I first heard about him when Madame Editor (E) and I were doing trial runs for the blog, sharing them with a select group of people for feedback. "He is an avid traveller. He used to blog too but it's been a while since he wrote," said E, explaining why his inputs on this blog would be helpful. "He has travelled to at least 50 countries and more. He is spending the New Year in Sri Lanka," she added.
"Wait! What? Fifty countries at 33 and he has managed that while he works? Are you kidding me! How? Is travelling his job? Can he get me a job like his? Which places has he travelled to? How does he decide on his travel destinations? Where is he off to next?" Part jealous and part amazed, I sent a volley of questions E's way, wondering how someone so young has managed to achieve a traveller's dream while balancing his professional life. I was impressed.
Well aware of the way my mind works - and probably a little irritated by my questions - E decided to connect me with Varun so I could pepper him with questions, from one traveller to another.
What does a girl who has travelled to just a handful of places and only recently made her debut as a solo traveller ask a veteran solo traveller? A lot apparently, ranging from the obvious to the philosophical, including the million dollar question "What does travelling give you."
Here are bits and pieces from an hour-long conversation that turned out to be a treasure trove of information and inspiration.
Measuring travel in phases "My first memories of travel are regular family holidays with parents to lovely spots in the Himalayas like Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Manali, Nainital. My family is crazy about mountains. My mom's from Kalimpong, my brother has studied in Darjeeling; resultantly, half my childhood has been spent in the hills. I think that was phase one, those road journeys in the hills. "The second travel phase was probably when I was in Europe for an exchange programme, around 10 years ago. That was the first time I had stepped out of the country. It was three months of studies and backpacking across Europe. That was my first taste of solo travel, with the sense of experiencing things for the first time outside a comfort zone, sans any kind of layering." Bitten by the travel bug
"The travel itch hit after my first job placement. There is no romantic setting to that realisation," says Varun of his two year work period that saw him " unfortunately at that point of time but definitely fortunately now that I look back" deputed in rural India.
"I travelled every single day to a different village and that gave me a diverse geographical indication of our country, from West Bengal to Uttar Pradesh and more. Every day I would head out into the villages and towns with less than 5,000 people and then come back to a known place, the hotel. This happened daily for two years. This time, the third phase of my travels, came with the realisation of how fortunate a person is relatively in the world and the whole aspect of time - where a person is in during a particular stage in life. "I've not had the opportunity to revisit rural India with that intensity or at that length. But whenever I do travel in India, if I am crossing such places then I make it a point to stop at a small shop or admire the farmland. That is an intrinsic part of my traveller heart." Travel phase four and spotting the differences "After the two years in rural India, I lived in Munich and New Jersey... (read more about Varun's travels in '50 Countries & Counting' on 'From The Corner Table')