The entries on his passport pages outdo his years by far and he has ticked off almost all the destinations on his bucket list. A fan Batman, and much more of Christopher Nolan, whom he calls his inspiration, Pankaj Advani is quite a seasoned traveller at 32.
After all travelling is another pursuit of this 16-time world champion (12 times in billiards and four times in snooker), but it’s difficult to determine in which order. His list of laurels is impressive, having earned the Arjuna Award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and the Padma Shri. India’s Golden Boy tells us about his travel experiences.
What is the priority when you pick a travel destination – the historical value of the place, the fun quotient, luxury, scenery?
Ideally, I prefer going to places where there is a mix of natural beauty and a vibrant city life. I have been to over 35 countries and every country and city has something unique to offer. I love learning about the customs and traditions of each place.
Any recent trip that comes to mind? What is next on the list?
During a visit to New Zealand for a family wedding, I managed to visit Rotorua, Tauranga and Taupo in the North Island. I have to say it is God’s own country. The countryside, mountains and water bodies are a feast for sore eyes. Now, only two countries are remaining on my bucket list – Hungary and Turkey, in that order.
How is travelling for tournaments different from vacation travel?
I hardly get to travel for holidays, but recently I have taken time off from the game and gone on a couple of trips with family and friends. For tournaments, my entire routine revolves around the game. On a vacation, I don’t keep track of time and I get to see a lot more of a place.
Do you like solo trips?
As a sportsperson, you have to learn to be happy in your own company as you travel alone often. But, I like having people around – family or friends. More the merrier!
What is your first travel memory?
I remember going to Middlesbrough in England in 1999. I was only 14 and it was the first time I was representing India at the World Billiards Championship. I was extremely nervous and also excited. It was freezing. That was the time I vowed to carry enough sweaters and jackets to a cold place.
You favourite food and where do you like eating it?
I like anything that has either paneer or hummus in it. Banjara in Bangalore is my top place for Indian food and Beirut in Doha for Lebanese.
Five things that are always in your suitcase?
Phone charger, a jacket, a self-help book, dry fruits and my favourite pair of faded jeans.
If you could choose one destination for every tournament, it would be?
Melbourne, Australia. There is so much to do in the city. It is easy to commute and go out alone, people are extremely friendly and the city is beautiful with the Yarra river cutting across. Also, one of the greatest billiards players ever, Walter Lindrum, was from Melbourne.
Good and bad travel memories?
Good things first, at the age of 16, I went to Latvia and I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. Riga is a secret beauty of the Baltic. We managed to find an Iskcon restaurant over there and I was thrilled. The people were really friendly and the place was totally buzzing with outdoor cafes, restaurants and pubs (not that I drink).
The fight for food: While I have many friends in Iran and I like the country, I struggled as I could not get vegetarian food easily. I lived on pizza for a week.
An incident during travelling that you can never forget?
Being a seasoned traveller, I shouldn’t be sharing this but I have missed a flight after receiving the boarding pass! It was a Delhi-Bangalore flight and I was travelling with a friend. We kept looking at the screen for our flight info and thought they would announce the boarding. Little did we know that it was a silent airport, and by the time we reached our gate, our bags were off-loaded and the gate was closed. My record has been much better ever since.
But you still like flying over other modes?
Yes! Travelling by air is the fastest way to reach a place. Secondly, I love exploring airports, especially the big ones like Singapore and Dubai. A long stopover doesn’t bother me. In fact it is an opportunity to enjoy the facilities at fancy airport terminals.
Are you a beach person or prefer mountains?
I like nature but I absolutely love the water so it has to be beaches for me. Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia have some great beaches.
Most luxurious vacation you have ever had?
Bali is breathtakingly beautiful especially if you are staying at the Ayana Resort where you have a stunning view of the sea from the Rock Bar. The resort itself needs a couple of days to be explored. When I was there with friends, we enjoyed the water sports and nightlife immensely. We also went to Gili Island for a day by ferry where we had an awesome time.
Favourite Indian destination?
Goa. In fact I am going there soon for a short trip. Never get bored of it. It completely relaxes, refreshes and rejuvenates me. And, I don’t have to think about what clothes to take as it is so casual out there!
Do you read, watch movies or listen to music while travelling?
Movies and music. I love all of Christopher Nolan’s films as they are extremely thought-provoking, the Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige, Interstellar and Dunkirk being my favourite films. I like listening to the latest Bollywood tracks.
So, Ben Affleck or Christian Bale?
Physically, Ben Affleck looks the part. But in all other aspects, I like Christian Bale as he portrayed many layers to the character of Batman.
If Batman is your number 1 hero, who all follow?
Batman is my number 1 superhero, Federer is my sporting hero and Christopher Nolan is my inspiration.
Your advice to budding travellers?
Always carry important and essential things in your hand baggage as the checked-in bags get misplaced during stopovers once in a while. I’ve seen many people forget/lose their passports while travelling so I’d suggest keeping your passport with you at all times.