Dubai: Just two years ago, he had worked as a salesman at a supermarket in Dubai’s Muhaisnah area for a salary of Dh2,000 and lived in one of the workers’ accommodation blocks in the same area. His life took a quantum leap ever since he became a travel vlogger after returning home by the end of 2018.
Today, Shakir Subhan from the south Indian state of Kerala is a YouTube star under the name ‘Mallu Traveler’ with more than one million subscribers, which he is going to celebrate at the same place in Dubai where he had once lived a modest life.
Obviously, his subscribers are eagerly looking forward to the unboxing of the Gold Play Button, YouTube’s creator award for one million subscriptions. The 30-year-old Malayali, who became famous with his budget travel vlogs — including hitchhiking to Nepal and Singapore, from Kerala, and globetrotting on a bike — is currently in the UAE to show the world how the country has welcomed tourists even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a traveller, my aim is to introduce various places, people, their customs and cultures to my subscribers and inspire them to travel to the countries I visit. I felt there was no better place than the UAE, particularly Dubai, for travellers to explore during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shakir told Gulf News in a phone interview.
Why 2020 is such a good year
It is not his first visit as a travel vlogger to the UAE though. Shakir had already covered the country on a bike as part of his ‘Kerala to Europe Solo Bike Ride’ expedition on a TVS Apache motorcycle in January this year.
Though his channel had received hundreds of thousands of views for his videos taken in the UAE during the bike ride, his most popular videos came through when he had to return home from Azerbaijan via Dubai after the coronavirus outbreak.
The video of his return journey during the early days of coronavirus in the UAE and his subsequent admission in a quarantine centre in Kerala received more than one million views. His vlogs from the COVID-19 isolation ward gained him millions of views and subscribers and wide publicity in Indian media.
“Probably I am one of the few people who would say 2020 has been a good year and coronavirus has given me only positive things not the infection,” he said, with a laughter.
When he received an invitation to fly to Dubai when it started receiving tourists once again, Shakir decided to make it a special visual treat for his subscribers. Since his trips to the tourist destinations in the emirates are supported by the local authorities, Shakir said he wanted to make his videos as professional as possible. “It’s my first trip after the lockdown. I have different types of cameras, which I use to shoot my travel videos. This time, I decided to bring a crew of two people, my friends Jaseel and Shabeer, who can help me with the videos when I use the high-end cameras that I specifically bought for this trip. I am very happy that we have been able to share some spectacular 4K visuals from many tourist attractions in Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah so far.”
Tourism in UAE post lockdown
Shakir’s journey began with a video explaining the procedures for travelling to Dubai after the movement restrictions were lifted. His vlogs about a luxury yacht ride in Dubai Marina and an exciting skydiving experience have shown how Dubai’s tourism sector has bounced back after the emirate reopened its businesses. Mallu Traveler’s COVID-19 travel vlog has been showing the best experiences that tourists can have in the UAE now — including a captivating visit to the Mleiha Archeological Centre in Sharjah and an adventurous zip lining experience in Ras Al Khaimah, where he was given a reception by local officials. A scenic seaplane tour of Dubai on Saturday will be the next video on his channel, which releases videos every day.
While his fans in the UAE have been meeting and greeting him at various locations here, one of them — Iqbal Hatboor — even took him for a ride in his Rolls-Royce car and treated him to a luxury dinner at Burj Khalifa to mark Shakir’s 30th birthday.
“It’s been a great experience so far. I want to show to my subscribers that we don’t have to be scared to travel during the pandemic if we take enough precautions and follow the rules. That is why the authorities have welcomed tourists here.”
Apart from sharing his experiences and motivating the viewers to travel, ‘Mallu Traveler’ also offers exciting giveaways for its subscribers. “I always offer giveaways to my subscribers as I am what I am today because of them. I recently gave a bike to a youth. During this trip, I am giving a chance to two people to visit Dubai with the support of my travel partner Afi Ahmed of Smart Travel. There are many people who desperately wish to visit Dubai, but can’t afford it. Some people want to bring their parents here. Two lucky people will now get that opportunity.”
From zero to hero
Shakir has so far travelled to 24 countries and earned more than Rs2 million (Dh100,918) through his YouTube videos in just one year.
“My life is my school and it has taught me that anybody can become a hero from zero if you work hard and take risks. I have worked as a newspaper boy, hotel kitchen staff, call centre employee and a supermarket delivery boy back home. I pedalled a cheap TVS moped for the delivery service. Now I am a brand ambassador for the motorcycles of the same company. I was penniless when I started off my first trip. Today, I am building my house with the money I am earning through my videos and promotions. I cannot sit idle fearing the virus. I am heading to Serbia next to continue to explore the world during the pandemic,” said the father-of-two who has initiated his young children also into vlogging.
The road thus far:
• 12 days’ cashless hitchhiking from Kerala to Nepal, covering 5,000km.
• Kerala to Singapore via Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia; 65 days of hitchhiking, walking and using public transport services.
• Backpacking from Kerala to East Africa covering Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Zanzibar in more than 56 days.
• Kerala to Kashmir solo ride on a Honda Cliq 99cc scooter, covering Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Kashmir.
• Kerala to Europe Solo Bike ride expedition on TVS Apache — covered Oman, UAE, Iran and Azerbaijan so far and stopped due to COVID-19.