Travel influencer and Architect, Niharika Arora makes content that leaves you in awe and also shows you what some places near the border look like!
Who isn't a fan of travelling? We're just waiting for a chance with deep prayer in our hearts for any travel plans to make it past the planning stage so we can walk into the wilderness and enjoy some peaceful time away from the city. And when the wait keeps getting expanded, we find travel bloggers and their exquisite content to bask in the glory of places they have visited. Something that we keep adding to our own bucket lists. But for Niharika Arora, her recent travel to find #WhatsAtTheBorder was a bit personal. She decided to go on an exploration to soak in the glory of little known villages from the borders of India.
Also known as Iffy Travels among her online audience, she started the project with the hope to open people's eyes to new unknown areas and to educate them about the lifestyle in these regions, the government properties around, travel options to these places and more. When asked what was her inspiration for her passion project, Niharika complimented some of it to her architecture background. She mentioned how it taught her to create something from nothing. Her passion to research and study about remote villages with vernacular architecture took her closer to her destiny of wanting to travel full-time. "The journey has been full of ups and downs, experiments, finding, and trying to differentiate me from the rest."
Niharika Arora aka The Iffy Travels sat down with us to talk about her experience exploring the borders of India and everything she loves about travelling.
Here's what she had to share:
What does travelling mean to you?
Travelling for me is to constantly learn and apply in life. Learn with firsthand experiences and information, diminish educational biases, and reunite as a cultural being with the world around you. It has taught me to live a life without regrets, yet stay humble no matter how far or high you go.
What have been the kind of places you were always excited to explore?
My aim with travelling has always been to experience unheard stories firsthand and to know where we are going, we need to learn where we have come from. These offbeat places and remote locations fill me with excitement, I call them the discarded stories.
You recently went on a trip to explore the Indian border villages. Did that trip have everything you were looking for?
Journey to border areas has a bit of everything. It comes with adventure, excitement, and a feeling of grief and pride, with a smile and sadness at the same time. Additionally, you get to LEARN so much about your own country, and I am always seeking, learning, and implementing.
Can you tell us how this happened?
Growing up in a Punjabi family, I was told and retold the partition stories by my grandparents of their lives in the Indian subcontinent and landing here in India from Lahore. It was then that I began to develop a close connection with places and villages that exist at the Indian border.
Was there a place that really surprised you? Do you have any stories you would like to share?
I have interacted with uncountable people from these regions and heard their stories day and night. And till now, I have covered the 1999 War battleground, Drass in Kargil-Ladakh, Leh district in Ladakh; the Kutch district of Gujarat and Kashmir border villages.
Meeting people who are directly affected by border issues becomes quite intimidating. I remember meeting a local person in the Kutch district of Gujarat who was sent across the border towards Pakistan to accomplish certain tasks that were assigned to him. Unfortunately, he was caught and had to spend 13 years of his life in jail in Pakistan.
On the flip side of this coin, I cherish moments of living together like a family with these local people in their modest homes. A family in Drass of Kargil region treated me like a daughter and gave me a lavish room to stay in for 2 weeks.
Exploring Kashmir border villages was the biggest eye-opener and bias breaker. I got to know that villagers there are cooperating with the Indian army and how the armed forces have executed development plans for the villagers.
What did your day look like? What was your routine like?
My day usually starts with a nice local breakfast with the family that I stay with within these villages near the border. I keep documenting these moments on my camera to make a final vlog later. The whole day usually gets spent in exploration or meeting people that can give me more stories and information on the border that is close to their village. All of this gets documented. Once I return to my stay, I discuss my plan of action with the host family for the next day so that they, as locals, can guide me better.
What did you find was the best part of it all?
Because of travelling to these areas, I was able to get over the stereotypes and negatives that are usually formed around these border areas and remote locations. These areas have given me the best of stories and incidents that make me feel like a proud citizen of my country. And more than the rest of the nation, the people living along the border have much more nationalism since they become a helping hand for the nation’s armed forces. Unknowingly, they have taught me humility and hard work.
Which areas can people visit near the border? What should they keep in mind?
These are my top suggestions to start visiting the border areas
Nadabet border in Gujarat (There is a war museum, zero line experience, event park, and other things to experience there). Arunachal’s Tawang area is easily accessible to tourists and offers a lot of sightseeing options from monasteries to natural beauty. Ladakh’s Kargil district and its people are a living testimony to the most recent Indo-Pak war of 1999. People can visit unexplored regions like Suru Valley, Drass, Batalik sector, and more.
Kashmir’s Keran village, where POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) is just a stone’s throw away. Kartarpur Gurudwara, which is at a distance of only a few kilometres from India’s Punjab, should be visited to experience Pakistan for half a day. Apart from the usual Wagah-Attari border ceremony, the Hussainiwala border ceremony is also a must-watch in Punjab. Towards the maritime border area, Rameshwaram should also be visited, especially the Dhanushkoti village.
The trip should be well-researched and roughly planned in advance. A lot of these places require an army and local government bodies permission to access them. Not plenty of public transportation is available in these regions, so one is required to take their own vehicle.
People in these areas are gradually opening up to tourists due to now increased avenues, but their boundaries should always be respected by the tourists. Rules of camera prohibition at a lot of spots should be respected, keeping in mind national security because digital footprints can not be erased, and other countries always have an eye on their neighbours around.
Are you planning on going on more solo trips to unexplored places? Where would you like to visit next?
Arunachal borders and Punjab borders are my next planned adventure. Arunachal is a completely untouched area with respect to borders. Punjab will take me back to my roots with partition stories.
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