Shalini Muniapan - A traveler's interview with K Hari Kumar
Backpackers Interviews Travel

Traveling the World – An Interview with Shalini Muniapan

Shalini Muniapan - A traveler's interview with K Hari Kumar
Traveling the world with Shalini Muniapan – A vagabond’s interview with K Hari Kumar

Shalini, thanks for taking the time to talk with me on theharikumar.com! Could you start by introducing yourself to my readers?

Hello everyone! This is how all classic introduction goes; I’m Shalini and I currently reside in Malaysia. You can possibly talk to me about anything and I’d always be interested in learning your point of your view towards things. But current affairs, history; and of course life are few of my favourite topics.

By life, I mean travel too. After all, travel is life isn’t it? So here’s a thing I’m someone who believes that each one of us need to take a break from the hectic life we are leading and get lost in some corner of the world. For obvious reasons, that’s not something nice to say. But believe me it will enable you to view things differently with a fresh new perspective. It teaches one life skills that no academia could par.

So, when are you planning to get lost again?

What has been your passion in life? How has your journey been so far?

Passion is only thing that differentiates us from other living things; the ability to dream and work the impossible. Just everyone else, I have quite number passions. I am highly passionate about human rights, education and poverty; something that keeps me awake at wee hours. Trying hard to draw up a plan.

Travel came to me in realisation of those passions. I have always been fortunate in my life; so when I graduated from High School I have never experienced nor seen anyone suffering out of poverty. That was when, I decided that I had lot to see in this world and set off to travel.

My very first trip was to Singapore; a fast paced nation and the only developed country in Asia. Then, I went to India and I could notice the vast contrast of these two places. Travel has helped me to view things differently; to open up myself to various different things happening around me. I am more aware of my surrounding than I used to be.

Bestselling Author Hari Kumar K - when Strangers meet


How many countries have you traveled? Tell us about the places you have been to.

Singapore, India, Philippines, England, Wales, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Brunei

I have traveled to more than 10 countries now, each and every country has its own beauty. Due to my love for history and arts, I enjoy making trips to museums and iconic buildings, and admiring architectures.

Apart from Aberystwyth; my favourite place in Europe still is Amsterdam. You can ask me why; having visited beautiful cities like Rome and Paris, but it’s something I can’t reason. It could be due to the fact that this was the very first place I visited in Europe. One thing I absolutely love about this place is the city planning; you can either commute the tram, the Metro, cycle or even walk peacefully to your destination. How all these is managed still leaves me in awe. I love the people, the environment; it was very welcoming towards me during my first visit.

If you are planning to visit, if you’re a backpacker, my advice would be to live in a hostel in that way it would be easier for you to make friends. Amsterdam has quite a number of hostels, but it is cheaper during the Winter as compared to Summer. Amsterdam has quite a number of museums (and that’s why I love it); the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House and Rijksmuseum. These are among my favourites.

If you are visiting England; highly likely you’d be heading to London to be amazed by the extraordinary Big Ben or The Tower Bridge or their Football Stadiums. I am not sure why but London has never impressed me; it so much alike Kuala Lumpur where everyone’s busy with their own lives and do not even have the time to smile at each and other. But nonetheless, London is a must visit, you have to experience that part and judge it for yourselves.

If you share the same interests with me; love for architecture and history, you would love Oxford more. It is something about the air in Oxford I would always tell my friends. If you are in England, you would most probably love the fact that the entrance to museums are absolutely free and they possess most of the artifacts around the world. (Thanks for their past as an empire!). If you want to experience the nature and the woods; Wales and Scotland is the answer. Two amazing places and has breath-taking views.

If you had only one day to live, where will you spend that day?

By the beach sipping a cocktail, with a good book. Friends and family by my side.

I think I’d be the happiest if I live in a place that is facing the ocean; the beach. Something about beaches that still attracts me. It means so much to me. I love watching star gazing lying on sandy beaches; listening to the beautiful sound as the waves touches the shore. It is a therapy by itself.

Traveling is incomplete without 3 things- Vivid Food, Companionship of Books & Precious Photography. Which one is your favorite among the three?

In visiting a place, all these 3 things are important and it is hard to part them. For instance, the cuisine introduces you the taste bud of those living there, those lovely photographs captures and preserves the beautiful moment; now a distinct memory, and the books helps you to understand the place better.

I had this habit of buying a book in every city I visit, it helps me to understand a place better through the eyes of an author. Of course, you would by now know that what would have happened when I was in India, I came back with a luggage full of books. All of you are lucky, I’m telling you!

The bibliophile in me will always finds a way to the nearest bookstore. So, I guess at the
end of the day books wins the race for me. I enjoy the companionship of books.

I hope I’m allowed to add another one here; the companions you chose to travel with
plays a huge part as well. I’m glad that throughout my backpacking journey in Europe, I

had amazing friends as companions who were accommodating enough. All of us could
agree on things & have fun and that made the trip even more joyful. 

When it comes to food, tell us something interesting that you have had during your adventures.

Here’s a secret; the irony though, once I write this down here it no longer will be a secret. I’m a vegetarian; I chose to embark on this journey about 4 years ago, not for religious purposes but I did not like this idea of sacrificing another being or sustenance.

When I was on travel in Europe, the first few days I was sticking to the principle. Then, one day I had this thought that I’m halfway across the world and it would be insane for me not to at least try their delicacies.

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So, that was the beginning of my food adventures in Spain. One of the interesting thing I had was escargot in Paris; it is famous not only in France but in Portugal and Spain as well. Escargot is actually cooked snails. The snails are cooked with the mixture of butter, shallots, parsley and lemon juice. You should try!

You are a Tamilian who has settled in Malaysia. (psst… Most of us non-Tamilians saw how a generation of Indians are flourishing in Malaysia in Kabali :P) Malaysia is one country that I would love to visit. What are some of the beautiful places that you will recommend me to visit. Tell us about the food and culture in Malaysia.

Hahaha, Kabali was a good movie and portrayed most part of gangsterism in Malaysia well. Since you mentioned about Kabali, I think I’m in a position to clarify. The movie depicted the lives of the leaders; many of them live in luxury. But the one in lower ranks in the organisation does not live such a life; they succumb to poverty. It is not all beds of roses; though many youngsters view it as a lucrative job prospect at the younger age but it is not. We should never encourage it.

Malaysia is probably the one place you would be able to witness the variety of cuisines. Malaysians love their food; their mornings start with a packet of Nasi Lemak and The Tarik. Sometimes, roti bakar (bread toast) acts as an appetiser. Lunch is usually at the banana leaf joint; the classic Indian meal; with rice and veggies served on banana leaf. The banana leaf does add to the taste; after such heavy meal most of us struggle to be productive. Sometimes, I even think that all these fattening food should be banned! (But no!)  We usually end up in a local mamak shop (Its normally a 24 hours shop that serves all kind of food and its cheap!) or head to the Chinese hawker stalls. One should definitely try the different noodles there is. That’s how multicultural our daily meal is.

You would love Malaysia! The food, the people, the beautiful islands. If you are visiting, please make sure you try the different cuisines. Most likely, you would not get the authentic food in the capital in Kuala Lumpur. KL is a tourist friendly location; you would be able to travel the place mostly with the help of public transport.

Do try to spend some days off the capital, go around to the other States in Malaysia. For instance, in Penang, you get live and experience the pre-war buildings; I love how they still preserve the buildings in Penang, and the authentic Malaysian food. Sometimes you have to go through long ques but good food is guaranteed!

If you want to experience the islands, you should explore the eastern coast. But becareful during the monsoon; do your homework prior to booking. Among the islands that still has its nature intact is Perhentian Island, Pangkor Island, Redang Island, Kapas Island; Langkawi offers good entertainment. If you are into hiking, then you should probably explore Taman Negara, Pahang, it offers a good tropical experience. If you are staying long enough or perhaps in your next trip to Malaysia, you should head to Borneo; their flora and fauna there would make you fall in love. Also you get to experience the daily routines of the indigenous tribes and its best to visit during the Harvest Festival.

During your adventures in foreign lands, have you ever faced problems when you couldn’t speak the lingua franca of the locals?

During my travels, many warned me that it is going to be hard as I would not be able to understand the native language. But, I’m glad that it all worked well for us. Most probably, the most difficult places to converse with people and sometimes when your maps aren’t helping might be in France and Italy; as they speak minimal English. Some of them may not even understand you.

This happened in Rome, we had to wait for about almost 2 hours to get a bus from the airport to Termini Train Station. Our Airbnb apartment was around 10 to 20 minutes walk away. My roaming was not working, the ‘Orange’ sim that I bought in Barcelona that supposed to work in entire Europe; magically did not work (My bad, I should have surveyed. Wasted my 20 Euros there.) Managed to get help from Policemen nearby; though he did not understand the language; we conversed through hand signals and maps.

On our way there, we got lost again. I remember this granny and her daughter was walking towards us, we managed to converse with some broken French and English. A mixture of both; I still remember her because she put so much effort in making sure we understood and was on the right path.

Finally, we met someone who could converse in English well; which is absolutely rare. At that point of time, we were very close to the apartment. She allowed us to use her phone and make a phone call to the owner; and showed us the way.

It is amazing how you come across such kind hearted people during your travels; who go over and above just to help you to find your way. I was impressed. So, for me language was not a barrier.

Which is your next travel destination, when are you going there and what inspired you to visit it?

I’m leaving to Surat Thani, Thailand this weekend and I’m excited about this trip as its going to be my first visit to Thailand. Honestly, we bought the tickets because it was cheap and I needed a short getaway. For now, we are planning to visit the Khao Sok Natural Park; it looks amazing in picture. Hopefully it would be a great adventure!

Ever visited India? What is the one thing about India that has fascinated you?

Yes, I have; about 2 years ago. But my visit was cantered around visits to temples. I would love to backpack around India; from South to North. Hopefully, this would come to reality soon. I spent most part of my visit in South India, I would love to travel to the North someday.

One thing that fascinates me till today is how such artistic temples were built aeons ago. It is amazing how they managed to carve such detailed sculptures using a single block of rock and it must have been lot of hard work. Have you ever wondered? How the managed to transport the materials to build them? Their artistic side, the architecture of those building; such advanced thinking at an era where we have not discovered the workings of machines.

For instance, I was stunned looking at The Brihadeeswarar Temple in Tanjavur; it has turned 1000 years but still stands tall till today.

I’m definitely going back to India!

UK or Malaysia, which one is the better tourist spot and which one is the better place to live?

This really is a tough question; but it really depends on what you are looking for. I have been brought up in Malaysia, so I’ve never really looked at it in the eyes of a visitor. As I have spoken quite much on Malaysia, I will share my life in UK here.

I lived in Wales for most part of my journey in UK; I enjoyed the scenery and the laidback life there. I grew up and lived in midst of the chaotic city life; where everyone spends more time to get to work and back from work; and there is shopping complexes in every corner you turn to. Sometimes, I wonder is that what life is truly about?

Aberystwyth was a place completely opposite of all that; it’s this quiet seaside town, with absolutely no traffic at all, no big shopping complexes, all shops closes by 5 or 4 sometimes. It felt more like a retreat, it was that therapeutic. In fact, there was once my friend and myself made a trip to Liverpool and was absolutely delighted to go on an escalator; after 4 months or so climbing flights of stairs. We were like, look that’s an escalator! Embarrassed ourselves but that’s okay.

I enjoyed living in Aberystwyth (A place less known to many, even those living in UK sometimes.), I enjoyed the sea breeze, I enjoyed having ice creams or a hot cup of coffee by the beach, or even watching the shooting stars at 5am with my friends. Aberystwyth holds a special place in my heart for it taught me to value beautiful things in life.

If you are looking at a relaxing holiday in UK, I would suggest you to head to Wales or Scotland. Two spectacular places, but you may need to hike a little. But of course, you don’t want to leave UK without seeing the Big Ben, Tower Bridge, 10 Downing Street and other attractions in London.

Between UK and Malaysia, I would not be able to label them into the categories. For I have loved living in both places.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with the world?

Travel while you can, while you are able to. Trust me, you would be a different person when you have seen other parts of the world. If you cannot afford to go to other countries or continents and find it expensive; travel in your own country. Take me for instance; I have not been to each and every State in Malaysia and I would love to one day.

Take time off from whatever you are doing; go and create new memories. Life is too short to be stuck to the same chair all day every day. Once you go away and return; you would see everything with extra colours.

 What advice would you give to those who are still thinking about their first backpacking adventure? How to get started? How to manage funds?

 One of the difficult things to do when you are young is to manage your finances; it is never enough for you to set off to travel. But your heart forever longs to be in a different place and experience difference culture. If that’s you, it’s time for you to take control of your finances.

For my previous backpacking adventure; I set up a travel fund. It really is simple. Each week or month; whichever you prefer, set off a certain amount off and contribute it to the travel fund. By virtue of 6 months; you would have enough money to visit an entire continent; trust me.

If you are thinking about where to start, don’t think, just start.

What do you think of this blogazine, theharikumar.com?

It is a good effort; it offers the reader a variety of things unlike other blogazine. Its like, if you are on theharikumar.com you’d probably leave with ample of information.

Rapidfire Round:

  1. Full name- Shalini Muniapan
  2. Birthday- 1stNovember
  3. Sunsign- Scorpio
  4. City of birth- Klang, Malaysia.
  5. Mothertongue- Tamizh
  6. God – Within you.
  7. Life – Beautiful
  8. Love – Yourself
  9. Marriage – Happily ever after only exists in fairy tales.
  10. Favorite country – Malaysia
  11. Favorite music – A.R. Rahman
  12. Fav movie – The Great Dictator (1940)
  13. Fav celebrity – Kamal Haasan
  14. When you were a kid, what did you want to become – To be full of joy, laughter and happiness.
  15. If you became of the Queen of the world, what would you do – To draw up a viable plan to make “Education for All” a reality.
  16. An original quote – “Be ready to get lost. In losing yourself; you will find yourself.”

Thank you for joining Shalini and me on theharikumar.com. I will be back next time with another interesting backpacker who will share her experiences with you… until then…

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Hari Kumar K
Harikumar Krishnamoorthy (born 3 January 1989), better known as K. Hari Kumar, is an Indian novelist born in Cochin and brought up in the suburbs of Gurgaon. He is the author of bestselling books- When Strangers Meet (2013), That Frequent Visitor (2015) and A Game of Gods (2016). He has been featured as one of the most influential authors on social media. He is a screenwriter and content marketing strategist based out of Mumbai, India.
http://www.theharikumar.com

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