union of two souls, Antara and Fahad. Their wedding was a tale of heartwarming moments, woven with threads of tradition, laughter, and the enduring spirit of hospitality.
During my trips to Bangladesh, I realized the beauty of connection and a profound sense of belonging that can only be found when one returns to their origins. The bustling streets of Dhaka, the serene landscapes of Chottogram, and the joyous celebrations of the wedding created a mosaic of experiences that transcended time.
Read about my experiences in Bangladesh, here.
Sri Lanka: I realized that the world beyond our checklist has a lot of surprises for us in store.
Sourav and I had decided that we would travel somewhere (anywhere) once my passport got renewed (which was stuck in bureaucratic limbo!). As soon as the coveted black book arrived in our hands, we wasted no time – the tickets to Colombo were booked in a heartbeat!
There was no plan, no itinerary! We just followed the winds of adventure and drove to Galle from Colombo, where time seemed to slow down, and each moment unfolded like a cherished page in an unwritten travel journal. In those 4 days, from chasing sunsets in Unawatuna, to simply getting lost in the labyrinthine streets of Galle, from savoring delicious crab curries to sitting by the beach and talking for hours, I realized that true travel isn’t just about ticking off a checklist but immersing oneself in the unscripted beauty of the moment.
Read about my adventures in Sri Lanka, here.
Oman: I learned that the Middle East isn’t just about deserts, bedouins, and camels nor shopping and luxury retreats!
When thoughts of the Middle East arise, it’s usually the gleaming skylines of Dubai or the opulence of Abu Dhabi that captivate our imaginations, leading us to envision glamorous destinations synonymous with fine dining and shopping. However, I had to read a lot about Oman earlier last year and when I finally had the chance to travel to this ‘not so popular’ country, I was quite excited. Contrary to popular belief, the Sultanate of Oman proved to be more than just endless deserts and nomadic tales.
From the grandeur of Muscat’s architecture to the tranquil beauty of Wadi Shab, Oman unfolded as a multifaceted gem in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula. As we floated on the emerald waters of Bimmah Sinkhole, we wondered how we are always wrong about places we’ve never seen! And then, we spotted a pod of dolphins in the Gulf of Oman – a memory that’ll always remain close to my heart.
Over those 5 days, I learned that stereotypes often blind us, so it’s important to peel back the layers and discover the hidden wonders that lie beyond the surface.
Bali: I learned that a journey isn’t always about a destination, but sometimes, it’s about the people we meet on the way.
I was fortunate enough to be selected for a creators’ program (read: BHX) which took me to Bali with a bunch of 19 strangers. We were all put in a villa for a week, where we had workshops and creative sessions. And there, I heard stories of people and their vulnerabilities, their work and their challenges. Traveling with strangers transformed my perspective on connection and the universal language of love and bonding.
I shared a room with Poorva, who seemed like one of the most introverted people in the group, but we ended up chatting for hours over wine and cheese. Although I barely got to explore Bali, I discovered that the essence of travel lies not just in the places we visit but in the people we meet along the way.
Hong Kong: I was captivated by the juxtaposition of modernity and tradition.
And just before the year was about to end, I had the chance to travel to Hong Kong, which initially was more about visiting a ‘childhood dream destination’ – Disneyland! But once I landed, amidst the towering skyscrapers and bustling streets, I found a city that seemed frozen in time – a living testament to the coexistence of the old and the new.
In the fragrant incense spirals of Wong Tai Sin Temple and the rhythmic beats of a traditional dragon dance, I learned that, despite the relentless march of progress, there are places that manage to preserve the soul of their past.
I was accompanied by a colleague, Nargis, for whom this was her first international trip, and as I saw her wander around the streets of Kowloon, I remembered my first trip abroad. While I was soaking in the hustle and bustle of the city, Nargis was trying to capture its dynamism, wherever she could. Navigating through a sea of crowds on New Year’s Eve, we found ourselves at Victoria Harbor, where the harmonious cacophony of people singing and exchanging wishes merged with the explosive symphony of fireworks.
Reflecting on the year that just went by, my heart fills with joy to think about all the good things that came my way, all the beautiful people I met, the enriching experiences I had, and the places I saw. Grateful and how!