This Toronto man is on a quest to visit every country in the world
As an IT specialist with Procter and Gamble, Karim Ladak was regularly sent on assignment to Russia, Japan, India and beyond. “Along the way, I acquired this itch,” he says. “And the more you scratch it, the more the itch needs scratching.” When he retired in 2013, after 29 years with P&G, he embarked on a quest to visit every country on the planet. To date, he’s hit 166. He spends about half of the year on the road, and the other half at home in the Distillery District.
To document his travels, Ladak wrote The Cosmopolitan Nomad: A Globetrotter’s Story, now available online and at the Glad Day Bookshop. It features 250 photos—culled from a collection of roughly 30,000—that chronicle his journeys across six continents, as well as poetry by his niece inspired by those photos. We asked Ladak to tell us the stories behind some of our favourite shots from the book.
Russia was Ladak’s last international assignment for P&G. Soon after arriving in Moscow, he lost a work-related bet with a co-worker. The price for Ladak—who’s had a fear of heights since childhood—was going skydiving. “I was literally stuck to the helicopter door. My legs wouldn’t move. My instructor had to kick me out,” he says. “But the minute or so of free fall was just amazing.”
In 2016, Ladak visited the maternity ward of a Catholic mission hospital in Kigoma, the town in western Tanzania where he was born, the youngest of nine children to Indian immigrants. In the early 1970s, after the Tanzanian government nationalized his parents’ business without compensating them, the family moved to Kenya and then Canada. “It was disheartening to see Tanzania not grow as much economically as countries around it,” says Ladak. On a tour of local schools and hospitals, though, he was happy to find standards of living had improved.
Ladak prefers travelling with local guides to better immerse himself in a country’s culture. His guide here, wearing a traditional Bhutanese Gho robe, accompanied him throughout his four-day visit. Ladak hired a pony from this woman to take him up to the Tiger’s Nest, a 326-year-old Buddhist monastery carved into a cliff more than 10,000 feet above sea level. “The pony was travelling along the edge of the trail going up,” he says. “It was scary, because if you fall, you’re gone.”
Ladak explored the isolation of the Namib desert dunes by himself. Ladak, who is single, generally travels alone. “I find that I capture my best experiences when I’m alone because it allows for maximum interaction time with the local geography and people.”
While touring Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán by boat, Ladak met this local craftswoman, sporting headgear that’s 15 metres long when fully unravelled. As a general rule, he doesn’t buy souvenirs for practical reasons—he likes to travel light, keeping his bag between 14 and 16 kilos. “If I really like something, I will get it, but it’s very rare.”
Ladak once again braved his fear of heights and signed up for a hot air balloon tour of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The launch took place at 6 a.m., so it was still dark outside when the balloon finally went up. “The winds weren’t in our favour, so we didn’t go very high,” he says. “There were seven very sad people up there in the balloon—and one very happy person!”
This Hindu temple sits in Victoria, the capital city of a tiny archipelago in the Indian Ocean 1,800 kilometres east of the African coast. Formerly a French and British colony, the country embraces a peaceful confluence of European, African and Indian culture and religion. “It’s very heartwarming to see cultures co-exist,” says Ladak. “There’s so many pockets in the world we can learn from, where religion is not an issue.”
Ladak didn’t actively seek out photo shoot locations with his book in mind. But every now and then, he’d stumble on something he just had to photograph, like the Japanese-inspired gardens of this hotel, a converted Catholic church in the Sacred Valley of Peru. “To me, it’s very cosmopolitan, because it has a piece of the old and a piece of the new,” he says.
Antigua and Barbuda
Ladak always tries to learn the history of his destinations. One day, he ventured out to these rocky shores in Antigua and Barbuda. “Most people raved about the beaches, and so I went on this stunningly beautiful walk,” he says. “But if you inquire, these rocks are where slaves taken to the islands would commit suicide.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina
This bridge in the Bosnian town of Mostar, originally built by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, was destroyed in 1993 during the Yugoslav War. It was rebuilt in 2004, and Mostar has now become a tourist attraction. “This town is filled with hope that people can move on.”