Published: 04th July 2019
These girls got a caravan and went road tripping across Sikkim for a month. Talk about #TravelGoals
How does travelling in a caravan and making a living out of it sound? Ankita and Sharanya take us through their epic month-long journey through the terrains of Sikkim in their portable home-on-wheels
Gone are the days when you could only road-trip by motorbike or car. It's time to live the 'van life' — well, quite literally. If you didn't already know, caravans are, in fact, a very popular mode of travel in many parts of the world like Europe and Australia. In our country, however, caravanning is yet to make a mark. Sometimes, people are advised against it owing to the uneven terrains that could act as a deterrent in several places. However, for these two youngsters, who are clearly making a case for the 'van life', caravanning is the best way to explore. And what's even more exciting is that they travel for a living. Meet Ankita Kumar and Sharanya Iyer from Bengaluru and Mumbai, respectively. And their unending love for travel has led these two content writers to create content out of their exciting travel experiences. However, their recent outing this year, called Caravan Chronicles, will definitely leave you wanting more.
Started last year, the idea behind Caravan Chronicles was first conceived by their biker friend Rohith Subramaniam, who found the concept of caravanning interesting while he was travelling across Europe. "When he shared this idea with me, I was totally game, and in 2018, we travelled across 12 states — from Kerala to Himachal Pradesh — for 100 days in a caravan that we called Kero. That's what we called Season One of Caravan Chronicles," says Ankita. However, their travel exploits then were not made into a web series, it was just meant for social media, like blogs and Instagram stories. But this time, it was well documented and will soon be released as a web series for their followers to get an insight into their journey.
Caravanning through paradise on Earth: Renting a van and then giving it the required makeover was quite a cumbersome task, the two travel junkies exclaim
A home on wheels
For the first season of Caravan Chronicles, Ankita and Rohith had bought a Matador and spruced it up themselves — starting from fixing things on the inside to painting it on the outside. Sharanya joined them for a week somewhere in Gujarat and their trip had lasted a 100 days, spanning from March to June 2018. This year's Caravan Chronicles lasted a month, from April to May, and the two women chose Sikkim as they really wanted to explore the Northeast. "This year, we rented a caravan from Bengaluru. We had a crazy adventure last year and we just felt a great vibe with each other. Rohith went off to South America for another biking trip late last year and Sharanya and I thought that we should continue the project as it had already gained a lot of momentum, lots of media coverage. We felt like we had to take this forward and it's okay if a guy is not around. We are two girls and we need to be able to do this and not wait around. It was really a very exciting challenge for us and we still can't believe that we pulled it off. Four months ago, if people would have asked us about the vehicle, we would have been blank. But now, we have learnt so much — different parts of a vehicle, Indian RTO laws, border crossings, tolls and taxes and what not! We wanted to break the stereotypes around what women can and can't do," adds Sharanya.
Sikkim is also culturally super rich — so many tribes, lot of Buddhist influence, local food and local wine. We had a really nice and varied range of experiences. Although we were a tad bit apprehensive about the weather during the months of April and May as it is monsoon there and also not all the states there are equipped with good roads and infrastructure. We were basically seeking a balance, where a state would give us an ample amount of things to do in a month while giving us a lot to explore in terms of terrains. That’s how we zeroed in on Sikkim
Sharanya Iyer, content creator
Their trip was sponsored by Jockey India and Jockey Women, who were their outdoor partners. They were also associated with a self-care brand called Amrutham. "This season was crunched down to a month and we wanted to focus on one state and talk about the aspect of slow travel. We have returned but we feel like we have barely seen Sikkim; there's so much to see. We would just stop wherever we wanted to and meet so many people. We shot a lot more content, documented it on camera, and we are currently putting together the web series to go up on Instagram and YouTube," says Ankita.
Renting a van and then giving it the required makeover was quite a cumbersome task, the two travel junkies exclaim. "It was quite a journey I would say. We painted the caravan almost three times, however, it was great learning how the paint reacts with metal. The interior also had a lot of local elements because we wanted to make it more personalised. The minute we hit Gangtok, I remember, the local people went to unfathomable lengths to help fix her up. One long, painful all-nighter and another mentally exhausting scary midnight garage rendezvous later, our caravan was finally bright and happy on this sojourn around Sikkim! Back in Bengaluru, when she was first painted blue, the colour was totally messed up. We didn't know any better and it turned out very dark and meh. After a whole week of paint prep, we had to go back to the drawing board for the second time. And that's when we got her to this minty fresh blue which we absolutely loved. But with Indian vehicle modification laws came the decision to wrap her in white vinyl sticker to get her across state borders without cops causing issues. We went with a simplistic nature theme with Sikkimese style Thangka clouds, all handpainted and designed a day before it went up on Luna, our van," says Ankita, beaming with laughter. They called the van Luna because they wanted a feminine name — Luna the moon and Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter. "The name has a lot of connotations, also, we wanted a quirky name. And so we decided on this," she adds.
Creating it from scratch: They called the van Luna because they wanted a feminine name — Luna the moon and Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter
The duo had an environment-friendly policy on their trip — leaving a place behind better than you found it. "We had trash cans, bags to collect everything that we were throwing away for that entire month. We were also careful with our waste and cleaned up as well wherever we were going," says Sharanya. They also gave random strangers a lift as they saw a lot of people just walk from their fields to their homes. So when they saw someone walking with a load on their backs, they just stopped and asked them to come on board with them.
So, why Sikkim?
They wanted to explore the Northeast as they felt there are so many different landscapes in a very small space. "Sikkim is also culturally super rich — so many tribes, a lot of Buddhist influence, local food and local wine. We had a really nice and varied range of experiences. Although we were a tad apprehensive about the weather during the months of April and May, as it is the monsoon season there, and also, not all the states there are equipped with good roads and infrastructure. We were basically seeking a balance, where a state would give us an ample amount of things to do in a month while giving us a lot to explore in terms of terrains. That’s how we zeroed in on Sikkim,” Sharanya explains.
Travel to make a living: Their trip was sponsored by Jockey India and Jockey Women, who were their outdoor partners. They were also associated with a self-care brand called Amrutham
Through their social media posts, one can definitely glance through the myriad changes in Sikkim’s landscape. West Sikkim, which is where their journey began, is full of green and scenic panoramas, while way up in the northern parts gave them the much-needed cultural experiences as the area is full of monasteries. They could also interact with the local community members from the Bhutia and Lepcha tribes. "We weren't allowed to drive the caravan as it was a heavy motor vehicle and we didn't have the license. We were required to have a local driver because of the rough terrains. We did drive a bit on the way though. The local people there were incredible and it's a very welcoming state. They were all so curious about the van and what we were doing. We didn't sleep in the van every night as we also wanted to mingle with the locals and stay in their homes — we had momo-making sessions and even rhododendron wine-making sessions on some of the days. People were the highlight of our trip I feel," says Ankita.
Before beginning, the duo had pitched their idea to almost 50 brands and then, three came on board finally for Caravan Chronicles. Before becoming full-time travellers, Sharanya was with brand management and advertising for 7 years and Ankita was in a production house in Mumbai for two years. Speaking about why caravanning was a completely different experience, Ankita says, "It's a very different experience in a caravan. You get to sleep inside and cook inside, so it's basically like a portable home. We had two sofa-cum-beds, a lot of storage space, vessels, stove, cooker, a desk to get work done and even some space for our camping gear. This wouldn't have been possible in a car or a bike."