Gurgaon-based content creator Kavya Saxena is leveraging the power of social media
This Gurgaon-based content creator is leveraging the power of social media to focus on rural India’s dying arts and crafts
We all like to think of ourselves as intrepid explorers, ready to stray from the oft-familiar path to experience something unusual. More often than not, we daydream of taking a sabbatical, or even quitting, so as to be able to fulfil the desires we live through Instagram images associated with the hashtag 'wanderlust'.
What many of us lack, however, is the fortitude to give this life-changing decision a shot. Such was not the case for Gurugram-based Kavya Saxena (35), who “took a step to leave everything while I was at the helm of my career”.
Now a content creator, Saxena drives solo to the lesser-accessible parts of rural India in an attempt to “bring their stories closer to people and myself”.
Mapping a journey
It all started with a sabbatical in September 2020. The first lockdown had just been lifted. An avid traveller since childhood, Saxena has always found rural India more appealing than the subcontinent’s sprawling metropolises.
But, in between building a career and other things, she could not make time to accomplish her travel dreams. Currently in Tamil Nadu for a curated travel experience by the State’s tourism department, she says, “I thought that if visiting rural India is my passion, I should test it 100 per cent.”
Amid the pandemic, while living in a 3bhk house in Gurugram, Saxena decided to hit the road to explore the rural expanses of India. “Sabbatical was almost like an appetiser before the main course (laughs). The journey changed me so much that I decided midway, corporate life is not for me. I wanted to be on the move; to explore the crafts of rural India in the real sense.” This is how her self-funded ‘Kavya On Quest’ journey commenced. “I have made the decision in life to be independent. And, I don’t miss anything.”
The onerous task of travelling alone is one that needs immense planning. At ease with being unaccompanied, Saxena mentions, “I decided on solo travel because I was comfortable with the idea. Interestingly, I feel that when women in India travel solo, they are taken more seriously than when they travel with their partner, family or friends. It has always worked in my favour – it gives me the right time to complete a trip, and allows me to plan things my way.”
Her original plan to traverse six eastern India states – West Bengal, Assam (Majuli), Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Odisha, Chhattisgarh – in six months, changed, and her trip extended to eight months.
She says, “I wanted to pick states that do not receive much screen time. Especially those with not many written accounts related to the artisans or the arts and crafts.”
This is also why Arunachal Pradesh was part of her list. She explains, “Arunachal is the largest state of northeast India. But, when you Google the crafts of the state, you will find just a few articles. Nothing concrete is written about Arunachal. Also, because of its remoteness and permit issues, it’s been an elusive state. I want to document the crafts of Arunachal before it fades.”
One of the biggest highlights of her journey was when the Indian automobile manufacturer Mahindra came on board as a vehicle partner. The content creator, who is also a motorsports enthusiast and has actively participated in rallies since 2014, says, “They trusted me because they were extremely confident that I can manage basic vehicle maintenance such as fixing the engine, tyres, and so on.”
Soon, Saxena started documenting her journey on social media, asking locals to suggest uncharted destinations. A few brand promotions started coming her way too. She adds, "As a content creator who specifically creates rural Indian content, associations with hotels and brands are less. Financially, sustaining it [the project] is difficult, but I am sure I’ll figure it out."
A safe sojourn
Debunking myths that rural India isn’t safe for women travelling solo, or even hygienic, Saxena mentions, “There is a myth about Indian villages — it is not hygienic. Rural India is way more sustainable than urban India. They have lesser needs, are cleaner, and have their own methods to deal with waste. They are also in the practise of reusing things. I have been on the road every single day for the last eight months, and now, irrespective of any state, I feel absolutely comfortable.”
She also stresses on the fact that her success is a consequence of rigorous planning, “A lot of people doubt the safety aspect. But, in my opinion, rural Indians are black-and-white; either they like you or they don’t. Yes, incidents can happen anywhere, even in urban India. Since I travel solo, a general practice I follow is to start my day at about 7am. In the North East, I would start my day as early as 6 am and return to base by 7 pm. Apart from that, I’d conduct regular vehicle checks and fill up my car before ending my day. Honestly, I have felt more safe in rural India than I have in Gurgaon.”
A question often posed to her by people on social media is: Is there a village we must visit?” She highlights, “There are millions of villages in India. When people ask me this question, my response is ‘all you need to do is drive 25km outside your city, and you will find a village where they will surely be crafting something interesting — broom, brass jewellery, basket, matka [clay pitcher], or something else. There is no dearth of villages, which is also what makes this kind of travel so unique. I will never run out of places to travel to.”
Ask her if she feels at home on the road, and there’s a sudden softness in her voice as she smiles, “Being on the road is like a nasha [an addiction] for me.” This is also why she’s already planned the itinerary after completing the Tamil Nadu trip. “Post this, I will go to Odisha for work. After that, I plan to head back to Arunachal, and complete the northeastern states of Tripura and Mizoram before winter kicks in.”
Has she managed to crunch all her dreams into a ‘bucket list’ then? Saxena concludes, “The dream is to map every single village in India or at least document every single craft of this country. Despite me being on the road for eight months, I have not been able to complete it. Rural India, which is so accessible, has suddenly become this rural Indian dream that I’m pursuing. I want to map every single craft of this country, and tell its story before it dies down or before rural India becomes redundant, and they are influenced by urbanisation.”