'Visit people and not places': A solo traveller's mantra - Eastern Mirror
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‘Visit people and not places’: A solo traveller’s mantra

By Henlly Phom Odyuo Updated: Feb 06, 2022 10:14 pm
Vanita Iyer in front of one of her murals at Green Park in Dimapur.

Our Reporter
Dimapur, Feb. 6 (EMN): Solo traveller Vanita Iyer from Mumbai has spent the past several years travelling around the world exploring and experiencing the vast expanse of culture, and aims to leave behind a trail of her adventurous life through art.

Iyer shared with Eastern Mirror that she travels to “visit people and not places, as it is through the locals that the journey really takes place.” Iyer has so far visited 22 states and all eight union territories in India, 20 countries in Asia and one in Africa, and spends a minimum of four to nine months in every country. In Nagaland, she has been to Kisama, Kohima, Zakhama, Dzukou Valley, Khonoma, Gaili, Dimapur, Kikruma, Pfutsero, Ruzazu, and Porba.

Iyer, who is currently in Pfutsero, shared with this newspaper that she lives with the locals and contributes to the community by volunteering.

She visited Nagaland for the first time during the Hornbill Festival 2021, and witnessed the first five days. She said that the celebration was “beautiful, interesting and so informative”.

However, after the Hornbill Festival was called off following the Oting incident, she decided to stay back and explore the state. During this period, she found Green Park in Dimapur through a volunteering website called “Workaway”. She connected with Yanren and Abalu — the owners of Green Park — through the website and volunteered as a mural artist.

“Volunteering keeps the policy of bartering alive. Also, leaving my artwork wherever I go has been my dream and volunteering helps me do that,” she says.

Iyer has a Bachelor in Visual Communication, and diplomas in Photography and Digital Art. She has also worked as a Graphic Designer for 11 months. But these, she said, taught her only about computer art. She learnt wall paintings and doodling while travelling.

Vanita Iyer in front of one of her murals at Green Park in Dimapur.

People who have visited Green Park in Dimapur do not miss the opportunity to click pictures on the mural painted by Iyer. Her main idea as a mural artist is to create interactive wall paintings for kids and families to take ‘Instagrammable pictures’ and to help with the creativity for better promotion and marketing of the park. She also tries to come up with themed carnivals and events to attract visitors of all age groups.

Iyer shared that her favourite part of volunteering at Green Park is the freedom to paint whatever she wants on the walls.

 ‘I believe they trust my creativity and let me come up with different themes, without questioning it twice. But most importantly, the family. I felt like I’m one of them since the first few days of coming here. The hosts and their families and relatives are all always going out of their way to see that I enjoy every second of my time here. It’s not just always work but also a lot of fun and going out and around and spending most time together. They take amazing care of their volunteers and for sure pamper us a lot too’, she shared.

However, the only setback and ‘work culture shock’ she witnessed was punctuality, which she asserted could be addressed by the people. “It’s not so common but the laziness that seeps in at times could also be worked on I guess. Most importantly, team building and team spirit, and dedication towards the Green Park as a whole and not simply putting your individual needs first could always be improved on by the younger staff”, she opined.

Iyer has volunteered all across Asia and in few states in India, sometimes as an English teacher (in Vietnam and Cambodia), bartender (Vietnam), interacting with new guests in hostels (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia); but mostly painting walls in most countries which includes Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Nepal, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia.

The experiences, she shared, have always been beyond expectations, ‘with my hosts being super welcoming and friendly and making me feel like a part of their family every time’.

Vanita Iyer salso shared that she had quit her job, sold her house and has been on the road nonstop for the past seven years since 2014. To keep her budget in check, she backpacks, hitchhikes, uses public transport or walks to cross-country borders and states.

“I prefer living in homestays to understand the local culture and lifestyle better. The locals and the sense of belonging are what keeps me going, and not sightseeing. Because of which I travel very slowly living in places I go to. I am also a volunteer artist, painting wall murals wherever I go in return for free stay and food” she said.

“I believe in this a lot, which is why I like to stay at a place with the locals for a while to understand the place, the culture, their lifestyle better”, said Iyer.

Iyer plans to be in the state till Feb. 9, leave for her cousin’s wedding for a few days in South India and come back to Nagaland, then head to Mizoram if possible and return to Nagaland again.  She said that she is still not done volunteering at Green Park as there are many more walls to be painted and many more events which she would love to be a part of.

By Henlly Phom Odyuo Updated: Feb 06, 2022 10:14:34 pm