Meet the solo woman traveller from Mumbai who has stomped across 180 countries over half a century
The sharks were swarming in the Polynesian waters below. A goat was flung overboard. They darted from all over, ripped it apart in seconds and disappeared as swiftly as they swooped. All but one, who was lassoed and lugged on to the boat. It thrashed violently on the deck but realised quickly it was no use fighting and allowed its captors to pry its jaws open. It was time for a photograph. ‘Would you like a picture with your head or hand in the fish’s mouth?’ Click, click. And then it was thrown back into the water, with another goat as a thank you.
Article by Ayesha Aleem | CN Traveller India
This bizarre encounter in Bora Bora is just one of many that Meher Moos has had in her 50 years of travels. The 70-year-old solo woman traveller from Mumbai has travelled to a staggering 180 countries till date. Her half-a-century of adventure has taken her virtually everywhere—from New York to Bobo–Dioulasso to New Caledonia.
How it all started
Meher’s journey began in 1965, when she was 20 and hired by Air India. It was a time when India was finding its feet, when only £3 worth of foreign exchange could be carried out of the country. Telephones were yet to go mainstream, and letters were still the preferred mode of communication. Elsewhere, South Africa was under apartheid, the world polarised by the Cold War, and America raining napalm in Vietnam. For an Indian woman to travel abroad on her own was no mean feat.
It helped that Meher worked for Air India—for the first seven years as a flight attendant, then as a senior tourism official. Perhaps, it also helped that she never married and had no children. “And my parents were very supportive,” Meher says.
Her job did take her places, but this Parsi woman’s thirst for travel was insatiable. At a time when Indians were exploring North America and Europe, Meher was camping at Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific and living with Touaregs in Timbuktu. In Vanuatu, she trekked up to a belching volcano. “We were bouncing as the ground shook under our feet.”
But it wasn’t like Meher was on one big vacation. In fact, she would go for years without a holiday, save up her leave and then expend it on mega trips, such as retracing Marco Polo’s route through Central Asia. Or, a six-month journey through Africa.
Some trips were happy accidents. Like the chance meeting with famed Swedish-American explorer, Lars-Eric Lindblad, which translated into an invitation on board his ship to Antarctica. Political turbulence in Africa made visas difficult. Meher managed to get her passport stamped, but the plane that was meant to take her to Nosy Be in Madagascar, where the expedition would begin, developed a hydraulic leak and the pilot refused to fly. She eventually caught up with the ship at Cape Town and made the voyage all the way to Antarctica.
The other ‘exotic’ places she’s been to include Iceland, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Myanmar. But there’s more to be seen: Tunisia, Jordan, Brunei, North Korea, Micronesia, Mozambique and Malawi are all on her list.
“I want to go somewhere where no one else has before, where there is danger but still interest,” says Meher. “The more remote, the more inaccessible, the better.”
The trips have been fascinating but also expensive. However, Meher has made them happen through a combination of savings, sponsorships and complimentary airline tickets that she was entitled to. Once, she even took up a loan to fund her journey.
All this travel has meant a fat stack of passports. Today, she has 18 of them, all neatly labelled and numbered, except the eighth, which has been misplaced. Two of these have been issued overseas: one in London, after the original was stolen—the other in Zambia because the passport she was carrying had no space left for a stamp.
Travel today is a lot different from when Meher started globe-trotting. “I would do all my research at the Asiatic Library. And I knew how to read The ABC World Airways Guide,” says Meher, referring to the airline-equivalent of the railway timetable. In 2004, she signed up for a basic computer orientation course. Today, she uses the Internet to research her trip but is yet to warm up to e-booking. “I am nervous about online payments.” As a workaround, she has her friends make the bookings online in exchange for cash.
At 70, her eyesight is poor, hearing weak and she is afflicted by spinal problems. “I’m racing against time,” Meher says as she prepares for a three-month adventure across North America.
Favourite place: London. I studied English literature in a convent. I love the theatre and the English countryside. It’s like going from one home to another.
Advice to travellers: Strike out. Don’t be frightened. I’m not afraid to ask for anything; it’s okay if they say ‘no’. And don’t be arrogant. People may not be rich, but they’re not stupid.
Greatest learning: Money cannot buy happiness—it’s about how you engage with people and the world.
Personal travel style: I love getting lost!
What would you exchange your travels for? More travel.
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