One is 68, the other is 72. But their travel plans will leave you exhausted and envious
From gondola rides in Venice to rafting and trekking in the Himalayas
All animals have a different love language, ways to express our affection and bond with each other. Elephants intertwine their trunks. Albatrosses perform extravagant dances for their mates. Humans exchange memes, dye each other’s white hairs, hold hands, and have date nights. For Sushma, 68, and Yogeshwar Bhalla, 72, it’s riding a Royal Enfield Bullet and travelling the world together for the past 45 years.
As a tainted millenial, it’s rare to see a love like theirs. Yogeshwar Bhalla fawns over his “Janeman-Gul-e-Gulzar (beloved flower garden)”. Speaking to them over the phone, I can hear them talk over each other and laugh like teenagers in love. “She’s the best partner joh mujhe mili hai yeh zindagi ke safar mein. Yeh bas hamesha mere saath rahe (May she always be with me).” I “aww-ed” internally to keep things professional (and made a mental note to sulk with my partner later in the day for only ever calling me names from Borat.)
Mr Bhalla was bitten by the travel bug as a kid. While the Bullet came into his life later on, he was the kid who would refuse to take the school bus, riding his bicycle to classes instead.
In 1976 he met his to-be life and travel partner, and over the years they’ve been to over 22 countries. They didn’t wait, either — riding out to Srinagar the very next day after their wedding. “You could call that our honeymoon,” laughs Mrs Bhalla. “Kabhi darr nahin laga, as long as he is by my side.”
“Do couples like this even exist anymore?” I remember thinking to myself, scrolling through the smiling pictures of Sushma and Yogeshwar Bhalla that they post on their page Beyond City Limits With Yogi & Sushi.
My partner and I are polar opposites. He’s an extroverted golden retriever who befriends people wherever he goes. I’m more like an angry cat that’s been caught in the rain. A food and travel writer in a relationship with a borderline agoraphobic who eats the same four dishes in rotation. We have fought over what kind of pillows to buy. Had meltdowns over timings, flight tickets and which museum to see first.
They say a major test of any relationship is travelling together. Every couple I know has fought at least once on their journey. Posing the same scenario to the Bhallas, they respond in unison, “We’ve never fought!” I’m at once impressed and bewildered.
Mrs Bhalla recalls their trip to Switzerland; riding a gondola in Venice is one of her favourite travel memories. I can just picture it now as a black-and-white film. The sun shining on her face, a flower tucked behind her ear. Mr Bhalla, dapper in a dark suit with his glistening moustache, as the gondolier sings Dean Martin’s That’s Amore.
Forget Pam and Jim, Ross and Rachel, Raj and Simran. Sushma and Yogeshwar Bhalla have filmi #couplegoals written all over them.
Travelling together, they say, has helped keep their love alive and thriving. “When you travel, you feel refreshed. The interaction with people, we like that, wherever we go there’s something new to explore. Staying there, eating, drinking, all of it,” says Mr Bhalla. I’m told that if it weren’t for me calling them, they’d be out on the Bullet taking a short ride around Greater Noida. Awkward and embarrassed, I let out a meek apology. But Mr Bhalla laughs heartily.
They don’t have a bad thing to say about anyone they’ve come across on their escapades around the world. “If a person is a little aggressive, we think to ourselves, he must be under some kind of pressure or stress, that’s why his behaviour and attitude is like this. We try to be calm and composed and give him space so he can feel the same and normalise,” adds Mr Bhalla.
Up till my early teens, I was the kind of person who would cry at the drop of a hat, mostly out of anger and frustration. Then a switch flipped. Living in North India meant having a certain degree of aggression so people would leave you alone. Now I wish I had chosen Mr Bhalla’s approach.
The Bhallas are spontaneous but never reckless. Everything they do is planned, thought out and well-budgeted. The couple has been travelling a lot more since they opted for an early retirement. With the pension from Mrs Bhalla’s government job, they manage to fund house expenses and their travels. Since their two adult children and five grandchildren are settled around the world, life under lockdown restrictions and safety measures would get them down.
But they’d still find a way to sanitise, mask up, and go out for a bike ride. “Mann behel jaata hai,” says Mrs Bhalla.
Their son and his kids had just left the day before I spoke to the couple. “All five grandchildren love the bike. They say ‘Dadu humko aapke saath ride karna hai, Nanu humko apke saath ride karna hai.’ When the kids come, ghar mein ronak ho jaati hai,” says Mr Bhalla, adding that travelling also helps keep him busy and engaged after retirement. “Hum log busy rakhne ke liye kahin na kahin ghoomne chale jaate hain. Aur aise hi zindagi chalti rahe.”
Fear is not a word they pay any mind to. As long as you have planned and are being careful, age isn’t something that should hold you back from seeing the world or travelling across the country like them. “You think ‘accident ho jayega, I’ll fall sick, I’ll die’. Yeh cheezein mind mein hote hain. At 68-70, if we both can do paragliding and rafting, you can do it too. Accident kahin bhi ho sakta hai. What’s the point of living in fear?” says Mr Bhalla.
The shared life of Sushma and Yogeshwar Bhalla is as much an inspiring travel tale as it is a love story. They already have their next travel plans in play: Hyderabad later this month. Maybe Sri Lanka, or even Australia next. “There are 195 countries in the world, beta. We have seen so little! Jab tak kar sakte hain, hum karenge.”