2021 through my eyes
If 2020 was weird and different, 2021 has been depressingly familiar. A never ending pandemic that continues to bring hardship to millions around the world either directly or indirectly. As always, I end the year with a look back at the previous year, the 6th time I've done this.
You can read my end of year review for 2020 here.
You can read my end of year review for 2019 here.
You can read my end of year review for 2018 here.
You can read my end of year review for 2017 here.
You can read my end of year review for 2016 here.
This was the first time since I started this blog that I didn't make a single trip out of the country, for obvious reasons, but I opened my Travel Shop. The furthest I went was the Jurassic Coast. I spent most of my time in the Midlands visiting the West Midlands Safari Park, Bridgnorth, different Gurdwaras in the area, and the Black Country. I also finally waved goodbye to London after almost 7 years in the city, and covered my favourite London Museums. The summer of 2021 brought us the delayed Euro 2020 and I wrote about my experiences of attending the final between England and Italy.
As always, you can click any of the blue links to read in depth reviews of each location
Victory for the farmers!
After more than a year of protests, and with over 700 lives lost, the farmers protests were finally concluded with victory. The victory was earned by the farmers through dedication, sacrifice and against a concerted smear campaign by the media and political establishment.
While I was pleased with the outcome for the hardworking farmers of India, it was difficult to see the hardships the farmers had to endure. While adverse weather and long spells away from family and homes for farmers were both expected, seeing police and political violence as well as politically biased media coverage was, and remains, problematic. These are symptoms of a country - once tolerant - lurching to extremism where anyone holding the government to account is considered a "problem".
Nevertheless, in short term this was a victory for people power. I saw how farmers from different states, religions and even languages came together in India to support each other. While it was the farmers of Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Panjab and others that deserve all the credit for their historic stand, it was amazing to see the Panjabi diaspora coming together in large numbers to provide support in any way possible - even in the face of censorship. Solidarity rallies were held in the UK, Australia, Europe, Canada and the United States and spread the message to a broader audience.
After covering the protests in 2020, I decided to write my first Spanish article in 2021. I've been learning Spanish for a couple of years now, and as I become more confident using it, i decided it was a good way to share the movement with a slightly different audience.
You can read my Spanish article on the farmers protests here.
Climate change and travel
This was the year that COP26 was hosted in the UK, and the transition to a greener world and society's aims to mitigate climate risk was front and centre.
Here's the problem - travelling fundamentally goes against the desire for a greener world. Whichever way you look at it, from flying, to staying in hotels, eating out, using taxis - almost every part of the value chain of travelling is inherently polluting.
Does that mean we should stop travelling? It's a difficult question. Should this generation pay for the misdeeds of the one before? It doesn't seem fair, but the truth is we should be having serious questions about travelling and asking ourselves some fundamental questions about the way we travel.
We need to recognise that £20 flights to European cities should not be normal - think about how much it costs just to get from one English city to the next. We should also recognise that those that travel the most should pay more in a green tax to help the world battle against climate change and help fund new ideas and technologies that can help the world reduce emissions (although it's more nuanced than this). And finally, we should think about how we travel, and how often we travel. If the pandemic has taught me one thing, it is just how much there is to see and do in our home countries that we frequently overlook.
It's a difficult debate, but I try and have a go at laying out some of the key points in my article on sustainable travel here.
Given the fact I didn't leave the country this year, it was a bonus that there were several pop-up exhibitions that I could visit in London and Birmingham.
Over the past several years it has been great seeing exhibitions and other projects developed by the Sikh community to showcase some of the creative talent in the community. Earlier this year I saw the brilliant Sikh Musical Heritage documentary on Amazon that explores the importance of music in Sikh philosophy and how it has changed and evolved over the centuries.
While music is important, Sikh art has taken on a life of its own over the past decade. Artists from across the world have bought their own take on Sikh history, values and beliefs through different styles of art. It has been incredible watching the creativity of artists like Baljinder Kaur, Inkquisitive, Harjinder Singh, Bhagat Singh and Jatinder Singh Durhailay.
This year Kanwar Singh, known professionally as Art of Punjab, brought his paintings to a broad audience through a series of nationwide exhibitions called 'Mind'. I visited his Birmingham exhibition and was impressed by the quality of the artwork, the narrative built throughout the exhibition and the engagement by local people (and not only Sikhs).
Art is something that I haven't really understood - I'm not the cultured type. But as I grow older and I'm more exposed to different types of art, I'm beginning to understand some of the emotion artists are trying to convey. Perhaps some of the most emotional are those by Vincent Van Gogh, an artist with a lot of passion and a tragic life story. The 'Van Gogh Alive - Immersive Experience' was an exhibition held in London and Birmingham this year and was incredible.
I attended the London event and it was a memorable experience. It tells the story of Van Gogh in an interactive way through videos, music, his artwork, and an immersive room based on his famous sunflowers work. I really enjoyed the exhibition, although at £20 it was pricey in country where museum and art can usually be viewed for free.
You can read my review on the Sikh Musical Heritage documentary here.
You can read my article on the Mind exhibition here.
You can read my article on the Van Gogh exhibition here.
Exploring the Midlands
Over the past 7 years I've written about places all over the world, but I've never really shared much about the area where I come from. That all changed this year as covid restrictions kept me close to home.
I'm not going to say that the Midlands is the most beautiful or exciting part of the world - it isn't - but I find it slightly weird that people from outside of the UK equate the UK with just London - a city that is in no way a representation of the broader country, while skipping cities to the north.
This year I visited towns, villages and landmarks throughout the English Midlands. There are two big areas of the West Midlands - Birmingham and the Black Country. I'd written a little about Birmingham in 2020, and this year I focused on the Black Country visiting famous attractions like the Black Country Museum. The museum is a 'living' museum, faithfully recreating life in the Black Country - the historical home of the Industrial Revolution - during the Victorian age, all the way up to the 1960s. More broadly, I visited the excellent West Midlands Safari Park, an attraction that plays a key role in global conservation efforts of some critically endangered animals.
The Midlands is also home to some of the largest and oldest Gurdwaras in the UK, Gurdwaras that I have been visiting since the day I was born. This year I decided to write a little bit about some of the more well known Gurdwaras in the local area.
You can read my article on the Black Country here.
You can see 10 things to do in the Midlands here.
You can read about my experience at West Midlands Safari Park here.
You can explore some of the Gurdwaras in the Midlands here.
A trip to the Jurassic Coast
The furthest I ventured from home this year was to the southern coast of Britain to the city of Exeter and the nearby Jurassic Coast.
The Jurassic Coast is a stretch of coast with fossilised remains dating back almost 200 million years. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its importance to the study of geology, with well preserved fossils found across the entire stretch of the Jurassic Coast.
Covering the Jurassic Coast by car and stopping off at certain landmarks was a great experience with picture perfect villages like Beer and lively larger towns like Lyme Regis. Being limited on time, I didn't manage to explore everything that I wanted to see, but what I saw definitely hooked me, and I'll be back at some point to fill in the gaps in terms of landmarks that I had to skip.
You can read my detailed review on the Jurassic Coast here.
Wrapping up my London life
After almost 7 years of living in London - on both sides of the river, and both side of Charing Cross, I finally packed up my bags and returned to the Midlands.
My relationship with London is a complicated one. I love the big city feel, the history, the nightlife and the world famous landmarks. As far as museums goes, it's probably the best city in the world (although the reasons why the museums are so good can diplomatically be described as "controversial"). It's always changing, which means you can live there for years and still not even scratch the surface, and that's certainly how I feel.
But there's drawbacks too. It's disgustingly expensive and people that have lived there for generations are finding it harder and harder to remain there. It's becoming increasingly like a copy + paste city with more in common with other global cities like New York and Singapore than with the rest of the UK. While the outskirts of London still has a semblance of normality, the inner zones live in almost a bubble detached from reality.
Despite all of this, I'm grateful that I got to experience London life, and despite the considerable drawbacks, it's an experience that I wouldn't trade or change - and if you want to live in a big city, London would be near the top of most people's lists. Chances are, it probably isn't the last I have seen of London - at least not until the government allows other cities to grow and compete with London in terms of jobs and infrastructure.
You can read my detailed experience of living in London here.
You can read about my favourite London museums here.
Football came home
If you've read my blogs over the years, you'll know I'm a pretty big follower of the beautiful game, and 2021 was a big year for football in England.
It started off earlier this year with a controversial proposal to create a 'European Super League' that united football fans up and down the country in a way I hadn't experienced before. It was a proposal driven by greed, and I was glad to see it eventually fail - but it has opened an important discussion about the influence of billionaire money on a game that in this country has been associated with the working class, with football clubs being considered pillars of the local community. If you look at traditional stadiums like Villa Park, Anfield and Goodison Park, they are located in residential neighbourhoods and are a big part of people's lives.
Speaking about greed, UEFA also held their delayed European Championships. I was far too young the last time a major football tournament was held in England, so when Wembley was named as a key host for several games - including the final - I jumped at the chance at attend a potentially historic game. What ensued was certainly history - but for all the wrong reasons, and those reasons had nothing to do with what happened on the pitch.
You can read about my thoughts on the European Super League here.
You can read about my experience of the Euro Final here.
The Travel Shop is open
I started this blog over 7 years ago because travelling as a Sikh isn't always the easiest thing to do. While additional checks have become so normal it feels routine, I wanted to specifically call out airports and cities where my experience was particularly good, or particularly bad. In those 7 years I've built up a collection of experiences that I hope will help others as they begin their own journeys.
And while I've learned more about my own rights and how best to handle difficult situations, the one unknown is always the 'salai'. I use my salai to ensure my hair is neatly tucked into my parka or dastaar, and it's not really optional. But whether I'll be able to travel with my salai is always a 50/50. Some airports allow it, others don't.
To try and tilt the odds in my favour, I used the recent lockdowns to design and build my own salai which might change those odds from 50/50 to 80/20 or better. After a fair bit of trial and error, I made wooden travel salais that I hope are less likely to be confiscated by overzealous airport security.
Being made from wood, they are more ecologically friendly, less likely to set off airport scanners and are more blunt than metal or plastic salais (so less likely to be considered dangerous). Of course, there are drawbacks, the salais aren't as sturdy and long lasting as plastic and metal ones, but they do the job for travelling.
You can read all about how I went about creating the salais here.
You can also purchase your own at the Travel Shop here.
That's it for another year and my sixth annual review. I was reading my review from 2020 and reading about my hopes for 2021 and it's safe to say my 2021 didn't quite happen the way I thought it would. But that doesn't mean it was any better or worse than I expected - just different.
I've been lucky - after catching covid in 2020, I managed to get my vaccinations in 2021. While I lost family friends, I am grateful that my family and close friends are still healthy. For some of you I know things will have been more difficult and I'm sorry if you've had to go through hardship either directly or indirectly caused by the pandemic.
Vaccinations are annoying - I remember needing a yellow fever vaccine to get into Bolivia a few years back - but when it comes to travelling I've had vaccinations before flying - whether it was Bolivia, India, Vietnam or Thailand. They are annoying, not very fun, but they serve an important purpose and I'm glad to have got mine. Chances are the covid vaccine will be another vaccine we might need before travelling.
As for my 2022, I've learned better than to make predictions. But I wouldn't mind the chance of going abroad after a year at home.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.