Turn Genghis Khan in Mon­go­lia, Do the Tango in Ar­gentina

A new breed of va­ca­tion­ers is in­creas­ingly opt­ing for a travel ex­pe­ri­ence rather than a hol­i­day pack­age, swap­ping kitchens for malls and sanc­tu­ar­ies for lux­ury suites

India Today - - INSIDE - By Aditi Pai

A new breed of va­ca­tion­ers is in­creas­ingly opt­ing for a travel ex­pe­ri­ence rather than a hol­i­day pack­age, swap­ping kitchens for malls and sanc­tu­ar­ies for lux­ury suites.

Ma­hek Sha­hani’s only con­stant com­pan­ion dur­ing her six- week solo trip to Buenos Aires last Septem­ber was a pair of shin­ing black stilet­tos— her danc­ing shoes. The 25- year- old Mum­bai- based trav­eller- de­signer- teacher was on a hol­i­day filled with tango twirls, Span­ish ses­sions and mi­longa ( a so­cial tango dance party) nights. None of those oh- so- touristy mu­se­ums and churches for her; it was tango hos­tels, camps at is­land ham­lets, and brush­ing up on her smat­ter­ing of Span­ish all the way. “It opened up my world and made the ex­pe­ri­ence so much more per­sonal. I learnt tango in its birth­place,” she says. Back home, the dance en­thu­si­ast now teaches Span­ish at the In­sti­tuto His­pania “bring­ing in ref­er­ences from the trip” to teach Span­ish cul­ture.

Sha­hani is among a grow­ing breed of In­di­ans, both, young and old, who are cross­ing con­ti­nents and fly­ing to dis­tant lands to ex­pe­ri­ence all that is off­beat and fun. From cook­ing Can­tucci ( a type of hard bis­cuit) in the kitchens of Tus­cany, to swim­ming with the sharks in Can­cun or learn­ing the war tech­niques of Genghis Khan in Mon­go­lia, these new- age trav­ellers are sweat­ing it out in kitchens, sanc­tu­ar­ies, run­ning tracks or vil­lage schools. “There is a marked shift to­wards ex­pe­ri­en­tial travel. Those who have seen a place want to go back and ex­plore the real char­ac­ter of that place which lies in its smaller towns,” says Sub­hash Mot­wani, di­rec­tor, Com­pact Trav­els in Mum­bai that spe­cialises in or­gan­is­ing off­beat ex­pe­ri­ences.

Even as fam­i­lies are chart­ing out itin­er­ar­ies for the Big Ben- Eif­fel Tower bus­load tours, a few trav­ellers are whet­ting their ap­petite for ex­pe­ri­ences that are off the beaten track. Trad­ing lux­ury suites for small- town lodges and hos­tels, trav­ellers are surf­ing on the At­lantic Ocean- kiss­ing beaches of Biar­ritz or ex­plor­ing Bo­livia on foot and by bus. “Back­pack­ing hol­i­days teach you not to plan ev­ery minute of your life. You learn to be­lieve in serendip­ity,” says Shrid­har Sethu­ram, 42, a pri­vate eq­uity banker from Mum­bai. He’s trav­elled to 67 coun­tries in the last 15 years— Gala­pa­gos ( is­lands known to have in­spired Charles Dar­win) to study na­ture, China to un­der­stand eco­nomic mar­kets, Is­rael and Ethiopia for a peek into in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics and six vis­its to South Amer­ica to learn Span­ish. “I travel with only my re­turn air tick­ets and cam­era. The rest I ex­plore through lo­cals and other like­minded trav­ellers,” he says.

Ad­ven­ture, learn­ing and vol­un­teer­ing— if there’s a need, there’s a tour. Sports or ad­ven­ture tourism is fast catch­ing on among en­thu­si­asts who go scuba div­ing to New Zealand and to Kenya to soar in hot air bal­loons. “It’s about achiev­ing your sports goals along with see­ing a new place,” says Mo­han

Joshi, 67, a Mum­bai- based ath­lete and a reg­u­lar at the city marathon. With 85 other mem­bers of Mum­bai’s Strid­ers’ Group of marathon­ers, he will take off next for the Am­s­ter­dam Marathon sched­uled on Oc­to­ber 21 this year.

It may not fit into the idea of a hol­i­day in the hills but vol­un­teer­ing while on va­ca­tion, or vol­un­tours, is pick­ing up as a get­away op­tion. “It’s a beau­ti­ful learn­ing curve for ur­ban peo­ple who live a priv­i­leged, shel­tered life,” says Ko­mal Lath, 26, a brand­ing pro- fes­sional in Mum­bai. Four years ago, she spent a month in Ker­ala hop­ping across five vil­lages to play with kids and sing to el­derly peo­ple.

Trav­el­ling is all about ex­plor­ing and trips to ru­ral pock­ets are an eyeopener for the ci­ty­folk, an ex­pe­ri­ence they are be­gin­ning to cher­ish. Ban­ga­lore- based The Blue Yon­der now has “al­most 20 per cent” In­di­ans in their

tours to Cali­cut where the travel com­pany works with the In­sti­tute of Pal­lia­tive Medicine. Trav­ellers can stay from a few days to weeks work­ing with lo­cal vol­un­teers in var­ied ways— teach­ing Pow­erpoint pre­sen­ta­tions to read­ing out to the ail­ing. “Travel can go be­yond an or­di­nary hol­i­day and teach you to con­nect with lo­cal en­ti­ties,” says Gopinath Parayil, 38, founder of The Blue Yon­der.

So, what’s fu­elling this type of tourism? A quest for the out- of- the- or­di­nary, say tour plan­ners. “A lot of In­di­ans trav­elled to the West in the past five years. They now want to go back but want a value- ad­di­tion,” ex­plains Mot­wani. He has or­gan­ised a meal for a cou­ple with an Egyp­tian fam­ily, planned con­cert tours to Prague and taken peo­ple cy­cling to Dres­den.

The in­ter­est is ris­ing but the num­bers are still low. At UK travel com­pany TUI’S In­dian arm, only three out of ev­ery 100 peo­ple en­quir­ing about vol­un­teer-tourism ac­tu­ally sign up. “It’s a busi­ness of the fu­ture. The con­no­ta­tion of a hol­i­day is still leisure and plea­sure. The real in­ter­est is from peo­ple who have been there, done that,” says Raja Nate­san, COO of TUI. In 2011, the com­pany had taken a few peo­ple to Ja­pan to help out af­ter the tsunami and to Africa to work in the sanc­tu­ar­ies, clean­ing forests and mak­ing hedges. The tak­ers for this type of tourism are of­ten the “well- heeled and well- trav­elled” in the 30 to 50 age group. “A lot of well- off cou­ples with no kids are keen on vol­un­teer­ing travel,” says Nate­san.

Greater ex­po­sure to world travel trends is see­ing In­di­ans lap­ping up new travel ideas like barg­ing ( liv­ing and cook­ing on barges) and culi­nary tours or hol­i­days where you travel with a lens­man and see the place through your cam­era. US- based culi­nary tour com­pany Ac­tive Gourmet Hol­i­days, which has been tak­ing global tourists into kitchens across Europe and Amer­ica, had two In­di­ans trav­el­ling to Tus­cany in 2011, spend­ing up to $ 4500 ( Rs 2.25 lakh) for a week in the Ital­ian city. They learnt the ba­sics of the lo­cal cui­sine right from pick­ing meats and veg­gies in the mar­kets to cook­ing them and even went on food trails. “The in­ter­est is grow­ing from the num­ber of queries I re­ceive,” says Jo- Ann Gai­dosz, the com­pany’s founder.

Hec­tic as it may seem, the trips are never a case of all work and no play. A visit to a sanc­tu­ary or an or­phan­age lasts for a few hours ev­ery day. The rest of the day is spent on the typ­i­cal leisurely touristy ac­tiv­i­ties.

The off­beat ex­pe­ri­ence comes for a few ex­tra dol­lars. Mot­wani says that ac­tiv­ity- based ex­pe­ri­ences cost up to 40 per cent more than the reg­u­lar hol­i­day tours. But that doesn’t de­ter trav­ellers who seek a unique of­fer­ing. Lan­guage, cui­sine, a lo­cal skill or play­ing with vil­lage kids— In­dian trav­ellers are break­ing out of the fa­mil­iar pack­age tours to learn while hav­ing fun.


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