CHENNAI: I won’t make statements like, ‘I was born to travel’,” quips Mridula Ramadugu, an unassuming 24-year-old freelance writer and travel blogger who has accomplished a feat, which still remains untouched in most of our dusty old bucket lists. She has travelled all 29 states in the country in a span of 365-odd days, and is arguably one of the youngest travellers who will inspire you to move out of your comfort zone and explore.
We found a quiet spot at a cafe, and as she began narrating her journey, we couldn’t but notice her eyes gleam as she spoke of all the IRCTC ‘chais’ she’s sipped on, train journeys, people she met along the way, and how she coped with unprecedented situations. “Before 2017, the idea of travel was extremely vague to me. I did travel to a couple of places... but it was very casual,” she narrates.
After working in a PR firm for six months, she decided to take a weeklong break and plan a trip.“I spoke to one of my best friends in Delhi and we planned a trip to Banaras. This was probably one of the first trips that fuelled the desire to travel,” she says. Following that, she moved to Mumbai for a full-time job but still continued to travel during her two-day weekly off.
But, the idea of travelling all the states struck Mridula while she was writing a ‘travel chapter’ for a friend with whom she travelled for 12 days across Mumbai, Delhi, Amritsar and Shimla. “I realised that we had covered seven states in 12 days, and that’s when the dream to travel all 29 states took shape,” she enthuses. From saving up for travel, ending up in cities that her father warned her not to visit, hitchhiking with strangers who turned into travel buddies, dining in the mansion of a stranger at Mizoram, drinking rice beer with a 95-year-old woman at Majuli an island in Assam, eating wazwan for the first time in Jammu, filing stories from the Indo-China border to boarding trains with just a few hundred rupees in her account, she has done it all, and her travel narratives are nothing short of a beautiful- dramatic travel film. When we surfed Mridula’s Facebook page to get a taste of how her followers reacted to her accomplishment, we stumbled upon a comment.
Someone called her ‘a shimmer bottled in human form’, and we second that. Here’s why — Mridula travelled the Northeast with an acquaintance-turned-travel buddy for about 25 days. As part of that leg of travel, she stayed at a school in Majuli. “The land was donated by the villagers to build a school for children. An IIT-Kharagpur graduate, along with few like-minded people, quit their day jobs to come and set the school up and teach the children.
It was a very overwhelming experience for me,” she says. Upon returning to Chennai, Mridula decided to donate money to the school and sponsor a child’s education and she did. Self-funding all her trips hasn’t been easy for the freelancer but she credits the goodwill of friends who helped her during dark times. “There have been times when I used to run out of resources, and friends and people I have travelled within the past transferred money to me, without me even asking them. I have always made it a point to return it, but I just feel lucky to have had such people,” she smiles.
Contrary to popular belief of being unsafe when you are a female traveller, Mridula says she hasn’t had bitter experiences except for one or two stray instances. “I had a chilling few seconds while waiting for my train, late night at a railway station in Bihar. Three men walking up and down in the station intimidated me. For a second, I even thought they were going to grab me. But luckily my train arrived and I hopped into it. I also had the cops in my vicinity.
So, I knew I was going to be safe. That’s what I advice people — take that leap of faith when you travel but also think of the odds and have a plan B,” says Mridula who ticked off the last state in September. If chasing tigers in a safari, missing trains and flights, and exploring every nook and cranny of the country wasn’t adventurous enough, she has embarked on yet another journey — to pen down what she calls her ‘travel shenanigans’. “I have started with tiny chapters. Let’s see where this takes me,” she says.