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I sang to my fellow yatris on our last day on the Jagriti Yatra. (Photo: Zim Ugochukwu)
Who: Zim Ugochukwu, creator of Travel Noire, an online platform featuring cultivated insights from a global community of black travelers.
Why: I wanted to take the skills that I acquired in college and put them to use internationally.
Where: I’ve traveled to every region of India except the Northeast. I saw over 70 percent of the country in a year’s time.
Cost: Nothing. I went as a part of an amazing fellowship program. The Luce Scholars Program covered everything. The program is designed to introduce young movers-and-shakers under-30 to Asia. Each of my fellow scholars lived in a different country in Asia.
How I did it: During the fall of my senior year in college, I decided that I wanted to try something different. I wanted to connect with a world outside of the one I know. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I was determined to get out of the United States and experience the most fascinating corners of the world (for free). I spent months applying for the fellowship, and when I was selected in 2011, I sold everything I owned and moved to India.
My photography club in Bangalore, India (Photo: Zim Ugochukwu)
Was it hard to let your stuff go?: I just did it. We’ve been taught to accumulate and hoard things that we can never transfer from this life. I reassured myself that it would be an opportunity to rebuild my wardrobe with different things from around the world. I began to go through my things and sorted through what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to give away or sell. The premise was simple: The sale, hosted at my apartment, was an as-is-sale. We didn’t move anything; we just put price tags on everything. I took a deep breath and let go. It wasn’t easy, but it was best. I made about $850.
Travel inspiration: God, nature, people, architecture. I love visiting charming and sleepy towns like Dharamshala or rural Holland.
Were you afraid of traveling alone?: Each journey is a deeply personal one; you grow by yourself and ultimately have to deal with aspects of your life that no one else may see. Either I was going to travel alone or spend years waiting for someone to travel with me. Sometimes you’ve just got to get up and move. There is no better feeling upon returning Stateside than knowing that you conquered the world — solo.
How did you change?: I became more conscious of my addiction to technology and my need to slow down and be present.
Playing games in Deoria, Uttar Pradesh, on the Jagriti Yatra (Photo: Zim Ugochukwu)
Where I lived: Bangalore, Dharamshala, New Delhi
Why I loved It: India is chaos that just works: the people, the culture, the food, the architecture.
Best sight: Sonamarg mountains in Kashmir, which had the greenest grass with the Himalayan mountain range in the background. It was totally surreal.
Related: I Scrapped My Job and Headed to Bali
My Top Cities
Kochi: Go visit old Kochi. Rent a bike, and traverse the island. It’s full of beautiful architecture and amazing restaurants.
Kanyakumari: Take a walk along the rocky beaches, and soak in the vast Indian Ocean.
Udaipur: Located in my favorite state in India, Rajasthan. This town is one of the most romantic cities in India. Go visit palaces, walk through the narrow alleyways, and have dinner on a rooftop overlooking the beautiful Lake Pichola.
Chatting with some children in Hampi, India (Photo: Zim Ugochukwu)
Secret address: There is this amazing pizza place in McLeod Ganj that not a lot of people know about. I totally don’t go for their pizza though. They have the most amazing cardamom chai I’ve ever tasted. Ever.
Off-the-beaten-path find: Norbulinka Institute in Sidhpur is an institute dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture. It’s a beautiful natural haven.
Most memorable/unusual meal(s): My most memorable meal was probably having Tibetan butter tea in Himachal Pradesh. The tea is an acquired taste, created with yak butter and salt.
Most memorable night out: A 14-hour overnight bus to the tip of India. I was eaten alive by India’s friendly mosquitos.
Favorite experience: The Jagriti Yatra. I spent two weeks living on a chartered train, traveling pan-India. We stopped in 12 cities and shadowed social entrepreneurs. I met so many of my dearest friends on that journey.
Best shopping: Fab India for its beautiful ethnic products and any market in McLeod Ganj for their beautiful Tibetan jewelry
Favorite souvenir/best $1 I spent: A cup of chai.
A quiet afternoon: India isn’t known for its quietness, but to escape, I often found amazing cafés.
Where does Travel Noire fit into all of this?: I wanted to create something for the quintessential mover-and-shaker, someone who desired to get out and explore the world beyond all conventionalities. I wanted to see people of color visiting Nepal, Bora Bora, Finland, Senegal, Turkey, Alaska, and Bolivia. I didn’t see people who looked like me when I traveled abroad. Travel Noire was born out of frequent encounters with people of color who were often skeptical about the reality of traveling abroad.