Do you ever feel like the world is such a small place? That we as humans, as global citizens, have more in common than what separates us? The need for shelter, nourishment and love; far and wide, we thrive on those things. I've oftentimes thought that. Except for last month. There was a moment in Spain when that couldn't have been further from my mind's eye.
I had been rendered speechless, gripped in the verbal deadlock of a language barrier. It was a laughably frustrating scenario where I was trying to communicate with a sales associate. I'd offered up a simply worded sentence of English which was promptly answered in Spanish. Eventually, through a combination of gestures, facial expressions and smiles we were able to work through it.
That's the thing about smiles; they are universal. They speak all languages. They have no accent and even a fleeting one can bring comfort in an unfamiliar corner of the world.
'Anything Goes' may have been the theme of Intrepid Travel's November photo competition but the finalists were all smiles. As you view their grinning faces I hope you're reminded that even when travelling far from home, we all speak at least one common language.
A man stands smiling a toothless grin in a Maramureş market.
Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Maramureş, but add it to your European bucket list. The region is permeated by Gothic wooden churches, charming ornate gates and rolling pastoral land. It all lends to a sort of storybook ambiance. This is Romania distilled; the folk and cultural epicentre.
A man plays a flute in the colourful state of Rajasthan.
Translating to 'Realm of Kings', Rajasthan is a siren's call to travellers. It is famous the world over for towering forts, majestic palaces, tigers, elephants and the great Thar desert.
A group of girls in a fit of laughter - too bad we've missed out on the joke.
If we described the horizon framing Moshi was beautiful you could say we are being trite. After all, Kilimanjaro sits proudly in distance. With a stream of climbers passing through, residents are used to communicating with smiles. Take time to enjoy the city's African and Asian influences while sipping the local export: coffee.
A woman poses, donning vibrantly coloured garb.
Rajasthan is the land of colours and we're not just talking textiles. It's home to postcard-perfect Jaipur, often called the pink city for its rosy hue. In 1876 the city was washed in pink paint to receive visitors Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Pink denotes the colour of hospitality and construction of pink structures continues today because it is mandated by law.
A young girl sports decorative face paint for the folk masquerade.
One doesn't accidently land in Birbhum, 200 kilometres north of West Bengal's capital Kolcata. If the latter sounds familiar, once upon a time your parents called it Calcuta. Come for the historic temples, stay for the culture. Take in the folk music of travelling bauls (singers) and sample sweet meat with fruit preserves.
A Rajasthani man stands with a handful of cane
One of the most unique festivals to attract visitors to Rajasthan is the Pushkar Camel Fair. Unfortunately you'll have to wait a full year for your next opportunity; the fair is held for two weeks each November. It's wildly popular, attracting over 11,000 camels, horses and cattle and 400,000 attendees.
Cooch Behar, India
A toy seller stands surrounded by a mass of helium balloons.
Tucked far north in West Bengal, Cooch Behar was once a princely state. Before you write it off as an obscure city in a remote pocket of India, consider a fact. In terms of size, it is less than 1% the area of British Columbia yet contains nearly 3 million people. By comparison, B.C. had 4.6 million in 2013. Don't leave without visiting the handsome Cooch Behar Palace.
Unspecified Location, India
A boy's face peeks out of a pool of still water.
Can one travel through India during monsoon season? (June through September) Yes! India is a large country (one-third the size of Canada) with varied terrain; for this reason the entire nation isn't afflicted at one time. Initial downpours sweep through, followed by periods of unpredictable and intermittent periods of rain, thunder and lightning. Indeed, flooding can be fatal but in other parts of the country children can be seen playing in the water.
A man leads a prayer in Bihar, India
Bihar is one of India's poorest states, not often frequented by Western visitors. That's not to say it's not worth visiting, but logistics, petty crime and hassles present challenges to travellers. That being said, the Mahabodhi Temple is nothing short of spectacular. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a Buddhist temple that dates back to 260 BCE. Re-read that: before common era.
A small face peeks out between black robes in Barasat, India
Barasat lies on the edge of sprawling Kolkata, capital of West Bengal and the second largest city in India. Kolkata polarizes travellers; you love it or hate it. Its raw urban frenzy is unapologetic and unrelenting. If you're able to fall in with the chaotic pulse, you'll be rewarded with the charms of decaying British Raj influence; relics of a bygone era.
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Photos provided by small group adventure provider Intrepid Travel