Born in Hyderabad, Jonty quit the corporate world to follow her passions of history and food. A certified, albeit fussy foodie, her biggest passions of food, history and her love for offbeat locations keeps her exploring the length and breadth of India. Being an avid traveller she is always curious to know more about the people, traditions, and especially the food of that region. She delivers interesting stories and conversations with locals, all of which you might not experience when travelling independently.

We are excited that this is the first year that Jonty is working with Steppes Travel as a tour leader. She will accompany our group tour to India in November. We asked Jonty to share her thoughts on who has inspired her, her best travel advice and more…

How often do you travel?

For leisure, I definitely travel at least once a year. Apart from that, since my work involves a bit of travel, I always ensure I make the most of it and tag on a weekend of exploration if possible especially when I’m visiting a place for the first time.

What country surprised you?

I would have to say Turkey. I travelled there a few years ago and was quite amazed at the mix of Eastern and Western cultures. Also, the Turkish men seemed quite fascinated with Indian women so I kept getting invited for tea and coffee! Of course, many of them were shopkeepers who were probably trying this to get me to buy a carpet or a lamp but I enjoyed the attention, nevertheless!

What was your earliest childhood ambition?

I come from a family obsessed with sport so I grew up with a very clear idea that I wanted to be a sports journalist. Being paid to watch sporting events and write about them seemed like a great career. Somewhere in high school, I started questioning my writing abilities and realised very few journalists actually make it big. Once in college, I decided to pursue a more traditional route and did my post-graduate degree in Management. Eventually after 14 years most of which were in the Corporate sector, I started my tour company in Hyderabad.

Who has inspired you to do what you do?

More than a particular person being my inspiration, I think it has to be my country and its vibrant culture that has inspired me to do what I do.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I was visiting Nepal with a couple of friends and was staying with a Nepali friend who was showing us around his town. I remember sitting on the top of the steps leading to a temple in Bhaktapur on a moonlit night when my friend started narrating the history of the temple. He spoke about the king who was ousted in a battle and escaped from his enemy and watched his kingdom being destroyed. He suddenly broke into a Nepali song based on this story. The whole experience made me break out in goosebumps and I realised this is how a different culture must be experienced…not read about in guide books or seen alone, but by getting under the skin of a place with the help of locals who love their country and its culture and are able to convert that into an experience that stays with you. It was then that I realised that I would like to share my country with those who would appreciate such experiences. 

What is your most amusing travel story?

Most of my funny travel stories would have to be around my desperation to find decent loos and all of them are funnier told in person! Apart from that, I do remember a bizarre night in Paro, Bhutan where I was backpacking with some friends several years ago. We were staying in a modest hotel where a lot of the walls were made of wood. It didn’t seem a problem till we discovered in the middle of the night that the hollows in the walls were full of mice that created a huge racket through the night. I would wake up every once in a while, bang on the wall and scream –“shut up!!!!” which would give us a respite for about a couple of minutes or so after which the mice would start up again! Needless to say, we hardly slept that night but looking back, it does seem funny now.

What motivates you to do what you do?

In the ten years that I’ve been in this industry, there have been several times when I have questioned my decision of having given up a corporate career to do what I do. Sometimes the sheer physical effort of doing several tours back-to-back does leave me exhausted. But all it takes is one curious and appreciative guest to bring back my enthusiasm for my job. The delight of a traveller who ‘gets’ my country and appreciates its idiosyncrasies after a day with me leaves me energised and makes me look forward to another day.

In what place are you happiest?

I am one of those people who make themselves at home pretty much anywhere in the world. It doesn’t take much for me to start conversations with strangers or to feel comfortable walking around in strange places. Basically, any place that has enough friendly people around makes me happy.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

There has been an increasing awareness in this regard. During our tours, we have to also balance it with the level of comfort expected by the guests. When I travel on my own, however, I do try and use public transportation as much as possible and also walk a lot. I also like to promote the use of local items, eating in smaller restaurants where the food is procured locally.

What is the one essential you travel with?

A universal charger is my one essential, especially while travelling outside of India. Our lives are so dependent on electronics nowadays that it is almost impossible to imagine it without a fully charged phone.

What is your best piece of travel advice?

I firmly believe that while a rough travel plan is essential, travellers should not make too detailed or rigid an itinerary. My travels plans always tend to change based on my energy levels, mood and more importantly, unexpected discoveries in the new place.

Where is next on your travel ‘bucket list’?

My bucket list is really long! I am hoping to visit places in the Far East like Vietnam, Cambodia and even some parts of Thailand. Living in India, one tends to postpone travel to these places because they seem more accessible but you end up postponing them forever! Within India, a lot of my travel tends to be around food exploration. I am looking forward to going back to Indore and Surat, both cities known for their obsession with food.

To learn more about our small group tour to India with Jonty departing in November, get in touch with one of our experts today.

Thanks for reading

Author: Lara Paxton