Jonny Bealby
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 31 December

The World According to Jonny Bealby

Author and tour operator, Jonny Bealby, on living life on the wild frontier

Mountain/desert/jungle/oceanwhich are you? 

Mountains – space, dimensions, eagles soaring, ibex rutting, and people. In my experience mountain people are always very chilled

First travel experience?

Age five going with parents to Majorca. I don’t remember much, but for a subterranean lake with stalagmites and stalactites. First culture shock was in Bali. I was aged 19, on my way to Australia, when we learnt the plane was too full for the final leg from the Indonesian island to Sydney. We were asked if we’d mind staying until the next day’s flight. In the end we stayed a month. For a boy from Lincolnshire, the sights, smells, food, heat just blew my mind.

Favourite journey?

I was once bet by a friend that I couldn’t get from Delhi to London for the same price overland that they could flying. I had £229. The journey took 12 days, through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, UK, and was fascinating, seeing such an important historical migratory route, so fast. I lost the bet on the last leg between Frankfurt and London. It didn’t matter.

Motor cycling round Africa wasn’t bad either.  

Top five places worldwide? 

Hunza Valley, Vale of Kashmir, Tash Rabat and the Celestial Mountains in Kyrgyzstan, Ethiopian Highlands and Paris.

Special place to stay? 

My house in the Kalash Valleys in the Hindu Kush, northern Pakistan. A houseboat on Nagin Lake, Kashmir and Eagles Nest, Hunz.

Three items you always pack? 

A bandana – useful for all sorts of things from bandage to towel – a Swiss Army knife, and these days a flip video camera.

Passport stamp you're proudest of? 

I don’t really go for that kind of tick box travel; I travel for other reasons.

Passport stamp most like to have? 

Ditto

Guilty travel pleasure? 

Trying to find a decent espresso coffee, wherever I am!

Window or aisle? 

Aisle, every time.

Who is your ideal travelling companion? 

No one; but don’t tell my girlfriend!

Best meal on the road? Worst? 

Best, there’s a grungy little café just off Janpath in New Delhi that sells the best rogan josh that side of Brick Lane. Worst, goats head in both Tunisia and Kyrgyzstan; just don’t get that.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing? 

I am not sure I am radically surprised or disappointed by anywhere. Everywhere has something good and something bad, you just have to find the good and make the most of it, and get out of the bad as quick as you can.

Where do you NOT want to go? 

Australia. I had one of the best years of my life there, a long time ago, but I have no desire to go back.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes? 

My inspiration probably came from my family. My grandmother – who only died this year aged 101 – lived in India and her tales of life during the dying days of the Raj where so picturesque I know I always wanted to go there, even as a little boy. But my parents were great travellers too. In 1971 they drove a Land Rover all the way to Kenya, and the stories they told upon their returned filled me with wanderlust.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place? 

No, again I don’t listen to my iPod while travelling. I like to be able to hear and interact all the time with whatever is going on around me. Picking up on local music is much more fun and keeps you ‘in place’ rather than taking you back to your own culture. As some wise old traveller said, ‘I don’t like to feel at home when I’m abroad.’

What do you read? 

Again, anything that keeps me in place; but the older I get the more I enjoy non-fiction and history.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it? 

Goodness, there have been so many of the former and so few of the latter. I have been offered so much kindness over the years on my travels it’s hard to know where to start. 

I was once in a roadside café on the Karakoram Highway. I went to pay my bill only to find it had already been paid, by a total stranger I never knew. On another occasion I was hitch-hiking in Australia. A car going the wrong way, turned round picked myself and a friend up, took us back to her flat, gave us the keys, apologised that she had to leave, but told us we could have the place until she returned. As a traveller you’re so often rewarded by the generosity of your fellow humans it is humbling – and one of the most life affirming aspects of travel. There are bad people, travellers that steal from other travellers are about as low as they come in my book, but they are rare. 

What's the mostuseful phrase you know in a foreign language? 

Una cerveza, por favour!

What is your worst habit as a traveller? 

Rushing! I am very bad at relaxing and taking my time.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions? 

Sing! (That would have them all thinking the weather outside was fine, and get them out of the tent)

When and where in your travels have you been happiest? 

Anywhere there are mountains I am usually happy. I like beaches as well but mountains and deserts do it more. Where in particular? Hunza. It’s just so beautiful

What smell most says 'travel' to you? 

Incense and clove cigarettes; I had my first culture shock in Bali in the early 80s and I remember this smell as being so foreign and exotic. If I smell that smell today I am immediately transported back.

Jonny Bealby is the founder of  Wild Frontiers and will be appearing at the Telegraph Adventure Travel Show, Olympia, London. His talk is on Saturday the 26th January in The Incredible Journeys Theatre 12:00 till 12:45.

Tickets cost £10 on the door; under 16s go free. Wanderlust readers can buy tickets for just £5 when purchasing in advance, simply quote 'WANDERLUST' when you book. Find out more here.

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