Solo female traveller Niharika Arora brings stories from India’s border villages to the mainland

Published on Aug 19, 2022 05:13 PM IST

This Delhi-based architecture graduate is using social media to unearth stories of people who live int the furthest reaches of the country

Solo female traveller Niharika Arora brings stories from India’s border villages to the mainland
Solo female traveller Niharika Arora brings stories from India’s border villages to the mainland
ByAbigail Banerji

Solo travelling has gained popularity as it allows you the freedoms to set your own timetable and not bend to anyone else’s schedule. And 27-year-old Niharika Arora has been solo travelling since she was a student researching her thesis.

Growing up in a Punjabi family, Arora was regaled with stories by her grandparents from their lives in Pakistan. It It was then that she began to develop a filial connection with places and villages that existed at the Indian border. Currently travelling and exploring the villages in Kashmir, Arora explains, “These areas are not explored a lot and so I thought ‘Why not do a project around them?’.”

Niharika Arora tried to bring the stories of the people who live at the border villages to the mainland
Niharika Arora tried to bring the stories of the people who live at the border villages to the mainland

Another experienced that cemented this idea to explore the border villages was when she took her grandmother to Lahore, Pakistan in February 2021. “My grandmother is from Lahore. I took her to Kartarpur Corridor and 11 of my friends came to meet us. We spent our day exchanging a lot of stories and they shared stories of their lives with us since I knew I’ll never be able to take her to her there [to her village],” she says.

Kartarpur corridor is a peace corridor in Pakistan that is opened as a mutual agreement between the Indian and Pakistani Government. It is also a religious corridor that connects the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan to Gurudwara Dera Baba Nanak.

Arora decided to create her series #whatsattheborder in November 2021 and took to social media to share her experiences and bring the stories of these villages to the fore. Till date, she has covered villages in Leh and Kargil in Ladak, and Kutch in Gujarat. She plans on visiting villages in the North East, Punjab, and Rajasthan.

India has 15,106 kilometers of land borders and 7,516 kilometers coast borders. It also shares its borders with seven countries — China, Pakistan, Bhutan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. The states of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur. Meghalaya, and Tripura all share their borders with the neighbouring countries.

Niharika Arora at one of the boder regions of India
Niharika Arora at one of the boder regions of India

To understand the lay of the land and experience the place in all its glory, Arora will usually “spend anywhere from 10-15 day, sometimes even 20 days” in each region since the villages are far and few in between.

Detailing her entire plan from start to finish Arora says that a lot of time is spent researching the regions as the villages as “a lot of information (on these villages) are not available on the internet. I usually have to land on site, speak to people, and build contacts,” she says. Researching can look like reading old newspaper reports, looking at video online contacting friends or other locals. It can also be as simple as zooming into the map of India itself and looking at the places at the boders. “I just need one link to the chain” she says.

As a full time traveller, these can get expensive to fund her passion project, the travel enthusiast will partner with the state tourism boards or work as a freelance documentary film maker. She also gets sponsorships and collaborates with brands on her social media.

It is only natural that the regions situated at the Indian borders come with heightened security, heavy army presence,and restricted public access. She says many of the regions are not accessible to the public or one is not allowed to shoot videos or click pictures here, for security purposes. Adding, she says, “My motive is to get unheard stories of people from these places, which mainland people might not be aware of. If I am not allowed to carry my phone or camera, I considered that region cannot be explored.” But she makes it a point to visit the areas as it helps her better understand the entire story “and connect the dots”. While she may not have video or photographs from the area, she brings back a volley of memories and stories that she tries to bring to the public through the magic of editing and story telling.

NIharika Arora with some villagers
NIharika Arora with some villagers

As a female solo traveller, the question of safety is always on your mind. But this Delhi-based architecture graduate has been solo travelling for the last three and a half years and says, “I realised that your safety is in your hands and antisocial elements can be anywhere. I always try and be prepared and have my guard up.”

But always being afraid will mean you never get to step out of house which is why Arora says “I always venture out with the global state of mind.”

What is it like interacting with the people in these villages? She share, “Most of the time, the people in these border villages are very kind and warm. They do not get a lot of tourists, so once in a while when a solo female traveller, like me, comes along, they welcome me with open hearts.”

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