When you think about rich, vibrant sarees, we bet hiking to the world’s most beautiful places is the last thing that comes to your mind! We take pride in breaking it to you that not only is that possible, but with style. That’s how Ajanta Mahapatra has been her whole life!
Hailing from Odisha and brought up in Assam by her loving parents as her father worked with ASI (Archaeological Survey of India), Ajanta has always been drawn to the idea of traveling around the world, much like how we all have. While the young Ajanta enjoyed family vacations in Cherrapunji, Shillong, and the other treasures of the northeast, she already had things set in motion for her future out of her curiosity.
Ajanta killing it in a saree, at Letchworth, upstate NewYork
Even when she moved to Odisha in her teens, she realized that traveling is her meant-to-be, and it wasn’t long until she moved past the social mindset of being born to a middle-class family. Taking her first job in Noida, she began exploring her wandering side via frequent trips around Delhi and eventually left her job to pursue higher studies in England in 2010. This was when she met with her grownup self as she carried on her studies and would occasionally drape sarees to visit local temples at Diwali, Dussehra.
“I was always a tomboy, ‘shorts and t-shirts person’ who hated the entire ensemble around saree initially, but I owe it to my mom and her words ‘Tu gote dina saree pindhibu’ (One day you’d love to wear sarees) whenever I used to cringe at the habitual idea of wearing saree every day once I am married. Today, I owe all that I am to her. Her words rang true in the most beautiful way possible.” Ajanta says, cherishing her memories with her mom, whom she lost at an early age.
A Closer Glimpse into the Journey So Far
If you know anything about Ajanta, you know she has a stunning Instagram handle by the name of ‘thetravellingsaree‘ with over 500 breathtaking shots of donning bold sarees across the snowy, hilly, and arid landscapes from Egypt to Alaska. On asked about her most memorable trips, she said that she loves people’s response upon catching her in sarees who come up to greet her with ‘Namaste’ or ‘Hello India.’
On a similar event, when she was high in the Alaska Range of Denali, knee-deep in snow, wrapped in a gorgeous black saree and struggling to get a headshot, this is what happened.
“I was freezing in -60 degrees and trying to take candid photos, and none of them came out good. And there was this Alaskan gentleman who was surprised to see me in a saree and without any warm clothes! He was kind enough to help me take perfect pictures on my phone and his camera, and it was only then I realized he was a photographer. I have been lucky.”
If you think that’s cool, wait till you hear when she went to Palestine, which is not somewhere even seasoned travelers visit every day. Recalling some bone-chilling experiences (again in a saree) in her trip to Ramallah which is just an hour away from the infamous Gaza Strip, the heavily disputed and ground zero of all militant action, she revealed that it was unforgettable. Because of the sheer warmth and kindness, she received from the common folk, right in the face of the adverse, suffering conditions that touched her heart.
Inside Bethlehem, Palestine
Despite being under heavy scrutiny, tight security checks under armed forces throughout her trip, she expresses that the natives with whom she was staying took care of her like her own. Visiting Bethlehem (the birthplace of Jesus), Al-Aqsa mosque, and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem are some of the most gripping moments of her life.
Apart from the middle-east, she also has been to the borders of North and South Korea, got stuck midway en route to the Arctic circle, and spent starlit nights in Vietnam, having ‘Theplas’ owing to her preferred vegetarian diet. That’s quite a life to live!
Sarees and Sails
The idea of going places in saree couture wasn’t a conscious choice for Ajanta, initially and enjoyed wearing it on jeans was always her signature statement to her everyday outfits. She found it comfortable enough to go trekking and hiking to places that threw people off-guard as she clicked a few selfies. It wasn’t until 2017 that a friend on Facebook broke the idea of starting the blog of ‘the tales of the traveling sarees’ to her, and she was like why not? Since then, she has been unstoppable in upping her saree game, defying all presets, and coming through as a fashionista with wings to her feet. Be it the rocky pyramids of Egypt or amidst the dense glaciers of Alaska, you’ll always find her draped in elegant nine yards, with oversized jackets and statement accessories.
Settled in New Jersey and having a flourishing career in Corporate Affairs, Ajanta switches effortlessly from her life in the corporate world to a travel blogger in no time! Her finesse in traveling and balancing things out career-wise comes from the extensive research and planning she invests before traveling. From narrowing down travel options, figuring out affordable and scenic AirBnbs, building a day-wise itinerary is something that Ajanta loves to indulge. She believes that there’s no such thing as traveling solo since you’re always on the path of self-discovery, be it on a group tour or by yourself. So, if you’ve been putting off that Goa trip for your friends to gather, it’s time you heed Ajanta’s advice. I know I would! And if you have to take someone with you, consider taking your pets, because it’s a beautiful way to build strong bonds, and she’ll have it no other way, claims Ajanta.
She owes the credit of all her amazing pictures to her best-friend-cum-husband’s refreshing ideas of poses and patience; who’s also her go-to travel buddy. A private-person at heart, who loves candid photos, Ajanta isn’t shy to showcase her true inner self loud and clear on the digital platform. On sharing her idea of motivation, she says that she finds inspiration in the Indian women and their seemingly ordinary but extraordinary life. Their simplicity and beauty is what keeps her going.
Ajanta’s life bears a striking resemblance to all our dreams right now, especially because of the COVID-19’s travel restrictions. But, that doesn’t mean you have to subdue your calling to go see the world. “Going places and seeing life up and close of people around the world, I have realized how much I love the authentic flavor of ‘gupchups’ in Odisha and rediscovered my love for my roots. Traveling does wonderful things to you, and learning to be grateful is one of those.”