For this Indian woman traveler, age is just a number

Image Courtesy: elmundo_es (Instagram)

Chennai resident Dr. Sudha Mahalingam has visited 66 countries, across six continents

Twenty-five years ago, when Dr. Sudha Mahalingam started solo traveling, it was not considered safe for most Indian women to travel alone. At the time, international travel was also not part of the bucket list for women of her generation.

Since then, the Chennai resident, has broken all stereotypes, while visiting 66 countries, across six continents.

In a interview with CNN, Mahalingam, 70, shared her experience of traveling alone and visiting various places around the globe.

While accompanying her husband on business tours abroad, she took advantage of those opportunities to explore her adventurous side. Despite the availability of organized tour packages, she opted to travel alone and explore the world unseen.

Read: India’s ‘Everest Twins’ Tashi and Nungshi Malik peak the Swiss Alps (October 13, 2021)

“Packaged tours are so predictable,” she told CNN Travel. “They show you what they want to show, not what you want to see,” she explained.

Mahalingam quit a profession in print journalism to seek a career in energy research two decades ago. She started receiving invitations to speak at international conferences in oil-producing countries. And her new job became the gateway for her solo traveling.

The majority of her early trips were unexpected and unplanned, she told CNN.

She had many interesting experiences, such as arriving in the Czech Republic without a legal visa, struggling to find vegetarian cuisine in China, getting mistakenly imprisoned at an Iranian monument, and getting detained at Nairobi’s airport as she did not have proof of yellow fever vaccination.

Mahalingam also shared with CNN her experiences during another trip where she courted danger — in the Kashmir Valley in 1997.

She was traveling with a stranger, an army officer who had requested a ride. After a few hours, they noticed a minesweeper truck approaching them from the opposite direction, cleaning the route of any potential explosives. The next day, armed militants shot at her car on the way to the airport.

Recently, due to worldwide pandemic travel limitations, Mahalingam has been focusing on local travel around India, including a lot of road trips.

During a recent trip, she drove to Goa, a 16 hour-long ride from Bangalore. From there, she drove to Dandeli and then to Gokarna.

Later on another trip, she drove to Belur Halebid to visit two Hoysala temples and stayed there for a few days.

Mahalingam also went to Hampi, an eight-hour drive from Bangalore.

In a few days, she will be going to Coorg, a hill town in southern India framed by the Western Ghats Mountain range.

While sharing her worldwide travel experience, Mahalingam told CNN about her last international trip to Madagascar in 2019 to see lemurs. It was one of her favorite adventurous moments.

“It was absolutely uncharted territory, un-touristy and had very few facilities. It was hardship travel and the way that I like. I was on a boat for three days and the boat didn’t have a toilet,” Mahalingam said.

Mahalingam’s journey to Borneo, in Southeast Asia, was another memorable event.

“There were creepy crawlies everywhere and mounds of leaves one meter high,” she said. “You put your foot and won’t know if a serpent would twist itself around your leg or whether a scorpion would sting you. It was pouring all the time. I have been to the Amazon jungle as well but it was a cakewalk compared to Borneo,” she said in the interview.”

Mahalingam has also tried a number of adventure sports, including scuba diving and hang gliding.

At the age of 66, she also hiked to the Everest base camp and skydived in Uluru, Australia.

Read: Meet Dr Sudha Mahalingam, 70-year-old solo traveller who has visited 66 countries in last 25 years (September 6, 2021)

The septuagenarian said she plans to learn to sail on one of the fabled Clipper boats once the world is completely reopened, a costly but once-in-a-lifetime trip. Colombia, Patagonia, Chile and Argentina are also on her list for future travel.

Mahalingam, who has visited 66 countries across six continents, is a travel blogger as well. She runs the blog “Footloose Indian.” She has also authored a book, “The Travel Dogs Must Be Crazy.”

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