The charmed life of a top travel photo blogger
Amit Sengupta launched the Port Blair regional edition of The Echo of India, an English daily published from Kolkata. He has lead the Andaman edition and established the brand with all its credibility in a competitive hyperlocal market. He has also spent time with Times of India, Kolkata edition. Amit is one of India’s Top 10 Travel Photo Bloggers rated by Holidify and writes for Huffington Post, Sunday Pioneer, Outlook Splurge, Money Life magazine, Eclectic Northeast magazine and Ask Me Travel portal. He graduated with Honors in Journalism and Mass Communication from University of Calcutta, and has completed a course in Global Political Economy from Kings College London’s India Summer School. He has pursued an online course on community journalism from Cardiff University, UK. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Amit. When did your fascination with travel begin?
Amit Sengupta: The traveler within me started to bloom since 2007 when I first got a chance to travel to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was my first professional pursuit as a young kid just out of university and working as a journalist. Back then, I was based out of Kolkata in West Bengal, India. I joined this start-up English newspaper in Kolkata as a Correspondent covering politics, culture and events in Calcutta, and later, when the paper was planning to launch an edition in Andaman, I plunged into the opportunity.
That was my first sojourn into the unknown. My profession allowed me to travel far and wide and explore the virgin and untouched sea and beaches, the forests and the amazing aqua life in the archipelago. The beauty of nature inspired me to travel. I witnessed some lovely and hidden gems of the islands. That was the beginning of my wanderlust.
Vinita Kinra: Do you prefer to travel more in India or internationally?
Amit Sengupta: A traveler loves to travel without boundaries. The great idea is to travel and explore. There is no such preference. It’s more of a call of the mind and your heart guides you somewhere. I have not traveled extensively internationally, with the exception of some countries where I have been like Spain, Venice, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Vinita Kinra: Which is your favourite destination and why?
Amit Sengupta: I loved my solo trips to Barcelona and Venice last year. Barcelona is vibrant and vivacious. It is energetic and full of enthusiasm. It’s an art lover’s treasure trove. It is blessed with such a beautiful legacy of Gothic architecture. The churches, the monuments, the street art, everything. I was awestruck by monuments like Casa Mila and La Sagrada Familia. The beach life is incredible with some of the best surfers throughout the world gathering down to glide through the Mediterranean Sea. The food scene is thriving with an amazing constellation of sea food and culinary delights. I would like to further explore Spain on a road trip covering its scintillating coastlines.
Venice is truly (at the risk of sounding clichéd) the most romantic place on earth. The thin, tiny lands bedecked with outlets of decorative items and clothes can keep you hooked for hours. Of course, not to forget the slow paced gondola rides through tiny creeks within the city. It’s also a city of luxury and opulence and there is ample display of wealth of the rich and luxurious travelers.
India is incredibly beautiful with its usual touristy places and a plethora of offbeat destinations in the North, Western Ghats and North East. Andaman as I said contains many hidden gems (such as Ross and Smith Islands, Hutbay) that need to be explored.
Vinita Kinra: What triggered the urge in you to become a travel writer?
Amit Sengupta: I guess the incredible beauty of nature, it’s people and culture in different parts of the world, their food habits inspired me to become a travel writer. In fact, the transition from being a mainstream journalist to a media and communications consultant to a travel writer was not that difficult. The experience of a journalist, bringing out daily editions, chasing stories and meeting the deadlines, working on special weekend editions, brainstorming and eventually writing and sourcing features for ‘theme based magazines and supplements’ was really productive and useful.
Inspiring others to travel through my storytelling was also a crucial factor that triggered me to become a travel writer and blogger. Having said that, being in the media before came as an extra edge on how the industry functions.
My journey towards professional travel writing began a few years back when I started writing for travel magazines and weekend editions in mainstream newspapers. In media, I had written for The Echo of India, The Times of India and The Telegraph. I started writing for publications from India like Sunday Pioneer (the weekend edition of English newspaper Daily Pioneer), Money Life Magazine (a financial magazine published every fortnight from Mumbai), Eclectic Northeast (the largest circulated magazine from India’s northeast) and The Huffington Post. As I give this interview, I realized I just finished one article for Outlook Splurge magazine on the subject of ‘gadgets for luxury travelers’.
Vinita Kinra: In your opinion, why doesn’t a historic and exotic country like India generate enough revenue from tourism?
Amit Sengupta: That’s a really good question. Interestingly enough, India’s revenue from domestic and international tourism, primarily foreign, has been increasing since the last decade.
India, despite putting in lot of effort (with e-visas for more than 70 countries) in promoting tourism, ranks badly among the world countries. It’s potential yet remains untapped even in the Asia Pacific Region and International Tourist Arrivals (ITAs) ranking.
Well, if we consider the revenue earned through international tourism India has slightly improved its ranking from 34 (1998) to 15 (2014) in the world. In the Asia Pacific Region, India’s rank was 7 in 2014.
However, here comes the real competition from other countries. If we consider the year 2014, India is way behind countries like USA, Spain, China, France, Macao, Italy, UK, Germany, Thailand and Hong Kong as far as the key International Tourism Receipts (ITRs) is concerned. If India wants to catch up with these giants, it cannot be business as usual. It has to facilitate a seamless experience of travel for international tourists right from the arrival at airport to hotel check-in, further onwards journey to different destinations within the country and quality and reasonable hotels and resorts. India’s massive landscape is a deterrent and it may only restrict the international tourists within just the North India circuit (if he or she is arriving through Delhi). In such a scenario, air travel within the country could add up to the cost of the tourists and he or she may have to depend upon the railways. However, Indian Railways is currently in a bad shape. It is not able to meet expectations of domestic tourists; forget about foreign tourists. Right from the booking system, the cheap quality of food served in most of the express trains including Rajdhanis have to be improved.
Amit Sengupta: How could you read my mind? It’s certainly in the pipeline. I have to start pitching to editors of publication houses.
Vinita Kinra: What do your traveling experiences teach you about life?
Amit Sengupta: A sense of belonging with family is essential, even if one feels like flying away and travelling like a nomad. Your family is your real support and will be with you during your rough days and help you sail through. It’s vital that one gets the padding of their family and then takes off in pursuing his or her travel sojourns.
However, having said that, I think one of my ‘mantras’ or ‘guiding forces’ has been and will be to inspire Indian middle class to travel far and beyond through my storytelling. The middle class has been confined to mere ‘tourists’. They have to come a long way unlike the west, where the concept of travelling has gone beyond just annual ‘vacations with family’. A very tiny section of the youth today is trying in their own little way to travel and explore.
Vinita Kinra: What are your other passions aside from traveling?
Amit Sengupta: I love to explore food (just been back from an amazing Food Trail in Amritsar, Punjab hosted by Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board) and different cocktails; but then again, these are most of the times for some foodie trails or reviews that I am doing for some luxury hotels or restaurants. I am harboring a dream of making a long cross-country bike trail; but at the moment, I haven’t figured out where exactly I should head to. But that’s definitely there in the radar. I thought you asked me my other passions aside travelling. And I am back to talking about travelling!
Vinita Kinra: According to you, which one destination is the favourite among Indians outside of India?
Amit Sengupta: Europe has been a perennial favourite (especially Indians living on a diet of overdosed Bollywood flicks showing the touristy Europe): Euro Rail, lush green landscape, Zurich, France, Rome etc.; not the offbeat ones, though. Indians are not travelling to the other Europe, which truly needs to be explored.
Vinita Kinra: Which is the one place on earth you haven’t travelled to but dream about visiting?
Amit Sengupta: Quite easy to guess. It would be Antarctica and Nordic countries like Ireland and Norway. Very difficult to choose any one particular destination.
Vinita Kinra: What is your life philosophy?
Amit Sengupta: You only live once. Live it to the fullest. Do things you have a real passion for, not just for the sake of doing a job. Fulfil your dreams. Listen to your heart. Travel and explore.
Vinita Kinra: Our readers would like to read a small excerpt from your favourite travel article and view pictures of the destination.
Amit Sengupta: This is from my article on ‘Barcelona’. Here is the excerpt:
La Boqueria Market
A brisk walk into La Ramblas would take you to Barcelona’s most popular fruits and vegetable market – La Boqueria. This is where you would find the widest variety of exotic vegetables, fruits, nuts and even fish and meat. I have seen the most unbelievable size of strawberries here. A packet of fresh ripe fruits can cost anywhere between 3 Euros to 10 Euros (depending on size). Try and pack as much as you can for your family and friends. There are a couple of restaurants inside the market where you can choose to sit and sip a cup of coffee and the freshest off-the-oven delicacies….”
Vinita Kinra, featured among 150 most remarkable Canadians, is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.