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This 70-year-old serial traveller has been to 66 countries…and counting!8 min read

September 7, 2021 5 min read


This 70-year-old serial traveller has been to 66 countries…and counting!8 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Dr. Sudha Mahalingam is an Indian researcher
(and a septuagenarian) who has visited sixty-six countries in the
last twenty-five years. Now, in her seventies, she is only looking
forward to more adventures to call her own!

Let’s get to know this travel aficionado, shall we?

Do you miss getting on a train or a plane and whisking off to faraway lands? Now, you can live vicariously through the adventures of serial traveller, Dr. Sudha Mahalingam. And she undertakes most of these expeditions alone, bending gender and cultural norms about women and travel!

Doctor Who? Doctor Travel!

Image: Giphy

It all started when Dr. Mahalingam began accompanying her husband on his work trips abroad. Working in print journalism herself, she used these trips to explore her adventurous side. But she disliked planned tours and packages seeking experiences beyond the ordinary.

Twenty years ago, Dr. Mahalingam left her job in print journalism to become an energy researcher. Her work brought her invitations to speak at international conferences. And this is where her journey as a committed traveller started!

She has recounted her experiences of visiting 66 countries in 25 years across 6 continents in her blog, Footloose Indian, and novel, “The Travel Gods Must be Crazy.”

Her busy schedule often came in the way of planning her trips making most of her trips sudden and unplanned! That’s where the fun lies.

And this is what fun looked like: she has entered Czech Republic without a valid visa, was caught without a proof of yellow fever vaccination in Kenya, and was accidentally locked inside a monument in Iran!

Dr. Mahalingam on a trip to Machu Pichu in Peru. Image: CNN

Trips to remember

Her last international trip was to Madagascar in 2019 to see lemurs.

Can you name the movie this clip is from? Let Owliver know in the comments below! Image: Giphy

The trip was hardly the definition of tourist-y. But that is just how she likes it! She was on a boat for three days without access to a toilet. The boat brought her to Tsingy on the west coast of Madagascar.

Tsingy is full of jagged blade-like rock formations jutting straight into the sky. It’s quite steep and very difficult to climb these rocks and it lacerates the hand and foot. But after climbing to the other side, you see creatures you don’t see elsewhere in Madagascar.

Dr. Mahalingam, CNN
In Madagascar. Image: Footloose

Dr. Mahalingam places a trip to Borneo in Southeast Asia close to the Madagascar adventure.

There were creepy crawlies everywhere and mounds of leaves one meter high. You put your foot and won’t know if a serpent would twist itself around your leg or whether a scorpion would sting you. It was pouring all the time. I have been to the Amazon jungle as well but it was a cakewalk compared to Borneo.

Dr. Mahalingam, CNN

Closer home, she learnt about respecting the natural order of life by visiting a  ghotul hut and spending time with the Bastar tribals of India’s Chhattisgarh. Here, she says she learnt about the ghotul tradition where young tribal boys and girls come, work, and live together until they can decide on one particular partner for life!

Along with adventure travel, came adventure sports! She has done scuba diving, and hand-gliding. She has also trekked up to the Everest base camp. At the age of 66, she went skydiving in Uluru, Australia.

Travelling in the pandemic

The pandemic has limited her travel plans to within India but that seems just as exciting as her other adventures, and includes many road trips. She drove to Goa all the way from Bangalore covering a 16-hour stretch. From there she went on to Dandeli and Gokarna. She has also driven to Hampi, and is planning a road-trip to Coorg.

Dr. Mahalingam has driven a motorcar across borders including four international motor rallies covering 14 countries, a desert rally through the Thar desert in Rajasthan, a cross-country drive from Delhi to Bangalore, transnational drives from Singapore to Cameroon Highlands in Malaysia. Image: Footloose Indian

Lessons from travel

In the Galapagos Islands in 2013. Image: CNN

Dr. Mahalingam believes that travelling has taught her to understand people better. It has also reinstated her faith in humanity. From the aborigines in Australia, she learnt about living in harmony with nature. Her travels across Zen monasteries, Galapagos Islands, Mustang in Nepal requiring a 24-day trek showed her how people living in harsh conditions can be warm and welcoming themselves.

When the pandemic recedes and normalcy returns, she hopes to train to sail aboard one of the famed Clipper yachts— it is an ocean race around the world! She wishes to complete one leg of the race.Travelling is a way to open up your mind to the world around you, and Dr. Mahalingam’s checklist is a long one.

Even if I travel to three places every year over the next 10 years, I will not be completing my checklist. There’s quite a lot!

Dr. Mahalingam, CNN

With excerpts from CNN, and Footloose Indian

(In the Spotlight is a weekly column that features people who are in the news for all the right reasons)

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