Shalmali was born and brought up in the Himalayas in a family of passionate wildlife lovers, conservationists, and assorted eccentrics who chose to call a tent and then a wattle-and-daub hut in the forests of Corbett County their home. Her education included home-schooling under a tree and being a boarder in a Nainital convent, from where she went on to study in Delhi. Her brief brush with civilisation spurred her to abandon its confines to climb mountains alongside her mountaineering heroes, becoming a certified mountaineering instructor from HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute) Darjeeling, India, in 2004.
From working for an adventure travel company, guiding trips all over India, to leading expeditions, treks, wildlife, cycling and cultural trips to well-frequented and obscure regions of the country, she spent eight years in the field in India. Other regions include Myanmar, hiking in the Shan mountains of Myanmar and sleeping in a remote monastery, traversing Bhutan on multiple trips, guiding cycling and cultural trips in Sri Lanka, and travelling to Thailand and Singapore. Her favourite is India followed by South Africa, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
She has an abiding passion for wildlife and cycling. Some of her favourite moments were a month-long expedition in Ladakh, exploring the Thar desert and the ancient Aravalli hills of Rajasthan, hiking and camping in the jungles of Uttarakhand, having Sanchi stupa all to herself at sunrise, seeing frescoes of Ajanta caves, a three-week road trip through the offbeat regions of the Deccan, getting chased by crocodiles in Sri Lanka and elephants in India. Her stand out experience is tiger tracking by foot in Corbett County and sleeping under the stars.
Q: Favourite city:
A: Delhi, in North India. It is a multi-cultural and layered city, to which I can happily return, to spend days discovering new parts and experiencing my favourite old haunts. Whenever I go back, I find something new and engaging. Like Mumbai, it is a fascinating city that has unique architectural highlights and some of my favourite walking tours. I love Delhi for its vibrant markets and delicious street food. It has a rich and layered history, some of the most talented chefs, great restaurants, leading art galleries and my favourite designers and boutiques. Old Delhi is perhaps my favourite part and I never tire of it.
Q: Favourite country:
A: India of course and I may be biased... It has it all for me, myriad landscapes, diverse culture, wealth of architecture, Himalayan mountains, huge bio diversity, remarkable wildlife, ancient and multi-cultural history, remote wilderness, some of the finest textiles and craft, diverse and regional cuisines, I love India for the random chaos and character.
Q: Favourite meal:
A: Hard to choose just one favourite! It would have to be Chaat and Gol Gappas. It’s small crisp round pockets made of wheat or semolina filled with chickpeas, potatoes, spices, tamarind chutney and topped up with a delicious spicy mint and coriander water. It’s my favourite street food snack in India.
Q: Most memorable journey:
A: Hiking in a remote region of the Sikkim Himalaya in the North East of India. I was fortunate to go in the month of May, when all the varieties of rhododendrons where in full bloom, the hiking trails have some of the most dramatic views of snow covered peaks and some of the best birding in that part of the Himalaya.
Q: Favourite travel advice:
A: Travel with a sense of humour and go with the flow, especially when things don’t go to plan and expectation. Some of my favourite and life changing travel experiences have been when I went off-piste, was put out of my comfort zone or just lived in the moment. Top tip especially in Asia: visit the local markets, that’s where you get a real sense and insight into the local cuisine and cultural nuances. Always travel with a headlamp.
Q: Next on must-see List:
A: Iran for culture, people, architecture and textiles, China for scenery, culture and food, Pakistan for culture, landscape and food, Botswana, Borneo and Zimbabwe for wildlife.