This Grandpa Travelled to 75 Countries to Realise His Father’s Unfulfilled Dreams


A 24-year-old man chanced upon a book with black and white photographs of the Italian city of Pompeii while skimming through his father’s collection of Indian travel brochures—a stash he had discovered only the previous year in their Nashik home. This was in the summer of 1963. On that day, as a tribute to his father, he decided he would find a way to travel the world.

Arun Narayan Sabnis' father's sudden passing away brought him back home from Mumbai, forcing him to abandon his PhD dreams to support his mother financially and emotionally.

Photo of This Grandpa Travelled to 75 Countries to Realise His Father’s Unfulfilled Dreams 1/4 by Le Voyageur
At the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland in July 2015. (C) Shriya Pilgaonkar

Sabnis, now an old man himself, knew that his father had always wanted to travel, but could never afford it as he was supporting his family of five children as well as his siblings. He was a strict disciplinarian and never really spoke with anyone throughout his life except for when he saw Sabnis going through his brochures. This really moved him and made him want to live his father's unfulfilled dreams. 

But, his first two attempts weren’t successful. First, he had to let go of an opportunity to study in an American college due to lack of funds to travel and pay the tuition fees. He met his wife, in the mean time, and began working in India. A postgraduate in psychology from Mumbai University, he secured admission in another American university seven years later, this time with a full scholarship from the state government, but his visa was rejected on health grounds.

He was finally successful the third time. Luckily, in the year 1973, a decade after he had taken his globe-trotting resolution, Sabnis boarded an Air India plane to England as a Ford Foundation scholar. His wife, Manjiri, remained in India to take care of their two children, their daughter Supriya Pilgaonkar, who is now a well-known name in the Marathi and Hindi entertainment world and son Sumit Sabnis, who flies business tycoon Mukesh Ambani's private jet. He went there as a student of urban studies at the University College of London.

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(C) Shriya Pilgaonkar

Sabnis was the first one in his family to travel abroad and that was just the beginning.

He went on an educational journey across Europe the following year and was exposed to an entirely different culture. He learnt a lot from his friends abroad, who helped broaden his outlook, change his attitude, and set an insatiable fire in him that made him want to travel more and more. He also observed increasingly widening and disturbing gaps in the people in the name of religion, colour, and language.

Looking back, he is amazed to see the changes travel has brought in himself. Besides the varieties and contrasts in cultures of people across the world, he finds striking similarities in their thinking and actions even when they are thousands of miles apart and without any inter-communication. This really brings us together as a human race.

He has travelled across Europe, Australia, USA, Canada, Greenland, and Africa.

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"Alive and kicking to enjoy all of this." In Antarctica, 2012.

He visited Antarctica in 2012, which, he said, was one of his most memorable trips. It is the only continent he had not visited by then, and in 2011, he booked a ticket for himself for one of the most dangerous oceanic cruises in the world. He set out on his sojourn across the Drake passage between South America and the South Shetlands islands of Antarctica, along with 84 other passengers in a small ship.

He experienced a deadly silence as he crossed the Lemaire channel, an 11 kilometre-long strait off Antarctica. There, between white mountains and icebergs, he saw penguin colonies and seals lazing on icebergs.

He had nightmares throughout that everyone is searching for my dead body in the ocean! This 60-hour ordeal was the most dreadful part of the journey. Most passengers grew seasick during this, and Sabnis was sure he would die. That didn't stop him from setting out time and again.

Even though his wife doesn’t usually travel with him, she travelled to England with him to celebrate their 50th marriage anniversary. A short while after that she returned to India, he set off for Iceland, this time, accompanied by his grand-daughter Shriya Pilgaonkar.

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In Cappadocia, Turkey, 2011

Sabnis knows that he is not a young man anymore and so he travels in the most safe and tension-free way. You only need good health and lot of interest around in the world, sufficient stamina to pack and unpack bags almost every day and to keep moving and enjoying, and being adjustable in nature.

He remembers is father, a lower middle class person and can imagine what it must have felt like to not be able to fulfil his dreams. He hopes that his father can see all this through his eyes.

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