In conversation with Kumar Parameswaran,
Marketing & Services professional
This month we feature Kumar Tarur Parameswaran from Hyderabad - a senior Marketing & Services business professional who called it time when he turned 50. He says a 3-year hiatus from work, enabled a change of course to follow his passion and motivation – writing travel stories that help you explore the country, its history and its people.
Kumar’s website takes its name from India’s latitude – 20 degrees north. It is essentially about sustainable and responsible travel, transformational experiences, and travel stories based on a theme. These are stories narrated by a passionate traveler who presents some very interesting bookmarks for you – road trips, trekking, classical, countryside, heritage and offbeat.
Kumar’s travel compass has taken him right across the country – North, South, East and West. After crisscrossing the entire length and breadth of the country, he still says, “I have a long road ahead of me!”
On this interview, we chat with Kumar about his travels, his experiences and what makes the restless nomad in him want to see more of the world.
Tell us, Kumar, what was that turning point at 50, that made you step out of corporate corridors?
As I came close to turning 50, I experienced a change in my business interests, urging me to step back and look for alternative avenues – something that I would enjoy and really like doing. A travel-related business was one of the first things that came to mind.
Things fell into place and I soon created a platform to document and share my journeys - giving my readers a first-hand narrative of where I went, what I saw and how I got there. That’s the story behind my website, 20 degrees north.
On your website, you list all four directions on the compass – what picture of India do you see, in terms of people, places and things?
Before starting on travel writing, I felt it was important to explore the length and breadth of the country. To meet people, have conversations with them, and know more about their lives and livelihood. To me a place is defined by the people who live or have lived around the places I like to visit - and have contributed to the history and culture of the place in some way.
Our diverse nation is one patchwork quilt of age-old customs, traditions and beliefs. Brought together on one canvas, but retaining a unique character and identity. Every 200 kilometers you travel across India, you might find a different language, a different dialect, different architecture – you will also see different professions, farming practices and ways of dressing.
For example, when you travel from Kerala to Tamil Nadu in a train, you might observe that a stretch of coconut trees suddenly turns into a line of palm trees; a wide expanse of houses with terracotta tiles might soon lead to houses with thatched roofs. This constantly changing visual panorama tells you that you’re experiencing the wide diversity of India.
Do talk to us about a road trip that you’ve done that’s right on top of that list.
Looking back, I would think my Char Dham yaatra figures right on top of my list. My journey covered legendary pilgrimage destinations within Uttarakhand - Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. It is widely believed that visiting these four legendary sites helps you achieve the transcendent state of moksha.
Though this was a pilgrimage, the journey was as engaging as my destination. The shortest distance between two points is around four hours and the longest was around 10. As you navigate the hairpins by road, you realize that gigantic mountains, rapid rivers and dense forests follow you everywhere.
Does trekking come easy, for someone who’s crossed 50? Do share stories of your trekking trails.
The one trail that comes to mind is in the Corbett forest area – where my guide kept telling me that a tiger could be lurking somewhere nearby, and we must be watchful. (And that can be unsettling if you’re doing a slow and steady 8-kilometre trail.)
As for trekking, the Tadiandamol trek in Kodagu could be a dizzying experience for some. The 7-kilometer trek needs you to take gradients that are 70 to 90 in the vertical – gets steeper as you get to the top. It’s when you need to be sure-footed and patient all the way up to the top. The weather here can bring in additional challenges along the way.
For my treks, fitness is everything and I train regularly. No doubt it’s tough, but these are challenges largely in the mind.
When you say “classical” on your website, what kind of travel are you talking about?
Travelling to historical locations that flourished on the edge of pre-independent India is what I mean by classical. Especially during the times the British, French, Portuguese, Dutch and Danes arrived in the country. Exploring such places gives you a distinctly European feel within native precincts - places that still retain the cultural overlays that were brought in by foreign influences.
When you say “countryside” is it the pastures, or the people that figure in your stories?
For me countryside has more to do with communities (largely tribal) and how they carry on with their lives. It could be a hillside, a forest, a farmland or even a desert - there is always some history, culture and tradition linked to it. If nothing is apparent, I try to discover a story that I can highlight and talk about – and this can be really interesting.
Do you take refuge in heritage travel, after you’ve done a bit of everything else?
Heritage travel happens as part of a theme calendar that I normally follow. I choose to go with groups of people who are like-minded and have a definite purpose in mind. And I look for packaged experiences from travel startups - budding entrepreneurs who follow a passion that I can identify with.
And there’s so much to see - the whole of India is about heritage stories that take you back in space and time.
Your offbeat theme sounds interesting, is it the road less travelled?
It isn’t about the road less travelled in an offbeat location - it’s about inspiring stories that need to be retold. I plan to collaborate a lot more with development boards and NGOs who do amazing work to improve the lives of people in the tribal communities they are associated with.
I see it as doing my bit to touch their lives in some useful way.
Is there a book in mind, to bring all your travel experiences together?
I have in mind a theme-based book motivating people to discover India – where people can experience travelogues through my lens. Right now the book is in the ideation stage and I need to do a fair bit of detailing as I go along.
In the meanwhile I will do my travelogues, using my blogs as the medium for storytelling.
Is there a stone left unturned? Is there something you’ve been yearning to do, or discover?
There is so much to discover, and I guess this is just the beginning. For now, getting back to travel is the thing I yearn to do, after staying safe to see the light of another day. I am referring to the current Covid situation that has virtually halted any kind of travel in its tracks.
Tell us, Kumar, have you stayed at a timeshare location in your journeys?
I have experienced the joy of staying at timeshare properties with my family in Kodaikanal and Munnar. The combination of unique and vacation-worthy locations with a high degree of care, personal attention and facilities does make timeshare interesting.
My timeshare vacations gave me a mix of a 5-star experience and a break in nature’s lap - thereby combining the best of both worlds. If what we have experienced as a family is something to go by, vacation ownership (timeshare) is an amazing option – even the arithmetic of becoming a member makes sense to me.
All images used are courtesy of Kumar Tarur Parameswaran
Kumar Tarur ParameswaranWebsite
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