Road Trips in India are Never Standard!
An avid driving traveller and photographer, Rishad Saam Mehta turned his passion to profession, and is a popular travel-writer-photographer whose columns appear in major dailies across India. He decided to put together his stories from his many, many road trips across India, into a book ‘Hot Tea across India’ – all of which have a cup of tea whose memory he cherishes, apart from the travel itself.
A travel writer and a photographer who has made his passion a profession –what sparked off the interest in you to take this route? Where did the passion for travel find its beginning?
It was a childhood filled with driving holidays. My parents loved road tripping and our holidays in India were mostly road trips. As a kid I thought that this was the normal way to holiday. It was when I was older I realized that driving from Bombay to Delhi is not considered normal for most people. So I started writing about road trips to encourage people to go out there and drive. My first camera was a pinhole camera when I was four years old so photography started at that age and I’ve never been bored of it. Plus I can write well, so it all came together.
Tell us how the concept of ‘Hot Tea across India’ was born. What made you decide that you should write this book?
My job entailed driving to a different part of India every month and writing about the road, the directions and the things to do there. But on these trips I have had so many adventures and met so many people and had so many incidents that were fantastic that I decided to write a book about these trips, a sort of loosely knit travelogue – and what better way to sew it all together than with hot tea, the staple travel drink across India!
How did you actually go about writing the book? What’s the sort of material you looked into to build the narrative?
I just started putting down funny incidents when I had the time. At airport terminals, while on a flight or just when I felt like writing. The book is entirely from memory. I might have cross checked distances, heights of passes etc., but otherwise it is all from what I remember of the trips.
The uncanny knack of India to throw surprises all the time. Road trips in India are never standard; you just don’t know what to expect or what kind of adventures you’ll have. And while we all think that driving in India is a pain, there are some pretty awesome roads that make road trips a lot of fun.
Having written a book with chai at its core, you have to tell us where you have had the best chai in India. :). What did you love about that tea?
Chai is not the core of the book; rather, it is incidental to the book. The best chai I have had is at the solitary Dhaba at Chotta Dara en route from Chattru to Kaza in Spiti. I love the tea here simply because being the only stall here the owner can get away with serving any kind of rubbish tea, but he puts his heart and soul into it and the tea has been fantastic every time I have stopped there.
Tell us one thing that has fascinated you about the truck drivers you have shared your journeys with during your travel adventures.
They have the best road sense and driving etiquette.
What’s the experience of exploring the road on a bike like, and what do you feel is the best part of it? What’s one memorable trip that you have done on a bike?
You feel a certain bond with your bike that only long distance bikers can understand. It is the unadulterated version of road travel: in your face, close to the land, the wind in your hair. It has to be done to be understood. The ride from Drass to Srinagar is one I love – it is scary and stunning and inspiring all at the same time.
If there’s a place that you would call heaven on earth (one that almost made you wish you could stay back once and for all!), which one would it be?
In India – the valleys of Himachal Pradesh (Baspa, Spiti, Tirthan, Karsog). Abroad – Tasmania
Do you enjoy reading books on travel? What are your favourites?
I read books on big adventure like Wilbur Smith’s books. My favourites are Cry Wolf and River God.
As a writer, what does travel writing mean to you? What are some of the things you focus on when doing a travel story?
To share what I have experienced. If after reading my story you feel like jumping into the page and being there right now then I consider my job well done.
Also, there’s this subtle and enjoyable humour that one observes in your book. How important do you think humour is in writing travel experiences?
Very important. My book would be boring without humour. I wrote it with the idea of having people fall off their chairs or beds laughing and then sit up, dry their tears of joy and plan a road trip. I thrive on humour and laughing at myself.
Finally, what’s the next one coming from Rishad? Is it going to be another travel-related book? Tell us more about it.
I have no idea as of now. But yes, there will be another one.