A family affair across two continents

TRIPS AND TALES Across China, Mongolia and Russia  

Many parents do something special for their child’s 16th birthday. But television journalist Rohit Gandhi took that one step further. He took his son, Nikhil Gandhi, on a Trans-Siberian train journey earlier this year, in May. It was meant to introduce Nikhil to different cultures, adventure and the sheer joy of travelling without a definite purpose. And also find similarities within those differences. They actively worked on the trip for two years. The idea was to cover every country en route, with focus on its culture, rather than touristy trappings. “I’ve travelled the world as a television journalist, and wanted my son to see some cultures firsthand. It also served as a great way to backpack and use travel as a tool of education,” says Rohit.

“Nikhil, like most Indian kids, has led a sheltered life, and he could not have travelled by himself. Our journey together helped us connect at a different level too,” he says. The journey, which lasted for 45 days and cost almost 15,000 dollars, helped Nikhil get the confidence to live by himself — he’s now pursuing school in Canada.

Nikhil’s first memory of discussing this trip was at the breakfast table, when he was approximately nine years old. “I don’t think there was any real trigger for this trip, except dad’s enthusiasm. The whole idea of the trip was getting out of our comfort zone and drifting through different cultures and taking in as much as we could.”

During the trip, Nikhil learnt how languages don’t really matter. On the train to Russia, he spent time with a couple of friendly Russian children, communicating even without a common parlance. The journey was also a lesson in experiencing the kindness of strangers. In Beijing, Rohit and Nikhil had decided to walk up to their hotel, but soon realised it was far away. “We double-checked the route with a random stranger. He was not very conversant in English but offered to get us a cab. When it did not turn up, he dropped us off at the hotel and wished us well,” they add.

The journey began with a flight from Delhi to Hong Kong. After that, it was a bus journey (to Foshan) and a series of train journeys to their final destination, before they headed home. They went to Guangzhou, Nanjing, Hangzhou, the Great Wall of China, saw the terracotta warriors in Shaanxi province, the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng… taking in the ‘local’ experience. From there, they travelled to Beijing and Ulaanbaatar, where they camped in an open ground with travelling Israelis.

Father and son disagreed on some things. Shanghai was struck off the list, even though it was a short distance away, because Rohit felt it was yet another urban city, and that time could be spent exploring another place with history. Eventually, Nikhil understood why. Says Rohit: “We all tend to remember certain experiences. For me, that would be travelling on the China-Mongolia train. The track sizes are different in China and Mongolia, and on the border, they remove the undercarriage of each car after separating the whole train, and put a new chassis for the Mongolian tracks, all this while the passengers are inside the train. China’s tracks are 85 mm narrower, and Mongolia maintains this gap due to security issues. Immigration and customs is done on the train. Mongolian officials enter the coach, stamp the passports and allow people to travel. It was very civilised. I was impressed by how almost every town in China has its own app. You just have to download it, to get information on the city. It is a great, tourist-friendly idea,” says Rohit.

The trip was also a reminder of how countries are linked together by something other than borders. During the trip, Rohit wrote on his Facebook page: “As we make our way from Omsk towards Moscow, I see that I am equidistant from my home in Delhi.”

Nikhil’s mother Sudha Gandhi, a communications professional, was initially shocked and upset that the father and son even thought of a holiday without her and daughter Tanya. “But, later, I understood Rohit’s point. The trip did see Nikhil growing up and becoming more responsible. There was no ‘mom’ to wake him up or ensure he reached a place on time. So much so that, when Rohit had to advance his return journey from Moscow, Nikhil stayed back with some friends, and explored the place by himself. The trip taught him a lot; he knows how to have fun, but with limits.”

Rohit and Nikhil plan to document their entire trip. They’ve shot a lot of footage and taken notes. Next, Rohit will start working on the logistics for a similar trip with his daughter. “Absolutely, Tanya gets a trip when she turns 16, in 2019. We shall take a call on the venue then — it would probably be South America.”

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 4:23:27 PM |

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