Jeroo & Gustasp Irani are the rockstars of Indian travel writing. Warm, gentle and amazing in their dedication to their profession, the couple boast a resume that reads like a travel writer’s dream. We met them in Spain, and requested them to share nuggets from their wealth of wisdom. Read and be inspired!
How did you break into travel writing?
Jeroo: I had a penchant for travel since I was a toddler, my parents often told me, and would throw tantrums to go out of town on holiday! In my mid-twenties, I took over as the Managing Editor of Signature, the Diner’s Club Magazine. Since then it has been a whirlwind which continued when I took over as the Managing Editor of Voyage, a niche consumer travel magazine. I teamed up with Gustasp after Voyage folded up in 2002 when new travel magazines with greater financial muscle entered the market.
Gustasp: I, in the meanwhile, had a varied career graph – economic research assistant with UNDP and the manager of a family-run trucking business. I even managed to find time to write and publish a novel – Once Upon a Raj. The decision to become a travel writer was one of choice: to do something I would enjoy for the rest of my life. So I traveled around India in buses, trains, and bunked up in cheap digs – state-run guest houses and private lodges… Travel writing was still in its fledgling stages in India at the time. Then one day I got a call from Tourism Australia to visit and write about the country. Since then it has been a freewheeling journey right across India and the world.
How many stamps are there on your passport currently?
To be honest, we have not kept a count. Many. All we can say is that South America is still a hole in our portfolio. Of course, there are many other gaps around the world and even in India…
The stamps you’re the proudest of?
Jeroo: Hard to pick one! Fiji? Incidentally, the island nation issues visas on arrival for Indians.
Panama? Here too, Indians are given visas on arrival if they have a valid US, Canadian, Australian, or Schengen visa.
Europe: Spain and Italy?
Romania: Bucharest, Dracula’s Castle, Danube Delta?
Canada: the mountain resort of Whistler, the Icefields Parkway drive through the Rocky Mountains?
Tanzania: unbeatable if you are a wildlife buff…?
Ethiopia: the underground churches of Lalibela, Blue Nile Falls?
New Zealand: a paradise on earth?
Jordan: the lost city of Petra, the Dead Sea?
Gustasp: I’m particularly fond of the Maldives stamp and my week-long scuba adventure on a nomadic dive boat. And then there are the many luxury cruise ships (including the inaugural voyage of the Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world) that we have been on and these are not reflected on our passports. Of course, there are many other places where the stamps are in our memory rather than in our passports: The Char Dham circuit and the Valley of Flowers in Uttaranchal; the far reaches of Arunachal Pradesh; houseboats and Ayurveda Spa resorts on the backwaters of Kerala; Sonar Kila and the desert dunes of Jaisalmer.
What tops your wishlist at the moment?
Jeroo: The Norwegian fjords, Brazil, the Galapagos…
Gustasp: Cruising down the Amazon has been my dream ever since I learned about the river in my geography class, way back in my schooling days.
The most impressive sight you’ve ever laid your eyes on?
Kayaking down the fjords of New Zealand where mountains draped in thick rain forests and streaked with waterfalls surge out of the sea and thrust their snow peaks at the heavens. The icy-blue waters of Lake Louise in the folds of the Rocky Mountains in Canada. The fortified citadel of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, washed in the warm glow of the setting sun as buskers rent the air with flamenco music.
Favourite meal memory?
The meal itself was simple: three cold salads – greens, pasta, and sprouts – a platter of cheese and a choice of red and white wine. But it was the setting that blew us away: Rugs on a flower-strewn floor, a full-service table for two, crystal and silver included, set up for us in the ruins of an abandoned watchtower in Mandu, MP. Later, we relaxed on a mattress strewn with plump silk cushions as the mist rolled across the forested hills that surround this monument-studded resort town. That day we got to play at being Maharaja and Maharani and understand royal indulgence, which spares no effort to make a brief moment truly special. Then there was also a romantic dinner in a treehouse at the Kurumba Village Resort, near Conoor, a champagne breakfast at Bentota Beach in Sri Lanka, and many many more.
A packing tip/secret you have learned along the way?
Always carry a spare set of spectacles, a good painkiller, and your essential medication in your hand luggage (airlines are known to send checked-in luggage on vacations of their own). The last thing you need on a trip is blurry vision, a murderous toothache, and paying a fortune to local doctors for a simple prescription.
One place you can keep going back to, and why?
Rome, Italy. Like Roman soldiers intent on an invasion, we love walking across the eternal city. City maps unfurled, nothing can dampen our ardor; not when we were in one of the greatest cities in the world. The Italian capital struts its stuff like an all-powerful Caesar – biceps bulging – wielding immense power over the minds and imagination of the world. For us, it was awe at first sight. Closer to home: the hill resort town of Matheran. Red earth, green forests, blue skies, and no cars. And there is nothing more we can write about the place which means that we can have a proper holiday without worrying about where we can place the article.
One place you’d never go back to, and why?
As travel writers, we set out with a positive frame of mind. We would rather be wowed by the snow-capped mountains around a lake than brood over the dirt that floats on its waters in Macau. It’s small, beautiful, and bubbling with life 24 x 7. And its cuisine is a gourmet’s delight. But we have been there so many times that we would rather spend our time discovering new places.
Many young people today aspire to become travel writers. Some practical advice for them, please:
- Be professional, and that includes how you write, your dealings with editors and while on assignment.
- Use words to communicate, not to impress or confuse.
- Use images and enthusiasm rather than adjectives. For instance, instead of saying ‘a beautiful church,’ talk about how its reflection crinkled in rippling waters. Instead of saying you saw a tiger kill, describe it: the tearing of raw flesh – the stirring of instincts you did not know lurked within you.
- When recording history, especially up front in an article, remember you are writing a travel piece, not a history book. Of course, if there is an interesting anecdote then go ahead and use it.
- Avoid lazy writing, such as listing things one can see and do. Talk about the experience.
- When on an assignment, get involved… dig into local food, culture, adventure activities. It adds punch to the story.
- Know the publication you are writing for and write to their specifications.
- Keep to your deadlines. Let editors know you are reliable
- If you are invited on a press FAM (Familiarisation Trip), respect others on the trip and your host. Avoid being late and remember: this is not a holiday but an assignment.
- Travel writing and photographs go hand in hand: you can’t have one without the other. So if you don’t have a camera, make sure you know where to get stock pictures to illustrate your article.
- If you do carry a camera, respect the people you are taking photographs of
- A fancy camera does not give you the right of way: the point-and-shoots have equal rights to taking pictures.
Read more at www.gustaspandjeroo.com