Kannur-based globetrotter Shakir Subhan’s YouTube vlog ‘Mallu Traveler’ is a primer for budget travel

Shakir Subhan at the Mughal Road en route to Kashmir   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In August last year, Shakir Subhan decided to hitch-hike all the way from his hometown in Iritty, Kannur, to Kathmandu in Nepal with “absolutely no money” in hand. “I have always wanted to travel a lot but never had the financial resources. I have this dream of embarking on a solo world tour on bike and approached many firms for sponsorship but they all just laughed at me. So I found a simple solution, just travel cashless,” says Shakir.

In 14 days, Shakir covered 6,000 km and was back home, having hitch-hiked across the country and past the border with whoever was willing to give him a ride. “When I started off, there was no real plan. Inter-State lorries were my primary mode of transportation,” he says. Though he started chronicling his travel experiences on his Facebook page, not everyone was buying into the stories. “Many commented on my posts, expressing incredulity at my adventures. That’s when I decided to open my YouTube channel, ‘Mallu Traveler’, to put out evidence during my next trip,” he recollects.

The Kathmandu odyssey was only a “sample”, he says, this time, scaling up his plans to find his way all the way to Singapore by road, cutting through nine countries. “Most of these countries had visa on arrival, which helped my cause,” he says. Armed with a second-hand laptop and a camera a well-wisher gifted him, Shakir started on his ambitious expedition in October, arriving at his destination by hitch-hiking through Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia after two months.

Itchy feet
  • With the motto ‘spend less, travel more’, Shakir says one way of cutting down expenses is to avoid shopping, apart from buying inexpensive souvenirs. “Most of the items you see in foreign lands, you can actually get them here too,” he points out. Another hack is to try to stick to the local cuisine. “As they say, when in Rome, be a Roman. So eating what they (locals) eat would be much cheaper that looking for Indian food in a foreign country. Also, take public transport than taxis as much as possible,” he says.

“I couldn’t, of course, go cashless this time and had just enough money for visa and food. By the time I reached Thailand, my YouTube channel had gained considerable attention. Earlier, I used to post five-minute videos but I started putting out longer ones when my followers requested it,” says the 29-year-old. He then took a flight back home, returning after 66 days.

Shakir says he enjoyed the most in Laos where he had to walk for miles through several villages, seeing rural life up close. At Myanmar border, he contracted a throat infection that “deprived me of my voice for about a month”. Perhaps, the only deviation from his hitch-hiking plans happened in Vietnam when he made the long journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by train on a ticket bought by “a benevolent Malayali” he became friends with in the East-Asian country.

At present, Shakir has travelled to 21 countries, all documented in Mallu Traveler, which has 3,50,000 subscribers and garnered a whopping 2,35,00,000 page views so far. His other two accomplished “missions” are a 52-day ‘East African backpacking’ trip covering Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, and a Kannur to Kashmir solo ride covering 4,900 km in total on a Honda Cliq undertaken with corporate sponsorship in 15 days.

Apart from encapsulating the sights and sounds Shakir encounters in his globe-trotting, Mallu Traveler offers a vicarious journey through the indigenous cultures and landscapes of the places he visits, peppered with titbits on budget travelling. Shakir says it’s also his desire to share the wealth of experience and impressions about the lives of others, both pain and pleasure, that keeps him going. He says, perhaps, the African trip threw up the greatest of surprises. He recounts a scene he witnessed in Tanzania as having made a particular impact on him. “There was a bunch of kids collecting water from a muddy pool. At the other end, cows were drinking from the same,” he remembers.

Shakir says though he has managed to steer clear of any danger or anything untoward, he has had his share of close shaves. “My GoPro (camera) got stolen in Kashmir during the scooter trip. But the scariest of moments happened during the Singapore trip. While entering India again via Bhutan, I reached Assam by late evening. As I crossed the border, it all turned pitch black. The lorry driver dropped me off at a highway and I could only see specks of fire torches here and there. Little did I realise that I was in Bodoland. That was perhaps the only episode in my journeys when I panicked. Luckily, I spotted a group of lorries and left with them to Guwahati,” he recounts.

Like father, like son
  • Shakir’s elder son, five-year-old Mazi Shakir, too is following in his father’s footsteps with his own eponymous YouTube channel, Mazi Shakir, as a lifestyle blog. “He is only five, but says he already aspires to be a full-time YouTuber,” says Shakir with a laugh.

Travelling light, Shakir himself shoots and edits his videos. “I try to travel during the day and keep myself free in the evening. The videos are edited at night, though I don’t always get to follow this routine. I have faced Internet connectivity issues mostly only in India. Outside, it’s not that bad,” he says with a chuckle.

Shakir is now gearing up to fulfil his dream of the solo world tour on bike in multiple phases on a customised TVS Apache RTR 200 that he has fondly named ‘Amina’, as a nod to his mother, Kunjamina. The first phase covers West Asia before he enters Europe through Greece, with the final pit-stop in Germany or France. “I want to visit as many countries as I can,” says the vlogger. With sponsors queuing up, he says, come November, fuelling the feat is not a hurdle any more.

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Printable version | Nov 14, 2020 7:43:14 PM |

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