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Visa hassles makes globetrotter out of humiliated "˜third world' citizen


Kashi Samaddar recently received a Guinness World Record as the first person to visit the then 194 sovereign countries

In 1893, Mahatma Gandhi encountered an act of racism in South Africa that galvanized his campaign against discrimination and shaped his response of non-violent resistance.

110 years later, a beneficiary of Gandhi's struggles encountered discrimination again when he was denied a visa to a Southern African nation because he was Indian.

People from the so-called third world countries typically bear the brunt of rude immigration officials of other countries when they travel.

The discriminatory treatment provokes anger and resentment, but these are rarely expressed for fear that their travel or other plans might be thwarted.

But Kashi Samaddar was made of different stuff.

His non-violent protest against racial discrimination did not discourage him from traveling. He decided he was going to travel around the world on an Indian passport.

Dubbed "the rolling stone," the Indian businessman has since traveled to all 195 independent territories and countries in the world, including Vietnam, carrying forward a message of tourism for peace, starting with visa fairness.

The Indian businessman, whose travel was inspired by the denial he received from several countries, not just South Africa, recently received a Guinness World Record as the first person to visit the then 194 sovereign countries.

The journey took him six years, 10 months and seven days, between July 18, 2002 when he visited Uruguay and May 27, 2008 in Serbia.

His list was recently expanded with the world's youngest country, South Sudan, when it officially became an independent state on July 9, 2011.

He has visited Vietnam twice and likes the country, he said, adding he would be willing to help develop tourism here if asked. He feels there is a lot of potential in India that the Vietnamese tourism sector can exploit.

Samaddar told Tuoi Tre in a recent interview that he loves meeting people, and that was his motivation to travel. But the discrimination he faced from immigration officials led him to a higher cause.

The "Travel, Tourism and Peace" plan began in October 2003, when he was denied a visa to visit a Southern African nation because of his nationality.

Feeling humiliated, Samaddar made a promise to himself that he would travel to all the countries in the world to help bridge the gap between cultures.

"Indians need a visa to travel anywhere outside their country. There were times when I had the opportunity to get an Australian or Canadian citizenship but I declined the offer because I wanted to prove to the world that an Indian is capable of traveling so much without changing his passport," he said in a report on the World Record Academy website.

People are friendly in most parts of the world but there seems to be a perception of Indians as troublemakers that leads to the visa rejections, the 57-year-old, Dubai-based businessman said.

He said he would continue his fight to help people avoid similar visa problems.

People from around 34 developed countries in the world and those holding diplomatic passports easily get visas to other countries, but 84 percent of the world's population from developing countries have to wait for three to six weeks to get a visa to another country, Samaddar told Tuoi Tre.

The problem has led to a brain drain from developing countries as talented people change their nationality to avoid the inconvenience, he said.

Samaddar said he would continue using travel, which broadens the mind and clears unpleasant feelings people have about others, to fight for fairer visa policies.

Travel nurtures cultures, helps people understand foreign cultures and makes them more tolerant, despite ethical, religious and political differences, he said.

Visas have not been the only problem the globetrotter has faced. Barely an hour after he checked out of his room in Afghanistan, the hotel was blown up. He considers it a miracle that he has survived travels through areas fraught with violence.

He once paid a few hundred dollars for some bananas in East Timor after being without food for three days, and was once forced to overstay in Nauru for a month and a half because his flight was canceled eight times.

The director of a multinational company, Samaddar has spent virtually all his savings (around US$700,000) on his travels, but his wife supports his hobby and his mission, and has traveled extensively with him as well.

He said the world travel record has made him a travel ambassador and many people are joining him in the mission of tourism for peace.

Samaddar said he had traveled all over India by the time he was 26.

The difficulties that people from some nationalities endure to enter some countries prompted Samaddar and some partners to set up the Travel, Tourism and Peace Global (www.ttpglobal.com) website to try and provide advice on what people would need to visit different countries.

It took Samaddar almost three years to get a visa for Moldova after eight rejections, and it took six tries to get one to the Solomon Islands.

His travels have also woken him up to other dangers that threaten the world, like climate change. He has visited the island of Tuvalu in the Pacific, the country that is most vulnerable to climate change because it is barely above sea level. It is a nation that could disappear off the map, literally.

"It is one of the least polluting countries in the world but faces a threat because of the pollution. 35 years down the line, if nothing is done, this island will not exist."

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