Want to know how to travel in style, just like the pros? We check in with frequent fliers to find out how often they fly, their favorite destinations and what they never leave home without.
Name: Anurag Chatrath
Occupation: I work in the Social Impact (Education) sector. Our organization is involved in the setting up of primary schools for underprivileged children in the northern Indian state of Punjab.
Hometown: Have lived in far too many cities/towns to be able to coherently mention one hometown without wasting too much paper, energy, and breath
Residence: Panchkula (India)
College: University of Edinburgh, Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad, India), and Delhi University (Delhi, India)
College major: Have been avoiding working by getting more degrees than I would ever need or use (sometimes I am derisively called a “slackademic”). Have three Masters degrees—in Economics, in Business Administration and in Creative Writing.
Facebook: Anurag Chatrath
Google+: Anurag Chatrath
Short bio: I am an MBA by profession—however I count words as better friends than numbers. After years and years of searching, I have figured that my passion lies somewhere amidst the hazy intersection of books, languages, travels, music, and photography. At last count, I have been to almost 60 countries but hopefully that is not even the halfway mark.
How often do you fly? Every few months (not as often as the wanderlust gene, DRD4-7R inside me would want, but more often than the eco-conscious little person inside me would like).
How many countries have you been to? Between 55 and 60.
How many continents have you been to? 5
Earliest travel memory: Along with my parents, I visited a Buddhist Monastery in the state of Orissa in India—the rhythmic beating of drums at the Monastery scared the hell out of me. Thankfully that did not put me off travelling.
Favorite American city: Have not travelled extensively in the US, but of the cities I’ve been to, I would count Philadelphia as my favourite. Its history impressed me no end, though I am not a fan of the grid structure of the roads there.
Favorite international city: Esfahan (Iran)—the city lives up to its exotic name. It has wide leafy streets, lovely gardens, a river flowing through it, beautiful and friendly people, and just the right combination of modern and traditional architectural beauty. Beautiful would be an understatement to describe the city. Standing in the Naksh-E-Jahaan Square (one of the largest in the world), you are transported into another world and time. I have been there three times with hopefully more visits to come.
Least favorite country: I would be doing disservice to a country and its people if I mentioned a name!
I have no desire to go to: Dubai—I have passed through the airport there six times in four years and not once have I tried to step out and visit the city. Somehow skyscrapers, gold shops and ski slopes in the desert just does not cut it with me. “Artificial” is the word that comes to mind and keeps me away from this city. But hey, that is a personal opinion.
Friendliest people in the world: Of all the countries I have visited so far, the friendliness of the Iranians wins hands down. The warmth, hospitality and smiling faces of the people just overwhelm any visitor. You get invites from people you are standing in queue with to visit their homes, food stalls force you to take food (and refuse to accept payment), people go out of their way to help you. Everyone thanks you (with obvious sincerity) for visiting their country. The Iranians are heart-warmingly nice to visitors from an outside world that only treats them with suspicion.
The other country where I was treated with utmost kindness and hospitality was Pakistan. That would sound odd coming from an Indian, but that is the experience of most Indians who travel there.
The above two experiences only reinforce in my head that travelling is so important to break stereotypes and prejudices that the media sets in our minds.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: I would rather not say lest said immigration officers of that unnamed country are reading this!
Favorite World Heritage Site: Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina. The sheer scale of the falls (almost three kilometres wide) and the ridiculous amount of water flowing through it every second are reminders of the simultaneous beauty of nature and our potential helplessness in front of it.
Favorite airline: Any airline that has a good selection of wines!
Favorite aircraft type: Wrong person to be asking this question. Even if it were a question of life and death, I would not be able to differentiate between a Boeing and an Airbus aircraft (unless I look at that laminated flyer in the seat pocket in front of me). However, I would love to fly in one of those amphibious bush planes which can land anywhere—on land or on sea—the idea seems romantic and full of possibilities.
Aisle or window: Love the concept of staring at the clouds through an airplane window, but I now generally settle for an aisle seat since I usually keep myself sufficiently hydrated (with liquids of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety) and I like to have unfettered access to the WCs. But when I sit in the aisle seat, I am reminded of what Alain de Botton wrote: “In the (airplane) cabin, no one stands up to announce with requisite emphasis that if we look out the window, we will see that we are flying over a cloud, a matter that would have detained Leonardo and Poussin, Claude and Constable”
Favorite airport lounge: Marhaba Lounge in Dubai airport (I probably like this lounge because I am not a fan of the airport).
Favorite U.S. airport: Not been to many, so cannot answer that question.
Favorite international airport: Barra Airport in Scotland (where flights land on the beach!). I cheated on the answer to this one as it is not an international airport.
Favorite hotel: Duang Champa in Chiang Mai. A charming little hotel in the heart of Chiang Mai.
Favorite cruise line: Never been on a cruise as yet. Someday…
Favorite travel credit card: Haven’t used any. I should?
Favorite island: Ilha Grande (Brazil)—it has one of the most stunning beaches I’ve seen—Lopes Mendes.
Favorite beach: Oooops, see above.
Favorite fancy restaurant: The Dome in Edinburgh. As the name suggests, it has a beautiful dome for a roof and during Christmas time, it is tastefully lit up with a huge X’mas tree in the middle reaching right upto the roof. The smell of cinnamon, interspersed with that of the festive spirit, is enough to put a smile on anyone’s soul.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: Too many to list here, but any hole-in-the-wall in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) would qualify. The small plastic chairs, the beer with ice and the beyond-tasty food make it a pleasure to visit HCMC again and again.
Favorite bar: Customs Café in Mykonos in Greece. I was quite disappointed by Mykonos and its overwhelming touristiness (especially the preponderance of shops selling fridge magnets). As me and my travel companion were walking back (disappointed!) to our hotel, we heard 80s music coming from behind a small door. On walking in, we saw this teeny-weeny bar that played the best music ever. The owner/manager was right there and let us choose music, bring out our air guitars, and even dance on the tables. Needless to say, we were back again the following night. Best bar ever!
(PS: I hope I will not be judged for liking 80s classic rock)
Favorite fruit: Grape (especially when fermented).
Favorite food: Sorry for being parochial, but nothing beats well-made North Indian Mughlai cuisine.
Least favorite food: Seafood. I once ordered an anchovy pizza in a pizzeria in Edinburgh and, needless to say, the one bite I took almost came out of the same orifice from whence it had gone in.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): Red wine (even though I can not differentiate between a Merlot from a Cabernet Sauvignon).
Favorite travel movie(s): Not exactly a travel movie, but I love Roman Holiday. The combined gorgeousness of Rome, Audrey and Gregory Peck is a heady cocktail that makes you want to take out your scooter, drive to Rome and fall in love with a princess.
Favorite travel show(s): Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.
Favorite travel book(s):
- “Road to Oxiana,” Robert Byron—Considered to be the first modern travelogue, it is one the funniest books I have read. (Words of caution: Please do not read this book in public otherwise Byron’s dry humour would have you giggling incessantly which will invite dirty looks from others)
- “Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain—Another funny travelogue that has me in splits every time I read it.
- “Our Man in Havana,” Graham Greene—He is able to paint such an intimate and inviting picture of Cuba.
Right now I am reading: “The Great Game” by Peter Hopkirk. Am re-reading this book and am enjoying every page. Those players of the Great Game were real travelers and adventurers. Read it, if you haven’t.
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs:
- Sidetracked.com—Love the intimate travel stories on this site.
- Instagram.com/jedidiahjenkins—There was a lovely video (see here) on Jedidiah Jenkins a few months back on why it is so very important to travel. I have followed him on instagram ever since. More than the photographs on his account, I love the earthy wisdom he gives in the accompanying text for each photo.
- MomAboard.com—Many friends hit me for travel advice. I’m usually able to answer most questions except those related to keeping kids busy during travel (since I travel solo). I redirect them here.
Favorite travel website(s)—besides JohnnyJet.com, of course!
- Rome2Rio.com—Great for exploring transportation options.
- Wikitravel.org/en/Main_Page—Nothing beats crowdsourcing.
5 things you bring on a plane: I prefer to carry minimum hand baggage (stories of what happened when my checked-in luggage did not arrive with the plane will require another questionnaire). The only thing I carry inside the aircraft cabin are:
- Boarding card
- Medicine for diarrhea and headache (the former for the potential after-effects of not-so-palatable airline food and the latter for the definite after-effects of not so palatable neighbours in the aircraft)
- Phone number of the Indian Embassy in the country to which I’m travelling
What do you always seem to forget? I almost always forget to carry a pen and paper with me. I usually get “Eureka!” moments in the aircraft when I don’t have anything to note those earth-shattering ideas. Usually I forget those ‘great ideas’ (thanks to the beverages served during flight) by the time I de-board the plane.
What do you like least about travel? The fact that it always comes to an end sooner than I would want.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Limoncello and cigars.
Favorite travel app(s): This will sound silly but My Altitude—have so far managed to get to 4764 metres (in Atacama, Chile).
Most embarrassing travel moment: When I mistook a boy for a girl. And when “she” told me ‘her’ name, I dug myself deeper by asking “her” as to how “her” parents gave “her” a boy’s name. Let’s just leave it at that.
I’m embarrassed but I haven’t been to: New York.
Worst travel moment: In Tehran, I checked into my hotel and panicked when I went into my room and could not find my passport. I checked and re-checked my belongings, with sweat pouring down my brow, before I remembered that the hotel reception had kept my passport for making copies. Those were easily the ten longest and worrisome minutes of my life followed by a rather embarrassed face-palm.
What’s your dream destination? Outer space. I want to see our home from out there and perhaps interact with those not from our planet (“you may say I am a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”).
Favorite travel charity: Haven’t supported any so far. I should, right?
Best travel tip: Most of the people in the world are nice and would want to help without anything in return. It is just the 0.1% who are out to swindle you. Don’t judge anyone who offers to help a traveller. Just be sensible.