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Come across the line

Travel show-anchor Simon Reeve crossed closed-down borders and ate grilled squirrels as he zigzagged across the Tropic of Cancer.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2011 17:30 IST
Denjeet Kundu

People, especially in Europe, think that the planet is all about people living in the west, or east says BBC anchor Simon Reeve. But in reality, it is about people who live on the Tropics, and those who don't Reeve adds, stating why it was so important to explore the Tropic of Cancer in his latest TV series by the same name on BBC Entertainment.

And in Reeve's words, this near 23,000 miles-18 countries journey has been the most fascinating experience. I started in Mexico and traveled through the Carribeans, the Arab land, north and eastern India to Bangladesh and Myanmar," recounts Reeve. "It's was the biggest adventure of my life."

The Tropic, says the UK-based host, is home to the poorest and the most trouble torn the countries. Also, it is the richest when it comes to bio-diversity. "The type of life that exists here is unmatched," says Reeve.

18 countries is quite a number to imagine the amount of diversity Reeve has witnessed, even following the line across India can give someone a bounty of varied experiences. From the deserts in the Kutch to the foothills of northern India, to the historical ruins of Ujjain to the Sunderbans bordering Bangladesh; one can have it all. "It is impossible to cover India, even if it’s a part of it, in a one-hour episode," says Reeve. "India is not just a country, it's a continent in itself."

But this BBC travelogue is not just a travel show. "Travelling shouldn't mean just sitting beside the swimming pool or spending time at the 5-star bar of your hotel," says Reeve. "People should witness the positive and negative of a place,"he adds, stating the show throws up a mix of geo-political and historical concoct. "When you travel, and if you really want to most out of your outing, you should involve yourself with the local issues there," says Reeve, who completed the journey in parts as he used to tour for one month and return home. "I used to come back to remind my people back at home that I still exist," he jokes.

Reeve also feels that it is rather a necessity for everyone to "explore their planet". "Infact, I have now seen a surge in middle class Indians going out to explore the world a lot more than before," he says. "And I'm sure they don't want to just eat and sit at their hotels."

Apart from seeing a new place, experiencing some exotic and extraordinary; food was the best part of Reeve's journey. "I have had camel meat, grilled squirrels and fried caterpillars in Laos," says the 38-year-old, explaining how Laos is a heavily forested country and people eat a lot of wild animals and insects as their regular food. One of Reeve most outrageous "delicacy" was the "Zebu-penis soup in Madagascar." Zebu is a tropical cat!

"But one of my most memorable meal was when I was leaving India from Kolkata, it was a fish-head delicacy that my friend-cum-guide's wife had prepared," says Reeve, who was also impressed with how Gujarati cooks managed to tame such a "meat-eater" like him with vegetarian dishes. "Food tells you about the culture of a place," feels Reeve.

And like a true Brit, he's game for experimenting with everything. "Britain has always had a history of pretty bland and boring food," he says. "I guess, that's the reason they are always open to experimenting with unknown cuisine while traveling." And who are the least experimental according to him? "The Chinese usually have some extraordinary stuff, like shark fins, when at home," he says. "But they are pretty cautious while traveling. So are the Americans, who'd always be on the lookout for a burger outlet."

And what about Indians, who too, are traditionally conservative about food while out? "I think, Indians have a very strong regional cuisine and that's why they are so rooted to their food culture, points Reeve."

While witnessing different cultures and food habits was enriching for Reeve, his most memorable places are actually those where he had none of these two. "While travelling through northern Africa, closed down for decades-borders in Algeria and Libya were opened up for us," says Reeve. "Another fascinating feeling was when I crossed into Myanmar from Mizoram," he adds. "These are some of the most beautiful yet untouched and dangerous places on earth."

And the Tropic of Cancer has a number of war zones, an interesting has come out of this. While humans are fast gobbling up earth-space that was otherwise supposed to be shared with other species, the various troubles have actually left vast stretches of the planet human-free. "True, this is kind of a contrary," says Reeve. "While shipping is closing down fast due to the Somalian pirates in west Indian Ocean, it is actually letting the wildlife their to thrive better."

Reeve also wants to travel India extensively. "For the British people, coming to India is a must," he must. And though he doesn't want to risk by naming one single favourite place, he still loved Kolkata. Though it's plagued by a number of problems, that every Indian city has, it still is beautiful and very warm."

And while his audience gets to know so much about the countries through this BBC show, what is he taking home? "Six and a half billion stories," says Reeve. "Every person on this planet has a unique story to tell, and that's the most fascinating thing of all."

Watch Tropic of Cancer every Tuesday at 8pm on BBC Entertainment.