28 Indian UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 365 days – that’s the idea of the Go-UNESCO challenge. It all started at the beginning of 2012 with a short tweet: “How many have you been to?” (World Heritage Sites). Ajay, a young guy from Hyderabad, read it and started a contest.
In 2012 around 50 participants registered. One of them was Jai Bharathi, who joined in April for fun and was declared the winner at the end of last year.
“Just travel and don’t stop for anyone” – Jai’s travel experiences
How did you hear about the Go-UNESCO challenge?
I read about the project in one of the local newspapers in April last year and then I came to know, okay there are a lot of other insane, adventurous people who love to travel. I thought, it’s kind of a challenge. A couple of people had travelled already and they had just listed where they were and posted some pictures. Then it kind of pulled me in and I thought okay, let me also do something, because I keep travelling a lot. So this time I thought: Let me travel with a purpose.
Who were you travelling with?
I was travelling with whoever was free at that time and who was interested to come. But most of the sites I travelled with the same people, who were taking part in the Go-UNESCO challenge.
When did you realize that you could really win this challenge?
When I started, I never thought I complete it, because it was April already and by the time I got myself registered and started travelling, it was in May. And at that time of the challenge it was just a fun challenge, there were no goodies promised.
May till August I did one trip each month. In September I was in between jobs, so I had a ten days gap so I went to Delhi. Around Delhi there are a lot of UNESCO sights, and I went to the national park “Valley of Flowers”. That is the most tedious travel I have ever done out of all the travels.
After that, I travelled alone to Rajasthan and Gujarat. I’ve seen some places, which I hadn’t ever heard about. And with that, I got around 600 points. That’s when I thought, okay, if I plan it properly, I might win the challenge.
And then you wanted to win?
I didn’t think, I have to win, but then I thought, okay, I’ll give it a try, let me see, if I’ll be able to do it. And luckily after August we have the major festivals, so we have a lot of holidays. Then I thought, if I plan properly, I can visit all the left over places. I just took a map of India and pinned the places – if I go to this places, what are other places can I cover and how many days do I need. I broke the rest of the monuments into three more trips – one was within Central India, one was towards North India and one was towards Chennai. So I did a nice plan and I kept one for Dussehra, Diwali and Christmas.
Which sight was your personal highlight?
Valley of flowers is the most amazing place I’ve ever seen – beautiful flowers and the silver lining on the mountains. It’s a mind blowing experience. Valley of flowers is something we cannot even express in words, it’s not a monument, it’s just the nature, the hills and the valley.
It is a very painful trek, but when you reach, all strains will be forgotten.
It’s really worth going there. We went from Delhi to Rishikesh in a train, and from Rishikesh we wanted to take a bus to the next place, but we came to know that there are no buses during night time. Everybody told us, that we can’t go over night, because it’s a protected forest area and we would be stopped. So we decided to take a taxi and see how far we can get. In the middle of the night the taxi driver stopped and dropped us in a place called Srinagar. After a short rest, we took a totally crowded minibus the next morning. And then we reached Joshimath and went on to Govind Gath. From there the major treks starts and no vehicles will go. It’s only a mule ride or you have to trek all the way up, which is around 14 kilometers. Everybody who wishes to go there, has to start the trek before 2.30 p.m. or 3 p.m. maximum We reached there by 3 and had to start immediately. We initially thought we do the trek, we started and did one kilometer and then we realized, if this is the way, then we can’t reach. So we took the mule and reached Ghangaria around 8 o’clock in the evening.
The next day in the morning we started to the Valley of Flowers. It is a 3 kilometers trek from Ghangaria and mules are not allowed. Every turn you take there – one side there will be a beautiful crystal water flowing down directly from the Himalayas, one side is fully mountains and much further you can only see greenery landscape with some beautiful flowers – pink and yellow shaded. The trek experience itself was so good and hardly anybody goes there.
Which trip was the biggest challenge?
Northeast was the toughest one, because being from Hyderabad I’m not habited to cold climate. December I had a plan to got Northeast, December 22nd, and it was damn cold. This was the first time I was wearing five layers of clothes and it’s so cold, I don’t know how I travelled. Most of them in the participants didn’t do the Northeast.
Did u have a ritual, you were doing at all sights?
It’s not a ritual but every sight I went, whenever it was night, when I looked up, I could see a lot of stars. It was an amazing feeling and it continued at almost every sight.
And one more thing, for all the sights I travelled, there was a point, where I could see the sunset and the moon coming up together – EVERY place I could see that. How can that happen? One or two places is normal, but every place wherever we were? Sun and moon at the same time, that was nice.
What are three things, you did not want to travel without?
My mobile phone (laughs), my backpack and my camera. Other things, even if they are not there, I can manage.
What travel tips do you have for future participants?
Just travel and don’t stop for anyone. Because most of the time what happens is, it happened even with me: Most of the time you plan to go to a certain place and obviously you don’t plan to go alone, you always want someone else to come and last minute lot of people drop out and can’t come. In that case, you don’t drop your plan, you decided, so you should travel – that’s it. You can go alone.
Be a traveler, not a tourist!
Travelling is much better than just being a tourist. Tourist is like: You are enjoying, you are relaxing. If you want to win this challenge, you cannot do that. I was always very tired, when I was on trips. It’s not funded, so you can’t live in fancy hotels. We used to travel during night and visit the sights during the day. Whatever you get, travel in the night, safe time and money. Every day get up at 5 o’clock, that way you don’t lose time.
Are you infected with the travel virus now?
Yes, I am, because as a part of my trip to the Northeast, we had the map in our hands and we had two days extra – it was Christmas and New Years break. We only had a few places to cover and then decided to go to Nepal by bus. We had to go from Darjeeling to Delhi, so instead of going directly within India, we entered Nepal and went from there to Delhi.
The next big one is going to Kumbh Mela and I wanted to see what’s it like. I don’t go for a religious reason, but I’m curious to see it. And I might have to go to London for work this year. Now I decided, wherever I go, I’ll visit all the UNESCO sights.
- World Heritage List – Interactive map
- Go-UNESCO – official page
- Deccan Chronicle: Hyderabadi girl Jai Bharathi wins Go-Unesco challenge (13.01.2013)
- The Hindu: Incredible, historic India (10.01.2013)