Tale of Tales: Saroo Brierley’s Five Discoveries

Indo-Australian author Saroo Brierley’s Tale of Tales chapter is part of a series commissioned by Silversea Cruises to chronicle a world cruise through the eyes of some of the world’s best writers, photographers and visual artists.

This anthology celebrates all those who were part of the extraordinary 2019 World Cruise. Those who travelled further into the world to discover its beauty. Those who were fascinated, amazed and delighted by the stories they encountered – the stories they shared – and the story they created. Brierley traveled from Papeete to Sydney onboard Silver Whisper. This is his story.

When out of the blue the invitation came, without a second thought I said yes. I’ve made heaps of journeys since the first accidental, terrifying one I took as a five-year-old kid, alone on a train bound for Kolkata. And looking back now, it feels like I’ve always been on the move to new frontiers. From being in my home town, to being lost in a city that nearly swallowed me, to being adopted, to growing up in Australia. Then life taking an incredible turn again, leading me back to the place of my birth and to my first family.

So, journeys of all kinds – ill-fated ones, luckier ones, purposeful ones, seemingly impossible ones – have undoubtedly been life-changing for me, launching me in directions I never could have imagined. But I’d never before spent two weeks on a ship, let alone explored an ocean and islands whose names conjure up almost mythical images and thoughts of unknown journeys, lives and stories. Papeete. Bora Bora. Aitutaki. Lautoka… Places bathed in turquoise water, fringed by golden sand, home to nodding palms and exotic flora and fauna.

I believe in always taking an opportunity. Having spent the last five years constantly on the move, averaging 140 flights per year, here was a rare one. An opportunity to do something different. To be in a different environment. Instead of being on a plane and flying from country to country, which can be monotonous and repetitive, having the chance to go a long distance, much slower, floating along with time to see new things and really take them in. An opportunity – like a true Silversea traveler, I would find – to relax and discover more, deeply.

Papeete, French Polynesia
A view of the French Polynesian capital of Papeete/Shutterstock

Discovery Number One

My first discovery, when the day came to embark on this new and exciting journey, was the limitation of the word ‘ship’. Silver Whisper is no mere ship. From her lean, crisp silhouette to her elegant interior, she whispers luxury. You can almost hear her soft voice inviting you to indulge, with a promise of smooth sailing.

I’d almost missed the voyage due to a delayed flight – causing panic and a last-minute re-routing of my itinerary. An airline had then lost my luggage along the way. I found this funny as I’ve been traveling for years without any issues. I just thought, I’ve had a good innings. But what a contrast it was to board Silver Whisper. The ground crew couldn’t be more helpful in ensuring you set foot safely on ship.

And from the moment you are greeted by the most welcoming of hosts, you are enveloped in a 6-star service. Your navigations, guided onward from the main lobby by your personal butler, reveal one comfort after another. You can’t help but sigh in appreciation at the quiet mention of the delicacies that are in plentiful supply on board, the main pool area begging you to recline and soak up some of the sun’s rays, and the top-notch selection of spirits, wines and champagne at the poolside bar, where guests sit sipping cocktails and regaling one another with tales of the day’s adventures.

Silversea's Silver Whisper

You know that soon, you too will join the conversations. But first, passing stunning sculptures, statues and works of abstract art, you are led to your suite. As you sit on your private balcony gazing out at the waves, and are reminded that it is the desire of Silver Whisper and all her crew to see that you want for nothing whilst aboard, you know it is going to be a fine voyage indeed.

Discover Number Two

My mother was right (and so are many others around the world who have told me this): Bora Bora is the ultimate place to go for rest and relaxation. The general consensus is absolutely the truth. But, may I add, arriving by water is the ultimate way to arrive. The island’s setting, with its beautiful lagoon, islets and barrier reef with sharks and sting rays gliding beneath the surface, is spectacular. It would be easy, I thought, to stay on the beach soaking up the scene, complete with its idyllic over-the-water bungalows.

But choosing to explore by scooter, I circumnavigated the island. In the centre the jagged remains of an ancient, extinct volcano rise to two peaks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu. The towering vertical cliffs draped in lush vegetation demanded attention, contemplation and awe. There is something commanding about their presence, standing over the island, visible from every part of it, yet presenting a different face from every point in the loop. Legend has it that ancient Polynesian kings were buried on Otemanu and that their spirits remain in the sacred temple that you can still see on its slopes.

After such an experience, what could be more perfect than to stop and check out a few beaches, sample some of the local food and beer, and let it all sink in?

Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga
Sunrise at Muri Lagoon in Rarotonga, Cook Islands/Shutterstock

Each destination unlocked more beauty; Rarotonga was another place where it felt we had arrived in paradise. The crystal-clear blue water and soft sand definitely ticked all criteria for rest and relaxation. Coming from Tasmania, which is also an amazing island surrounded by wonderful beaches, I know what I’m looking for. This was heaven on earth.

Discovery Number Three

One of the best things about being on a cruise ship is no one can contact you whilst out at sea past the continental shelf. Don’t get me wrong. My nearest and dearest are my rock. Maybe it’s because I’d been traveling so much, that having this time was great. On Silver Whisper, days at sea take you deeper in more ways than one. They mean you make friends, swim, converse and have an extremely enjoyable time, all whilst heading towards new experiences of different sights, cultures, languages and cuisines. The range and depth of those experiences provided plenty of stories and discussion around the pool.

Conversations sprung up and grew everywhere – even going on into the early hours of the morning when everyone else was counting sheep, as I discovered over that blackjack board in the casino. The most I will say about that, though, is what is said in the ship’s casino stays in the ship’s casino.

Silver Whisper is no mere ship. From her lean, crisp silhouette to her elegant interior, she whispers luxury. You can almost hear her soft voice inviting you to indulge, with a promise of smooth sailing.

It was different from the one other cruise I’d previously been on, in that everyone was very sociable and entertaining. The musicians who were invited on board were very special too, from the singers who got the boat really rock ‘n’ rolling even when the sea was calm, to Vincenzo, the Spanish guitarist who made his guitar sing stories that went beyond language.

Here’s something else I found that went beyond words: steak smothered in hot English mustard, salted to taste. Give it a try, you won’t regret it! I also decided to try my hand at painting and with a little support discovered a talent I never knew I had.

So yes – enjoying time out, swimming and amazing food, making heaps of new friends and having profound conversations – I’m sold on that.

Discovery Number Four

Silversea guests have lived very interesting lives. My story is unusual and extraordinary – yet it evokes all sort of attributes and adversities that people with their level of life experience can relate to. Many of them have conquered their own frontiers and gone through trials and tribulations to get to where they are now. We could talk about commonalities in that, and in the places we have traveled.

Listening to your dreams is a major theme for me. Hope, determination and sheer grit were the fusion of elements that created success for me. I was conscious that as a group, I was talking to people who understood what that meant. Although I was one of the youngsters on board, it sort of felt like we gelled.

It was also interesting to reflect on the different generations we represented. Talking to guests, it was clear that life for me growing up had been massively different from the time when they had grown up – different in everything from the big technological things to the everyday aspects of life. Across the board, there was this massive contrast. Yet I found similarities due to the contrast I’ve experienced between the environment I grew up in, in Tasmania, and the environment I have reconnected with in India.

My own story is huge – and I had come on board as a keynote speaker, so I did a lot of talking. People had many questions for me, and many times, the questions they wanted to ask were coming thick and fast, and not so much the other way round. And once we got talking, the minutes would just expand. Ten or fifteen minutes could easily become an hour or two. Hence many of our conversations were big.

Aerial view of Tonga
The beauty of the Kingdom of Tonga enthralled Saroo Brierley/Shutterstock

That was fine. It was great to meet so many new, friendly faces and to find people were enchanted and enthralled by the story. But when I got to ask guests questions about who they are and what they’ve done and where they’ve been, what I gained from talking to them was riveting and educating in many ways.

Discovery Number Five

Neiafu, Tonga, was a small place the ship visited. I decided I could see myself retiring there. I would buy a small house near the beach which came with a complimentary boat requiring years of restoration and manual labour and spend my later years thinking how amazing the world is and how lucky we are to be living here.

All in all it was a journey never to be forgotten. When I stepped off the ship in Sydney I spent several days there before going on to Melbourne for speaking engagements and then back on the road. The dust still hasn’t settled and I’m on the go all the time. But I’m still thinking about the times on board. I hope I’ll end up doing something like that again. The beauty of travel is never knowing what’s around the corner. Never knowing who you are going to meet – and what you’re going to experience. And a long journey stays with you forever. It’s something that only a minority get to do. There are not a lot of people out there who will have this opportunity. And like I said, I believe you should always take an opportunity. I believe in positivity. You have to be positive in your life.

So until we meet again, happy sailing. Namaste.

Sunrise over Sydney, Australia
Saroo Brierley’s voyage on Silver Whisper took him from Papeete in French Polynesia to Sydney, Australia/Shutterstock