Author of India's largest travel blog Inditales, Anuradha Goyal has been writing travel blogs continuously since the year 2004, has written over 600 book reviews and has almost completed her 108 features on Temples of India. Reaching half a million people every month, she has shown us a vibrant, resilient, ancient India
The year 2019 ended for Anuradha Goyal, author of India’s oldest and most successful travel blog – Inditales – rather dramatically with a trip in a hot air balloon ending in the middle of field, miles from nowhere. Part of the Mandu festival in Madhya Pradesh, the 45 minute ride went on for two hours as the pilot could not find any flat land to cruise down. On landing, they were surrounded by village folk who had never seen or heard of a hot air balloon, whose size tends to take even those in the know by surprise. Finally, a young girl showed them the way to the main road from where they made their way back to their camp site.
The rest of the year had been equally momentous, with her spearheading the prestigious Indica Yatra Conference by Indic Academy in association with Bharat Adhyayan Kendra of BHU, in Varanasi, bringing storytellers, stake holders and scholars under one platform in Varanasi.
Anuradha has been successfully running her travel blog since the year 2004 making it the longest continuous blog in India that reaches out to half a million people every month via the Inditales digital eco-system. She was also featured in the Limca Book of Records for her book review blog where she has reviewed over 600 books. A prolific writer, she was an IT professional and her book The Mouse Charmers – Digital Pioneers of India published by Random House, is a hit in B-schools for the insights it offers on digital pioneers of India.
Asked about her routine, she says she follows two schedules – one while she’s travelling and the other when she returns. “When I a travelling, I am completely in that place. I read up before I travel, I see everything I have on my list and keep time to discover things that I don’t know about, talk to people, collect things. When I am back I am the solo-preneur – the writer, the photo editor, video editor, and publisher, the technocrat, the administrator, the marketeer, the accountant and the PR person – all rolled into one .”
In 2019, on Instagram, she ran a Temples of India series, where she posts pictures of temples across India which she has visited personally, along with the story of a temple, some basic information on the presiding deity, who built the temple, and its antiquity. She intends to feature 108 temples. “We have temples from the 6th century to the 21st century. A glimpse at that page gives people a bird’s eye view of the kinds of architecture that existed and the current state of the temples. Once I had posted that South Indian temples get a lot more love because they look a lot more beautiful. North Indian temples are equally important and have gone through so much. The way you see them today is not the way they must have been in their heydays.” Clearly temples are close to her heart.
A week ago, while in Mandu she visited a remote village, where she discovered a Chaunsath Yogini temple which not many people are aware of and which is in complete ruins. “Looks like people have patched together whatever is remaining of the temple walls and are still worshipping it. So, while it doesn’t inspire any awe, it is very important that it is a living temple. It is a piece of history. And hopefully someone will come back and recreate that temple based on whatever little samples are left,” says Anuradha.
Born in Punjab, Anuradha is a fauji daughter and her love for travel came from her grandmother who loved travelling and also because of the frequent transfers of her father who served in the Defence services. Having studied in a Kendriya Vidyalaya, where children of government employees in transferrable jobs go to, Anuradha says that not only were you comfortable in new situations, but you were also exposed to people from different parts of India. “I am North Indian but idli-dosa was not something that was alien to me. Probably the first exposure to the variety of Indian cuisines was from the tiffin boxes of my classmates,” says the intrepid traveller.
Often quoted by many non-Indian travel bloggers and mainstream media, Anuradha’s passion for travel and writing has served India well. Her blogs are read by people across the spectrum including those in the civil services, especially by IAS officers. “And they are obviously in a position to do something. Sometimes they have formally taken inputs from me. I have consulted with the AP tourism board. Even informally, whenever I put out something in Social Media which needs attention, most of the time it gets attention.”
To quote but one instance, several years ago when a friend visited the Taj Mahal and was not allowed to avail of the Rs 1000 entry fee offered to foreigners, which allowed skipping the 2-3 hour queues, Anuradha put out a story. (The Taj Mahal was one of the first monuments to introduce the ‘foreigner ticket’ along with a few other monuments, and today almost all monuments have it). “I wrote an article saying that it was probably an oversight and that Indians who want to skip the queues and thereby save 2-3 hours, should be allowed to buy the Rs 1000 ticket. Perhaps it was unconceivable as to why an Indian would want to pay Rs 1,000 when he could enter with a Rs 10 ticket. Within a week it was changed,” says Anuradha, adding that while it may have been a coincidence, the quick turnaround was encouraging.
Anuradha has the experience, the motivation and the clarity of vision required to charter a new course for Indian tourism, which she believes is the fulcrum on which all other agencies of soft power rest. Prior to her blogging days, she was an IT professional and an innovator. She believes that Indian tourism industry too needs to innovate to lead the way in an ever changing world.
The first step would be to put out information in a single portal which is accessible, up-to-date and reliable. “The biggest problem is that we do not have access to information and this is across India. We need a very strong website from either Incredible India, or the Tourism Department, the State Tourism boards, or even smaller city tourism departments. We need a very strong information backbone covering all our tourism places,” she emphasises.
Urban India where people step out of their houses only to go to malls and coffee shops is also the real India. And people who live in villages, literally in a corner of the field, are also the real India. These are two extremes, but then anything that you find in India, you find in extremes -Anuradha Goyal
Of course, travel always has an element of surprise. No matter how well travelled one is or equipped with data, one can never prepare a complete of things one wants to see. “Most places in India will pleasantly surprise you, they will show you a lot more than you know. If you are open enough every place will surprise you. Sometimes it is negative, for instance when a place is hyped about and you wonder what the hype was about? Most of the times, you are pleasantly surprised.”
When asked about the “real India”, Anuradha says that this was the buzzword a few years ago and she wrote about it in her blog – ‘What is real India’ (https://www.inditales.com/what-is-real-india/) talking about India’s portrayal in the media and in films. Her particular reference was to the Slumdog Millionaire, which highlighted a stark, poor India, unreal with the foreign accents of its protagonists.
“Urban India where people step out of their houses only to go to malls and coffee shops is also the real India. And people who live in villages, literally in a corner of the field, are also the real India. These are two extremes, but then anything that you find in India, you find in extremes. You will find extreme hot and extreme cold, you will find dry deserts and hot and humid coastal areas, the highest mountains to the three oceans. Like the physical landscape, there is a societal extreme, with one end being these villages where everything is so rooted and the other end these urban spaces which are as superficial as it can get. But both of them are the real India.”
To quote her blog, “Like an old Daler Mehandi song, we are all different colours that make this colourful country, and without any of us, this place would be little less colourful.”
(Anuradha Goyal’s writing can be read at https://www.inditales.com/india-travel-unique-experiences/
https://www.instagram.com/inditales/ ) She can be reached on twitter at @anuradhagoyal