Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (Roshni Raj)
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Roshni Raj

Travel with Rosh: Seeing the world through locals and their histories

Immersion and photography are the best ways to learn about the traditions and daily lives of the people who call the places you visit home.

May 2, 2023

My lifelong goal is to travel to every country in the world. I began taking photos as a way to capture cultures and preserve memories as I explored the world, which inspired me to share these moments on an Instagram account, Travel with Rosh. These photographs later allowed me to escape reality at the start of lockdown, and now, as I get ready to graduate, I’ve been looking back at all the memories I made along the way.

A person holds a sign on a street that says “alto mercado twenty eight” in front of the white buildings of the market.
Mercado 28, México (2014). Stepping off the public bus to this handicrafts market, I met a shopkeeper who taught me about the Mayan civilization and calendar system.

My mom enjoys photographing nature and telling me to “stand there” a million times. Watching her take photos on a disposable film camera as a kid inspired my interest in camerawork. This was my first attempt at street photography.

A tailor stitches a blouse piece in Commercial Street, one of Bangalore’s oldest and busiest shopping districts.
Hoysala architecture in the Chennakeshava Temple in Belur, Karnataka, India.
A village house in Channapatna, Karnataka, India, with coconut shells and a colorful wheelbarrow in front.

Belur and Channapatna, Karnataka, and Bengaluru, India (2019)

Reading the morning newspaper with my grandfather and shopping with my grandmother defined my childhood during the brief period where I forgot English and became bilingual in Kannada. Bengaluru, Karnataka, is home, but stepping outside to Belur and Channapatna taught me how rich our local histories are. The footprint of the places you visit and people you meet always find you months or years later — as a first-year visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I instantly recognized the architecture in its Asian art collection.

The Grand Palace of Thailand with the King Power Mahanakhon skyscraper behind it.

Bangkok, Thailand (2019). The Grand Palace of Thailand materializing with the pixelated skyscraper King Power Mahanakhon behind it.

In the Grand Palace of Thailand, an unsolved tragedy struck in 1946, when King Rama VIII, 20-year-old Ananda Mahidol, was shot and killed. At the steps of Wat Traimit — home to the Golden Buddha, the world’s largest solid gold structure — my local friend Joe looked around and whispered to me an open secret: Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, who was crowned King Rama X in 2019, resides in and rules from Germany.

A banana tree with hundreds of bananas.

After visiting the palace, skip the tourist traps and take Joe’s recommendation to eat local at Riverside Cafe, located on the Chao Phraya River near Tha Tian Market, and watch the sun set behind the Wat Arun, a grandiose temple that draws millions of tourists each year. There’s nothing better than exploring Thailand with the fruit market’s array of bananas, mangosteen and lychee in hand.

A carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica.
Florence, Italy (2019). Piazza della Repubblica and the Duomo di Firenze.

My first time in Europe had come full circle to my childhood birthdays spent at the local Olive Garden. I’m only half kidding. The CAS Presidential Honors Scholars program took us to Florence my first year at NYU. My friends and I called ourselves the Florence Fettuccine Gang, until our waiter Giuseppe told us fettuccine alfredo is, simply put, not Italian.

A United Airlines aircraft taking off from the runway at the Zurich Airport in front of the Swiss Alps.
Zurich, Switzerland (2021). Pro tip: Ask if your layover has an observation deck so you can take photos of planes taking off and landing.

Airports are my best friend. It’s a lawless land, where time comes to a standstill. I spent this layover testing out my new camera – a Sony α6400.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has gold-painted palm tree marble pillars.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque lit up blue at night.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi surrounded by the Persian Gulf, where a boat floats on the turquoise water.3

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (2021). The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Fate would have it that after two failed study away attempts due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other unrelated course scheduling conflicts, I would find myself living in the United Arab Emirates again at NYU Abu Dhabi. With sand on our clothes and feet in the water of the Louvre, my friends and I reflected on how fate brought us to the right place at the right time and listened to the crashing of waves long past midnight.

A man and two women walk on the streets of Deira, Dubai.
Guests enjoy the rain fountain at the Saudi Arabia pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (2021)

Most people think of Dubai as a city of luxury, but I see Dubai through the stories of migrants.

An Afghan shopkeeper takes an elevator up to get abayas.
A tanoura dancer in red, yellow, orange, blue and black outfit spins and smiles.
A man in a black shirt and cargo shorts standing on a stage holds a rod with fire coming out of both sides.

This shopkeeper told me the story of how he immigrated from Afghanistan, posing for me inside the elevator as he went to get an abaya, a long cloak that wraps around the body. A tanoura dancer brought so much energy with his smile, and then put his all into a fire show.

A girl looks at two camels walking past the sunset.
A pink lake with mountains in the background.

A spontaneous trip to Ras Al Khaimah, one of the UAE’s smaller emirates, took me by surprise. This pink lake in the middle of the desert is caused by red algae. There are so many places around the world where nature will have you second guessing if you’re still on planet Earth.

A woman wearing a blue sweater and decorated blue, white, purple and pink scarf.
The Mutrah Corniche features white buildings and the radiant blue Mosque of the Great Prophet.
A bird’s in flight at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque with red and purple flower garden below.
Sunlight pouring into the Mutrah Souq. Many clothes are lined up in stalls along the outdoor market.

Wizz Air, the Ryanair-like budget airline, made this international flight cheaper than my megabus tickets from New York to home in Pennsylvania. From standing in awe of Oman’s breathtaking architecture in the mosques and souqs to seeing people spend time with loved ones at the Mutrah Corniche, this trip inspired me to live life in the present.

A mother and daughter hold hands and walk along Bleecker Street, New York in front of a Nepali clothing store.
New York, New York (2023)

I’ll always cherish the global experiences I had at NYU and beyond. New York City can be a blessing, with both shops and restaurants that bring the world together. Whether I indulge in a Ricciarelli or Panforte di Siena at an Italian trattoria like II Corallo Trattoria, or go to Moustache Pitza in the West Village for a proper Arabic mezze, I find comfort in knowing I’ll be back to these countries and more soon enough.

Contact Roshni Raj at [email protected]

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