Tripper of the Week: Johnnie Sinclair
Meet Johnnie Sinclair, a Tripper who lives in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. He gives us a glimpse into his life in India - his amazing surroundings, his motorcycle rides through the stunning countryside and his love of hosting travelers.
You are English but you live in South India. What drew you to India?
I was born and raised in England, surrounded by things Indian. My parents' and relatives' houses were full of furniture, artwork and textiles from the sub-continent, and there were boxes and books full of photographs. My great grandfather had a camera when he lived just five miles away from here back in the 1860's, and great aunts and uncles would tell tales of "their India" and how much they loved this country. India has fascinated me all my life.
It was in 2002 that I first visited India, and that was my son's idea. We instantly fell in love with the Nilgiris - the mountains in Ooty, and the surrounding district. We met people who knew our family history and even one charming old chap who once worked on my family's coffee estate. There were portraits on the walls in the Ootacamund Club of my relatives; there were graves in the churchyards of our ancestors, and we immediately felt that we, in some way, belonged here.
The seeds were sown, and I knew that I would be back! I am now the fifth generation of my family to live in this area, and very much a part of the local community.
Your home is in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. Can you tell us a bit about what it's like there?
The Mudumalai Tiger Reserve covers 124 square miles, and is heavily populated with a huge range of wild beasts! A Wikipedia search will tell you more than I can here, but tigers are seen here every day or two (we heard a tiger roaring at the back of the house last night, but didn't see it) as well as panthers, bears, porcupines, jungle dogs, wild elephant, Indian bison... the list goes on!
This is a fairly remote and very quiet area with a remarkably kind climate. When most of India is either too hot or too cold to sustain human life, we're sitting on the verandah in shorts and t-shirts sipping cool drinks - there's no need for air conditioning or fireplaces (which are definitely needed 20 miles away in Ooty), and the monsoons are mild.
Motorcycle riding is one of your hobbies. What is the most exciting adventure you've had riding a motorcycle?
Motorbikes are dangerous. Not the bikes themselves, but you have little protection against other vehicles, and India has 2000 persons being killed on the roads every day. It's all about defensive riding and understanding how the traffic works here in India. Assess the risk, and if you want to take it, get your motor running - head out on the highway!
There are so many amazing places to go on a motorbike. The plains with their paddy fields and plantations of bananas and coconuts, the mountains with their hairpin bends and tee, coffee and spice farms, the jungles with the wild animals, and the towns, throbbing with the bustle of traffic and people. Ooty, my nearest town, is only 18 miles away, but a really exhilarating ride with superb views and a change of climate when your reach the top of the mountains. I have some rides that take me in a circuit through the mountains, towns and through tea, coffee and spice plantations. I don't ride far in a day (maybe 150 miles in a day) because there is so much to enjoy en route. It's not about riding fast (although sometimes I open up the throttle) but about soaking in the countryside, the aromas and the outstanding beauty of India.
What has been your favorite hosting experience so far and why?
I started hosting travellers a year ago and have had only a few weeks alone in the jungle since then. I have hosted travellers from several African countries, as well as Indians, Europeans South Americans, travellers from the Middle East, and people from the English-speaking world. I have made friends - real friends who will be friends for life. I have just had a couple staying who first came as travellers and came back as friends - in fact many people have stayed here more than once, so I must be doing something right!
There has been a lot of learning - I'm amazed just how much I have learnt from people from all ages and cultures, and how inspirational the people I have hosted have been. I can't really name a favourite, but a four-year-old boy with Downs Syndrome stayed here with his mother and sister which was wonderful; I have been brushing up my French with native speakers; I have learnt about Communism from the perspective of a woman who was born and raised under the cloud of post-Communist Eastern Europe, and I have really enjoyed hosting musicians and improving my repertoir!
What is your favorite place to go on holiday in India?
I tend to travel overseas for holidays, but when in India I love to go to the big city of Bangalore to meet up with friends and to enjoy the excesses of modern living.
The backwaters of Kerala are also a favourite for me. I stay in an eco resort on Lake Vambanad with excellent food, Ayurvedic treatments and traditional architecture - and love every moment of it.
What destination have you not yet visited that you would love to travel to and why?
Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, is a mysterious place, and I would love to travel there, but for now there is so much of India to see so Bhutan has to wait!
As if visiting the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve were not amazing enough, Trippers can also stay with a wonderful local host, Johnnie. Connect with Johnnie via his Tripping profile - and don't forget to check out more of his incredible wildlife photos!
Photo credits: All photos provided by Johnnie with the exception of the photo of Bangalore, which was taken by Vivek Thakyal.