This blog began like my travels began, on an impulse. It was my fifth year on the road and my third month living in a dirt cheap apartment in Benaulim in Goa. I was having my usual G&T at my usual bunghole bar where I was a familiar enough face for the usual waiters to know what I wanted. I was sitting alone, so I took out the book I was reading, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux, his follow up to The Great Railway Bazaar and as I was reading a somewhat cringey passage about his “adventures” in the “offbeat” slums of Dharavi in Mumbai, I got triggered.
I began wondering if I could do what he’s doing. Sure, he was a good writer but I wasn’t terrible at putting a few sentences together either and I sure won’t do cliched shit like slum tourism or going to meet famous writers in famous cities. I also had been through shit (this is not going to be a very literary post) like breaking my ankle ligaments in Varanasi, getting stuck in a flood in Ayutthaya, being stranded for 2 weeks with no money in a remote isolated region in Ladakh, breaking all the bones in my left arm in a nasty travel accident and getting a surgery in a Laos-Chinese Friendship hospital in Laos, falling in and out of love numerous times, crazy conversations with crazy people etc. etc. I also had 5 years worth of travel notes that had been ever accumulating in dusty unread diaries.
So yeah, I had stuff to write about and I thought I should do it immediately. And I did. I took a train back to Mumbai, sat with my friend and business partner drinking expensive coffee and hot chocolate in cafes and we bought the domain and a theme. I wanted the blog to be different from the usual travel blog, all text, no pictures, more literary (so it could turn into a book later) and less click-baity than your standard successful travel blog that makes a lot of money. In hindsight, that would have been a good idea if I had stuck to it.
But eventually, the blog turned out to be very similar to how my mind worked i.e. cluttered, messy, disorganized, impatient, sporadic. Because I had traveled for so long and to so many places, I thought I would do a non-linear arrangement of events and places. Then a few months on, when I didn’t see much readership or engagement, I switched to posting only pictures. This brought more traffic and eventually, when I married pictures to posts, it led to an even higher readership. When I dumbed down my posts, making them less about the stories and more about “content”, the blog did even better. The only posts of mine which ever ranked on google (on pages 10-20) were lists of restaurants I ate at in popular tourist towns.
This was soul-destroying. So I would go back to writing about my stories from the road. But then no one would read and I would let the blog stagnate for a year. Once in a while, I would remember this site existed and I would try rejuvenating it with a rapid flurry of posts, generally a mix of pictures, writing and click-baity nonsense, then get exhausted and let it die again.
The posts I genuinely enjoyed writing were the all-text-no-pics freewheeling travel stories but they began extracting a mental toll when people wouldn’t read them. I had to learn the hard way that creation is a two way street and that without validation, it feels somewhat meaningless. It especially hurt when people I considered my friends and who I thought would be interested in reading my stories never read them. I’m not blaming anyone and while I used to feel bitter earlier, I don’t feel that anymore because ultimately everyone has a finite amount of time and no one has the time to consume everything and if people weren’t reading, the fault lay entirely in my court for not writing what they perhaps wished to read.
None of this would have mattered if the blog had monetized. Because then there would at least be an economic reason for it to exist. But I have always been uncomfortable with selling out, not because of the act itself (money is always good) but because of the compromises you had to make to sell out. There is a certain kind of travel blogger who makes money writing “content” with the requisite amount of SEO keywording, shortening lines, doing lists, breaking paragraphs with pictures, being happy and positive etc. But when I tried to do that, it sucked the soul out of me. I don’t want to throw any shade at people who do this sort of thing and make money (you gotta do whatever works for you or makes you happy) but this made me feel downright miserable.
Last year, during the pandemic, I thought I would let the domain expire quietly. But just before it was about to expire, I bought it again. I did an expensive shift from wordpress.com to wordpress.org, bought a new host, revamped it with a new theme. Then I spent a month reading travel blogs and watching tutorials on youtube to find ways to monetize it. I rewrote some of my earlier pieces to be more SEO friendly, made some highly generic listy posts, connected adsense etc. Like before, this only made me feel terrible.
I’m inherently cynical about market forces that force you to mould yourself to more marketable ends. I had (and still entertain) ideas of being a good “writer” (and maybe there’s a long way to go before I become one) and all the wrestling I had to do with SEO and keyphrasing felt entirely at odds with what I really wanted to become good at.
I wanted my blog/website to be more pure and authentic and I did not want anyone reading to see an ad in every corner. But with all the money I had put into it, it had to make some revenue and if it wasn’t, I was losing precious income I couldn’t afford to lose. So the only option I have now is to shut it down. It might be up for a couple of months before the domain expires for good.
Sincere thanks to everyone who read what I wrote and apologies for letting the site meander in so many directions over the years. Cheers.