THE FULL STORY
In 2004, when I was living between New York and Toronto, I undertook a gruelling four-week trip to Everest Base Camp after which I had a desire to visit Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. I had watched the movie, ‘My Father My Architect,’ and was thrilled by Louis Kahn’s work. The National Assembly Building in Dhaka is regarded as his masterpiece, taking as long as the Taj Mahal to build, and was his last project before he died.
To get to Dhaka from Kathmandu I had to fly via Calcutta, so I took the opportunity to stay overnight and see a little of the city. The most luxurious hotel was the wonderful Oberoi Grand. This elegant heritage hotel is quite stunning and wonderfully located. A bathtub and swimming pool were such luxuries after many weeks of camping and no showers!
While there, I had a yearning for great Bengali food, knowing just a little bit about the distinctive cuisine and wanting to try it. When I asked the concierge for help, he responded with a lovely head wobble and said “we have excellent Thai madam”; on clarifying I wanted local food, he then directed me to the 24-hour multi cuisine restaurant serving continental, Chinese and Indian; on explanation that I wanted to leave the hotel and find truly local authentic Bengali food his response was simply one of shock and confusion resulting in a recommendation for an Indian restaurant in another five star hotel.
So I took myself to the bookstore where a charming lady in a stunning silver sari graciously escorted me to the guidebook section whose shelves, of course, had all the regular mass market pan India books (some of which I was carrying with me). I was only in Cal for the night and this choice wasn’t simply about getting fed, this was about experiencing the Bengali culture through food and soaking in the atmosphere. A safe place for pizza was never going to do!
The bookstore lady sensed my disappointment and asked what exactly I was after. I explained. She then smiled and wrote on a piece of paper the names of the three best Bengali restaurants. I still have this note as a talisman.
Sensing I was onto a treasure trove of information, we then discussed textiles and socially aware craft centres and suddenly Cal was opening up! I knew how to get to the museums and the sights, but I needed intimate knowledge of what made the city really sing: where did the people who loved the city shop and eat and how did they live?
Through this lady (Mrs Deepak Bhandari, who I am now friends with) I had an insight on how to explore Cal and I began to fall in love…
A few days later, I arrived in Dhaka wishing that the ‘bookshop lady’ had a sister who lived there, or wishing that I knew the Australian ambassador’s wife, well any ambassador’s wife to get the insider knowledge I craved. I made do with a Kuwaiti airline pilot – but more of that, would be kissing and telling!
The next stop was Bangkok and as I was just one flight away from my old life and heading back into the corporate whirl. I began plotting a massive change in my life. I had thought that the insight would have happened at 19,000 feet in the majesty of Everest, but no, it snuck up on me in Calcutta and Dhaka, probably seeded by the wonderful Jeff Greenwald book, Dr Raj’s Neighbourhood, given to me by my friend, Dave, author of ‘100 Things To Do Before You Die’.
Over a green salad and a fine glass of Burgundy (the first salad and the first glass of wine in a month) at the Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok, I sketched out a plan for a life living in India and creating the kind of travel content that I wanted, especially now that I was committed to trekking and increasingly going to more and more remote, interesting spots.
I thought back to the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, wouldn’t my stay in Arusha and then Dar es Salaam have been revolutionised? Or how about when I went to Cairo, or to Nairobi, to Buenos Aires, to Bahia, to… and the list went on and on.
So decision made, I transited in London, shared the idea with a close pal, Anne, who was totally encouraging. I then resigned to my boss in New York and exited the world I had known for 20 plus years.
In November 2004, I arrived in India, homeless and unsure about where to start or how to start and what indeed to call the fledgling project. The universe helped me find friends, a home and in the Imperial Hotel in Delhi, a name for the books: LOVE, of course.
This idea was about falling in love with places. I believed it was time to fall in love with more than just the cities in the West. Move over London, New York and Paris, it was time to fall in love with Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and more.
Love Travel Guides were named and the journey continued. We launched the first book, ‘Love Bangalore,’ appropriately going on sale, on Valentine’s Day 2007.
Since then, I have launched Love Mumbai, Love Delhi, Love Jaipur, Rajasthan and Love Goa as well as launching the Made in series with Made in Kolkata and Made in Bengaluru. We have sold over 50,000 books since starting and have an active community.
Future Plans in India include a Love South India (including Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu) and a Love Himalaya. Outside of India, I have started work on Love Sri Lanka and am open to collaborating with people on other destinations.