The first thing that you notice about her are her glinting eyes and her charismatic smile. Talk to her for a few moments and you know that she is not just a bundle of energy. She has very serious social and business causes she wants to espouse. Meet Artika Shah, a true Banarasi – simultaneously chaotic and calm!
Artika is an experience designer, a freelance production coordinator, co-organiser and curator for TEDx Varanasi, and a member of Jagriti Yatra who works relentlessly and effortlessly to make each of her projects a memorable one.
She is a movie buff and films like – When in Rome, A Midnight in Paris, Letters to Juliet, The Bucket List, Into the Wild, are her favourites. That is when she decided that, once in her lifetime she had to take a Europe trip. After the successful completion of her event TedX, she decided to take a break for a while, and very casually asked her parents if she could go on a trip to Europe. They said yes immediately! Artika says : “I am very lucky and fortunate to have parents and family in a small city like Varanasi, willing to let their children explore. They have always treated me like a son, or rather I would say, they always treated me like every daughter in this world deserves to be treated.”
Her family, however, was not very confident of her traveling alone, and decided that her younger brother Aniket would accompany her.
Endless research, bookings, references, documentation and reading finally bore fruit when Artika and Aniket set off on a thirty five day backpacking tour across Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy on a shoestring budget. Artika chirpily says, “I had told my parents, that only one of us would return. Sooner or later, one of us would shove the other off a cliff!”
Unheard of in normal travel stories, Artika and Aniket were clear that they would make the trip a once in a lifetime “sibling travel story”. With their share of fights, arguments and chaos, they visited and lived in various cities, in hostels, on rent via airbnb and through friend referrals. They had an interesting time striking up conversations with a Pakistani tea vendor who treated them to free tea and cookies in Florence. Another time, a Bangladeshi restaurateur indulged them with free pakoras and bread in Venice. Artika was really touched when a rider from Poland gave them a very cheap ride from Brussels to Paris. She recalls “We were using this service called BlaBlaCar for the first time and we got in touch with the driver. Somehow, due to some issues our trip got canceled but he was so kind to get in touch with me separately and take us from Brussels to Paris at nine Euro each.” Every evening was a new evening with friends that they had made at the hostel. Being with each other was a big boon for the siblings as they had each other’s back and company.
“There were moments which made me believe that there is still so much goodness left in this world and if you are open to all kinds of learning and experiences – be it good or bad, every day is worth it. I would like to share two of those moments. We were supposed to change hostels in Brussels and were taking the metro to go from one end of the city to the other. We got off at a station and started walking, trying to figure which way to go. That is when we bumped into Julian. A daily commuter about to catch a train to his workplace. But when we asked him for directions, he was so kind that he missed his train, wasted his ticket and came with us all the way outside the station, took us to the main road, drew a map for us and hugged us goodbye. I regret not taking a picture with him and his contact details. It may sound casual to someone reading it now, but when you are tired, carrying a huge weight on your back, and in an unknown city, even the smallest effort or help is big.”
She goes on to add , “We were staying at a hostel called “Trendy Hostel” in Paris. On our very first day, we were not sleepy and were sitting in the common area till midnight. That’s when the owner of the hostel and few of his staff came down and started chatting. And I have to say, that was one of the best discussions I had with random people all night. We ended up talking till 6 am, and the owner was kind enough to offer us free food and coffee. We were supposed to leave for the airport to fly to Milan, and he helped us reach the airport by asking one of his staff to drop us early morning at a very low price compared to others.”
Travelling with her brother was perhaps the best decision that Artika made in her adult life. She says that even though they still fight like kids, her relationship with Aniket has risen to a different level. She quotes “The most profound conversation I had with my brother was on our trip while travelling back from Cinque Terre to Genoa. For the very first time we connected so deeply and were on the same page without fighting. This is what made our trip worth it and so memorable. We have learnt how to agree to disagree.”
Artika is now dabbling with creating some customized itineraries for her friends. She has a list of travel hacks, tips and trivia that she would love to share amongst travelers. As she jokingly concludes, “I even have a list that tells you how to survive your brother’s company while traveling!”