It seems like the world is on the move. Social media feeds are full of happy pictures of people vacationing; trekking, hiking, lounging on the beach or leaning against the carved pillars and painted walls of historic monuments. And all those colourful plates of exotic food that tell tales of where they’ve been and what they’ve eaten. Everyone’s travelling, within the country, and abroad. The tourism ministry estimates that close to 1.6 billion visits were logged by Indians at domestic tourist spots in 2016, and the number could only have grown in the time since. Indians are travelling and they are posting, writing — and talking — about it.

Travel as a genre has always had an audience. In print, travel magazines have a committed readership (and continue to attract advertising), while television has a range of travel shows on adventure, fashion, food and history, and the like.

Tips and guides

Weekend newspapers have their share of travellers’ tales written by amateur as well as professional contributors. These stories fulfil at least two purposes: for those who intend to travel, they offer tips on what to see and how to manage a trip, often going into little known details that may have escaped the guidebooks and websites. For others, it’s a way of learning about and experiencing the world without moving out of their homes.

The Musafir Stories (TMS) taps into this interest with a fortnightly podcast that takes the listener on journeys across the Indian subcontinent. Run as a “passion project” by Bangalore-based Saif Omar and his wife Faiza Khan, the podcast features a diverse range of storytellers, from long-time bloggers who have a method and a philosophy that guides their journeys, to day trippers out to enjoy a city they love. Drawing mostly on people who have a social media presence, such as bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers, TMS is about going beyond the “picture perfect itinerary” to offer “travel tricks, hacks and secrets”.

“I’m an avid podcast listener when I lived in the U.S., and one of my favourites was the Amateur Traveler, which took me on so many vicarious journeys,” says Omar. Finding there was nothing in terms of Indian content in this genre, he decided to launch his own show.

The podcast takes the form of a conversation between Omar and the traveller/storyteller, with Khan occasionally pitching in as co-host. They take care to not dominate the soundspace with questions, allowing the featured speaker free rein in telling their story. This can lead to a certain patchiness quality though, with some guests more comfortable with the medium and format than others.

How to plan

The most recent show, with bloggers Preethika and Narayanan (of Passing Ports) unfolded as an informative conversation about the temples in and around Thanjavur, with snippets of history combined with useful tips on where to stay and how to plan travel around the area.

The “pro-travelers”, as Omar described them, spoke in a relaxed tone, avoiding hyperbole or overstatement. An earlier show on Lucknow, featuring YouTuber Siddharth Keswani, however, was high on enthusiasm but thin on information, missing much of the historical or cultural background one might expect about this city. But then you have travel blogger Kaushal Karkhanis luring us away from Goa’s beaches down its rivers to discover Tiracol, Chapora and other tranquil spaces.

“The curation has to improve, most definitely,” admits Omar, “and consistency is an issue.” As indie podcasters without the backing of a media house, it’s been tough going. “We weren’t sure how long we’d be able to sustain it,” he says. Working weekends and nights, the duo has been at it for close to two years now, with 32 shows and several specials in the series. Both Omar and Khan have day jobs, and produce the podcast out of their garage, so to speak, “with very basic equipment”. Despite this, TMS has managed to gain a fair amount of traction and was listed on Saavn, the audio streaming platform, in 2017. “We’re planning to introduce content in Hindi soon,” says Omar.

Apart from the fortnightly destination focused conversations, TMC has occasional special thematic episodes, such as a two-part series titled ‘The Great Indian Road Trip’ that follows biker Sai Kumar on his journey from Kerala to Ladakh. Another offers a travel hack — how to “fly smart, fly cheap”. All the shows are accompanied by summaries on the TMS web site, with basic how-what-where tips. Not a bad way to start exploring your next vacation.

(A fortnightly series on podcasts.)

The Hyderabad-based writer and academic is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.

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