Remember the legendary dialogue from the movie ‘3 Idiots’? “Beta hua to Engineer, Beti hui to Doctor” chimes Kareena. All of us know how true it holds in India. So ‘beta’ Rishad followed the track of getting a degree first and then thinking of what he needs to be and acquired an engineering degree in Electronics and Telecommunications. Thankfully, the ‘Rancho’ in his heart proved strong enough. Rishad Saam Mehta – celebrated author, photographer and travel writer, stepped in to enrich the world with his enchanting travel stories and stunning photographs. With two books published to great reviews; a road trip across nine countries, spanning 32000 kilometres, 62 days, and eight time zones; unbelievable road trips across India and the world; brilliant photographs and featured articles in several leading publications, he has found it all. It seems you can have your cake and eat it too, after all.
Rishad Saam Mehta was always fond of travelling. As a child, he remembers travelling with his parents, in old, run-down cars that would often breakdown on the way. “Travelling is always more about the journey” cites Rishad. Those breakdowns made wonderful stories and hooked him to road travel. Completely bitten by the travel bug, he kept grasping at ideas that would let him just travel including joining an airline company just for the free world tour. He came across an advert for a new car magazine looking for writers and applied on a whim. Some destiny forces seemed to be at work here as he was selected with zero experience and qualification and tons of enthusiasm. His first assignment – a Mumbai to Delhi road trip and an article about it. Thrilled at having lucked out, Rishad promptly hitched a ride with a truck (all he could afford) and set off on an adventure. The article he wrote was well-liked and that was that.
As a writer for ‘Autocar, India’, he was sent on multiple road trips and came back with fantastic stories. His travelogues with his witty observations, peppered with humor and descriptions that make the scene come alive gained popularity. He was then approached for road trips in different countries and he took those on too. Getting paid to travel the world is an absolute dream come true for Rishad. How many can boast of this fantastic marriage of passion and profession? Rishad laughs indulgently and says “It is definitely due to some tremendous good karma from my previous life. I started as a newbie and it has been a fantastic journey of over 15 years”.
Along with the catchy writing style and the passion that they reflect, Rishad’s articles also boast of stunning visuals. “An article is never complete without a photograph. Your readers need to see what it was like. If I had to travel and write, I also had to click”. So, pragmatically, he taught himself photography. As a child, his first camera was a pinhole model made from an old shoe box and butter paper. His father then made him a camera using a magnifying glass for the lens. He then graduated onto regular camera models like Olympus OM10. As he started writing, he invested in a good camera and studied the technique and intricacies of how light behaves when it travels into the camera, sense of motion and blur. It all paid off as his articles were enhanced with splendid images. Armed with the latest Nikon D700 and Iphone7 he is now a complete package – traveler, writer and photographer. “I take a picture whenever anything makes me stop and draw my breath,” avers Rishad. “Food, people, wildlife – inspiration is everywhere. I like happy pictures,” he explains and prefers to steer clear of scenes that make you sad.
With multiple off-beat trips under his belt, a record feather in his cap and the fascinating travel story is the first ever Munich to Mumbai road trip . Rishad’s know-how and multiple skills helped him land the assignment in 2015. The mammoth journey of 30222 kms kicked off from the Munich airport in an Audi Q7 boasting a Maharashtra registration plate and ended at his home in Mumbai.
Driving across Eastern Europe through Germany and the Czech Republic, he entered into Russia heading to Mongolia, China, Myanmar and finally entered India via Imphal. This 62-day journey has been a long cherished dream come true.
Having been driving since 15 years Rishad Saam Mehta has literally seen the driving scene in India change in front of his eyes. “If 20 years back, you told someone that you were driving from Mumbai to Delhi, you were met with incredulous questions – Is there even a road? Is it safe? What if your car breaks down?” Today, the scene has rapidly changed with people crossing not just state but country boundaries with ease heading from Mumbai to Bangkok,” explains Rishad.
Earlier, driving was seen as a chore, a boring exercise. But now people have woken up to the fact that road trips make more fulfilling vacations. They are so simple. Take your car and start off with no worries about luggage and timing. You can set your own pace and go off the beaten track to remote areas unreachable by public transport. With an increase in spending capacity and an increased appetite for adventure, road trips are preferred over conventional holidays leading to enriching experiences. Some credit for this would also go to travel writers like Rishad. Their stories have inspired people and given them a confidence that road trips can be achieved easily with careful planning leading to a memory for a lifetime. “The best country to drive through is New Zealand and the worst is sadly enough, India,” rules Rishad. He has driven across Russia that is considered unsafe, Mongolia and other remote places. But the place where red signals are not followed is what scares him the most. “Higher etiquette such as giving way, waiting for pedestrians come much later. Just stop at the signal,” exclaims he.
On his journeys, even as he wrote articles, Rishad built up a stash of fascinating anecdotes. This led to his first book ‘Hot Tea across India’ that talks about his experiences while travelling across India tied up by the unique bond that travellers build over a cup of tea. “Tea is such an integral part of travelling in India – be it highways, mountains, deserts or rough tracks. There is nothing more refreshing” says Rishad. As you sip tea, you swap travel stories and in this book, Rishad takes you on a ride across it all. With an inexhaustible supply of stories, he went on to write ‘Fast cars, Fidgety feet’, another travel book but this time taking you across the world. “I am first and foremost a storyteller. Some people can paint well, I can write. So writing a book was obvious,” says Rishad.
Rishad Saam Mehta is now associated with MotoRover.in who craft biking tours to unusual locations and offer a seamless riding experience to bikers. “These are so much more exciting that regular biking trips,” says Rishad. For designing these trips, the team from MotoRover drives to these locations researching the best routes, the best bikes and then offers a complete package. “All you have to do is show up at the airport,” says Rishad. While biking trips to Leh-Ladakh are much touted, take a look at this ride to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, a favorite of Rishad. A stunning landscape and an other-world experience of riding along herds of wild horses running free, snow-capped mountains and across the ‘Issyk-Kul’, the 2 nd largest saline lake in the world makes other biking trips pale in comparison. Such rich experiences!
Rishad’s life does seem to be a dream. “Yes, it is” he agrees. “People travel to Australia for 2 weeks and try to cram in as much as possible knowing that it might be their only trip. My problem in Australia is which place I go to that I haven’t been before. That’s a wonderful problem to have” he admits. But he is not on a vacation, he is still working. So while you may laze around with breakfast in bed, Rishad would probably be up at 3:00 am trekking to the mountain top in the pitch dark and cold, to get in position before sunrise for the right click. It’s definitely more hard work than a regular 9-6 job. The difference? “I enjoy it,” he quips.
So how does one get into this dream job that sounds too good to be true? “A camera is just a tool,” shrugs Rishad. “You need to educate yourself well. Understand how the camera works with light, what role do apertures and shutters speeds play. Once you’ve that down pat, practice. Look at a scene, visualize how you want it to look, compose the picture and shoot”. The only way to learn photography per Rishad is to go out and shoot at sunrise, sunset, try different modes, go manual. There is no shortcut.
Does he still have a bucket list? “Of course, I want to go to the International Space Station and spend a few days there” he quips. “I know it might never happen, but it is always good to put it out there. Things have a way of happening”. He’s right, isn’t he? Someone may be listening. More on the ground, he is working on his next book about his trip from Munich to Mumbai and dreaming up road trips to Antarctica and Africa!
The following German quote probably sums it up best,
“ Du bist nur einmal jung, aber wenn du es richtig machst, ist einmal genug ”
You’re only young once. But if you do it right, once is enough.
You can follow Rishad Saam Mehta and his journey here