How many countries have you been to? On National Tourism Day, here is the inspiring journey of Benny Prasad, the fastest man to visit 245 countries! Find out how travel changed his life
Armed with a dizzying number of passports that boast of countless stamps, Benny Prasad holds the Guinness record (2011) for being 'The fastest man ever to visit 245 countries', including Antarctica. Yes, you read that right, 245 countries in all! This incredible feat was carried out over a time span of six years and six months. Add to this, Benny continues to travel to around 40-50 countries every year. Wondering how he does this?
Well, as an instrumental guitarist and musician from Bangalore, Benny Prasad traverses the world to perform in front of music-loving audiences. Apart from being a popular globetrotter, he is also known for designing the world's first bongo guitar, named as Bentar, after him. In recognition of his travels and the Bentar series of musical instruments, he was conferred with an honorary doctorate in 2008 by the non-governmental organization, Youth With A Mission, the University of Nations.
His musical journey has taken him to all corners of the world. He has performed before presidents and parliaments. Apart from this, he has performed for prestigious events such as the 2004 Olympics, the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 Military World Games.
Intrigued by his story, ParentCircle caught up with Benny to talk about his incredible traveling experiences, his music career and his connection with youngsters as he also counsels teenagers. Here is what he has to say:
A. I started traveling for music performances as I felt my music needed bigger audiences. Now, going to remote parts of the world has become a passion. I turned to travel and music when I was radar-less in my life. It is my music and faith in God that has kept me going.
A. I would say that every journey comes with its own share of adventures. There have been instances when I have boarded flights at the nick of time and traveled to remote islands to perform. There were even times when I was de-boarded at the last minute for not carrying the requisite travel documents! But overall, my traveling experiences have been pleasant.
Also, travel opens you up as a person. Connecting with people of a certain land is a great way to learn about that country, its culture and heritage. Whenever I travel, I always live with local families and have now built a strong network of friends across the globe.
A. It would be at Pitcairn islands, one of the remotest nations in the world. This island nation is a British Overseas Territory. It takes two days by boat from French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean to reach the island. But the boat is available only once in three months. So, after careful planning, I finally managed to visit this tiny nation on April 1, 2010 and performed there.
Ours was the first concert in the country in 200 years. Out of the country's total population of 66 people, 52 were present that night. And the warmth I got from the people is truly memorable and I cherish my time there.
Performing in North Korea on the 100th birth anniversary of that country's founder is another memorable performance.
A. Yes, it was interesting but also challenging, to reach Antarctica. I would like to take this moment to salute all those Indian scientists and geologists who are stationed in such extreme weather conditions. I suffer from arthritis and was advised by my doctor to avoid such cold climates. But I wanted to perform for the Indian scientists and geologists and so in 2009, I performed on King George Island in Antarctica after a 35-hour flight! The best part was swooping over glaciers and penguins making it an unforgettable trip.
A. My father was a scientist at the National Aerospace Laboratories, Bengaluru. He expected me to follow in his footsteps. But I was on a different path. I went into depression and had suicidal thoughts, as I could not meet those expectations. Looking back at my own story, I feel parents tend to impose their dreams on their children. Children should explore and find their own calling.
I was also a sickly child, on medication for chronic asthma. I looked for a purpose in life and found solace in music, by being a part of Church choirs. In fact, I got hold of a thrown-away guitar and started practicing for hours. Once I learned the nuances, I improvised my own style of playing the guitar.
A. My advice to youngsters is that before you take it up as your career, make sure you enjoy your music. Remember, the road ahead could be a rocky one. In the beginning, you might find yourself facing rough days when there is a cash crunch. But work hard and your dedication to the craft will help you sail through. I believe parents should also not force their career choices on their children but instead, help unlock their true potential.
A. Teenagers want someone to listen to their issues, grievances and aspirations. Through my cafe, I give them a space to express their feelings and problems, openly and freely. I have come across teenagers who were contemplating suicide because they faced love or relationship issues. I am happy I talked them out of such thoughts.
Sometimes, teenagers don't know how to handle freedom. And some of them fall prey to drugs, alcohol or other harmful influences. Unfortunately, most of them don't open up to their parents. Communication should ideally be two-way, and parents should strive to be approachable so children can turn to them, in times of need or doubt. So, before your children grow up and go out into the world, parents, please establish a channel of communication and have regular heart-to-heart conversations.
A. Yes, I found my soulmate in Zanbeni, a musician from Nagaland. Now, we travel together whenever possible, to perform in different countries. The foundation of any relationship is trust and open two-way communication. If you can establish that early on, you will be able to sail through, good and bad times, together.
Benny believes travel is a life-changing experience. Now, he wants to share that message with others. "Through my music and travel, I want to convey to youth from all over the world that life is a precious gift. And that you should not lose hope when you are down. Destiny may have planned something better for you."
So, go on, travel the world. Find yourself.
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