In conversation with travel enthusiast
Sajini Janardhan is a key member of a product research team at one of the biggest and oldest corporate houses in India – she has been at this job for 35 long years. And she’s one of those who is serious about her work, and serious about her other passion – travel. So when her company announces a holiday list for the year, you can see Sajni with her planner and marker pens. She plans at least two vacations in a year, one within India and one outside the country. Her long weekends are for short budget trips, she says.
Sajni is interested in the history, architecture and the culture of places she plans to visit – and believes that knowledge is obtained through travel and interaction with people of different cultures and backgrounds.
As a freewheeling parent she has encouraged her two sons to travel extensively - making them tolerant towards other beings, being grateful for what they have, and understand their calling in life. Travel is a great learning experience, she says.
Janardhan, her husband, works in the creative industry, where it’s still difficult to take a break from work. So he encourages her to venture out on her own when it’s difficult to accompany her. While they respect one another’s space, Sajni feels a vacation with your spouse adds a layer of bonding – especially when you manage to get away from everyday routines at work, or at home.
In this interview, we talk to Sajini about being curtailed at home during the pandemic. She describes some of the trips she has done in the past and how these memories help her cope during these difficult times.
What’s it like to be stuck at home and not manage even the shortest break out of town?
To begin with, I have looked at things optimistically - thanking God we are alive and fine. Yes, 2020 travel plans have taken a beating at the hands of the pandemic. I have quenched my thirst for travel by picking up my world map and charting out new voyages for my vacation breaks. I also picked up the book A History of The World In 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor, based on the celebrated BBC Radio 4 series. I think turning the pages of a book on travel is another way of going places.
Can you re-live one experience in 2019 that is linked to a dream vacation?
My trip to Egypt in 2019 was a dream vacation. I have seen the movie Cleopatra as a teenager, and with images of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra and Richard Burton as the dashing Mark Anthony, visiting Egypt was high on my bucket list.
The cruise down the River Nile with visits to Aswan, Valley of the Kings at Luxor, and the hawkers at the Esna Lock bring back vivid memories. When our cruise boat was lowered at the Esna Lock to enable movement under the low overhead bridge, I realized we were experiencing a scientific marvel.
There are so many flash-back moments out here: The presence of hawkers in small boats at the Esna Lock to sell their wares during the limited time; the precision with which the wares are thrown up from the tiny boats to the cruise boat; and the exchange of money after a price was negotiated is a demonstration of trade in a very unique setting.
Can you re-live one experience in 2018 that is linked to a vacation that is out of the ordinary?
I think my trip to Chong Kneas Floating Village on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia was out of the ordinary. People actually live their entire lives in this floating village - they have a floating school, a church, a temple, a police station and other community centres that one would imagine on land. (Just imagine the postal address here – a floating deck, somewhere on Tonle Sap Lake!)
Right from a very young age, children are taught to row around in plastic basins, and it’s not long before they have their own boats made of vertically cut barrels. The whole living experience here is a flipside story - especially when these children look forward to exploring a stretch of land, like we would, when it comes to a lake, or stream.
And while our children have dogs and cats as pets, the children here play with snakes. And they will let you pose for a picture with their pet snakes - for a dollar, I think.
Can you re-live one experience in 2017 that is linked to a vacation not far from home?
I’d like to re-live a trip within Karnataka, from Hospet to Bijapur exploring the Vijayanagara, Chalukya and Mughal dynasties. This takes me back in time, as I walk around Hampi, covering the Vitalla Complex, the Virupaksha Complex, and the two banks of the river Tungabhadra. (Hampi being the seat of the Vijayanagara Empire under Raja Krishnadevaraya is a world in itself.)
Every pillar, every stone carving is a fusion of art and science. In my mind I then move on to the Badami caves where budding architects were taught carving techniques in red sandstone. My flashback of memories take me to Aihole and Pattadakal, where the architects showed their skills in innovative techniques. I then move on to Bijapur, influenced by Mughal art and culture with carvings in black stone.
I finally see myself admiring architecture that is lost in a time warp with echoes from the majestic Gol Gumbaz. Also remember visiting tiny villages and farms - Illkal for instance, from where we get our beautiful sarees.
Do you think your next holiday will be anywhere close to what you have just described?
My next holiday would be different – very different. I would imagine myself carrying an extra bag with wipes, masks, gloves and things like that. I wonder if the airlines will let us carry sanitizers considering they are alcohol based. I may be exaggerating here, but I am even considering carrying our own bed linen, towels and toiletries for a safe stay.
On the other hand, travel by road would mean restrictions on using pit stops for a quick cup of piping hot chai, trying out street food, or using transit rest rooms. Travel by rail would require a lot of thought. Choosing the class of travel between AC and non-AC would be like choosing between the devil and the deep sea.
Sadly, I can also see vacations where you might not interact freely with fellow passengers. Conversations with fellow passengers give us a lot of information on places of interest, best modes of transport and the best deals at local markets.
What would you expect from your hotel in terms of safety precautions and staff orientation?
To start with, I would need to be assured about basic levels of safety and protection – and this may not be a problem because hotels of a certain standard will work on this aspect. I guess the staff too, at a time like this will be fully conversant of the safety drill and guide us where necessary. But there could be communication gaps during a change of shift – especially in terms of what is done, and what needs to be done. This is something that needs to be looked into.
I am sure all hotels will look at safety precautions from end to end - right from bed and bath linen to other consumables. I am sure they will also have a sensible disposal system in place, to complete the loop. It’s going to be very difficult, but this is what hotels and resorts must do to be guest-ready during these times.
How soon do you think things will take to come back to normal?
Being optimistic I expect things to come to near normal by mid-2021. Gradually the confidence to move around will increase and the fear of infections could subside. The way I see things, it might take till mid-2022 to make a complete turnaround – all things being equal.
Having said that, there will be other concerns on people’s minds – things like holiday budgeting during pay-cuts and layoffs, alignment of the academic year for students, and how the transport sector opens up to enable a smooth and safe passage for travel. Lots of things to consider even before you get around to packing your bags.
Have you heard of timeshare? What do you think of this vacation format?
I have often discussed timeshare with my husband for our annual breaks at home, and our overseas travel using the exchange option through RCI. But we’re in that above-50 age group where we need to think before we can commit to a vacation plan for 25 years.
I do know that some timeshare companies are offering short term plans, but I don’t really have any clarity on that. For the moment I would rather piggy-back on a friend’s membership if she does not plan to use her week – that seems like a good idea.
To answer your question, if I had taken a timeshare plan 20, or 30 years ago, we would have made good use of it. Especially considering that you have timeshare resorts in some of the best vacation destinations in the world.
It’s a format the lets you take a break with family and friends – and that’s a huge plus point.
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