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Kumaran Mahalingam – Meet the man who breathes water

Travel has so many dimensions. It is like the stream of light which splits into multiple colours when passed through a prism. The prism being you. At Pickyourtrail, we’ve generally known two extreme types of travellers. People who stop to smell the roses and those who click photos only for Insta. Again, choices vary (cue the prism). But, we came across a new type. Yes, our very own Archimedes Eureka moment!

Our customer, Kumaran Mahalingam is just like any other traveller (at least we thought he is). Everything about him seems fine. But, he, unlike any other customer, is a Standup Paddler. And the reason he was travelling to Norway with us was to reclaim the water bodies. Wait, what! Water bodies? Now that is something we haven’t heard before. Originally a geologist from Chennai, Kumaran is a standup paddler with 3 Limca records to his name. Wasting no time, we tracked him down post his Norway vacation. As we sat down with Kumaran, his love for travel, nature, and paddling slowly unfurled. Sit tight as we slowly drift away in the waters.

Where did your story begin?

I have always been fascinated by mountains and hilly terrain. Unfortunately, during my early years, I didn’t get a chance to travel out of Chennai and all I could manage to see was Chengalpattu (he laughs). But everything changed when I joined college. When people were flocking to get a seat in engineering and medicine, I took geology. One of the best decisions I have taken in my life till now (he grins). Geology for me was a way to connect with nature. During my college, they took us on a trip to Ariyalur. A geologists’ paradise, Ariyalur was once underwater and the fossils of dinosaurs still exist. Learning more about its history piqued my interest and I was drawn to water bodies from then.

What does travel mean to you?

Travel makes me happy. I found my purpose, travelling. It also gives me the opportunity to connect with nature. Something which I love without boundaries. When I started travelling 20 years back, I mostly commuted through public transport. Bikes during that time were a luxury. Window seats in the buses were my favourite spot.

Back then, my first connection with travel was mostly through trekking. Mind you, trekking wasn’t as famous as it is now. But, I was immediately hooked to the activity. The opportunity to push your body to the limits and exploring the route less travelled were intriguing. To pursue this interest, I started a small trekking club and went on a trekking expedition to the eastern ghats. As the days went by, I was more intrigued to explore more wildlife. Given that I was already a part of wildlife associations and conservations, I was given a free pass to venture deep into the wildlife without any hassles. And that was how I explored the beautiful western ghats.

Travelling is my passion and I love to indulge in hiking, trekking, photography, and going on biking tours. Again, a way of connecting with nature.

Tell us about your standup paddling experience

I was exposed to surfing in 2014. But in quick time I realized that the sport is not for me and came to know about standup paddling. Unlike surfing, standup paddling was easier to pick up and anybody could do it. But the difficulty depends on where you are surfing. Is it whitewater or open ocean. Like curd rice & pickle, standup paddling & geology are a perfect fit. I would track the water bodies with my geology skills and then go standup paddling.

As you standup paddle, you automatically detach from the normalcy of life and float, like in outer space. There is a sense of calmness in water bodies that you’ll not find anywhere and I am addicted to that feeling. But, now when I see the water bodies shrink in front of me, I want to do something about it. This is also a reason, I took up standup paddling seriously and started connecting with the public more.

I have been travelling internationally for the past 15 years now and I have covered 16 to 18 countries in Europe, South-East Asia, Australia, the US, and Middle-East.

What are some crazy travel experiences and the souvenirs that you cherish?

My first crazy experience was when we had to travel from Salzburg to Vienna to catch an early morning flight. It was snowing heavily during the time and we actually had to go off-roading. The urgency, snow, and the off-road drive made a thrilling combo.

The other crazy experience was when I went on a solo expedition in the archipelago of Langkawi jumping from one island to another. Along the journey, the waves were a bit rough with an abundance of coral rocks and jellyfish. But, it was only later that I realized I was travelling on an inflated board and it could have been punctured at any time! Just thinking about the possibility gives me chills.

As to souvenirs, I don’t get a lot of them. Souvenirs to me are memories and my favourite is a winter hat from Vienna. I have been using it for nearly five years now. Other than that, I have started getting outdoor equipment which are normally not available in India.

Which is the one place you want to visit again?

While there are a lot of places to visit, for me, it would be Norway. Especially in the summer when the sun never sets. Longer day means more time to explore. As you go drifting along the fjords, the mesmerizing images of glaciers and the waterfalls are simply irresistible. Plus the water here is unspoilt and there is great scope for camping. So, I would definitely visit Norway, of course with Pickyourtrail (he reassures).

What are your future plans?

I have personally spent 40% of my salary and have set up a sustainable program called ‘Paddle for future’. Under the program, the flagship project is to save water bodies, involve in research, conduct outdoor science programs & expeditions. We have set up a permanent base in Chennai. Our main goal now is to create awareness through the sport and promote outdoor travel culture.

How has travel affected you?

Travel, travel, it has changed me as a person. As they say, experience does make a man. In travelling, there are a lot of scenarios and through these expeditions, I’ve become stronger. There is a great amount of confidence to derive from travel. After standup paddling 2,900 Kms along the River Ganges for 101 days, I feel I know what life is.

A word of inspiration for our readers

*Keep travelling, stay outdoor more, and do it with a purpose.*


It’s not often that we come across such inspirational stories. And, when we do, it is always reassuring that life & travel has greater things to offer than that meets the eye. 🙂

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