Get gloriously sunburnt in Greece while learning to sail a yacht in the startling blue Ionian Sea. Start writing your first novel in Havana between moonlit salsa nights. Watch meteor showers on an astronomy adventure in Turkey. Engage with destinations, instead of simply whizzing through the most photogenic points.

This is the new way to travel. A world away from picture postcard tourism, it takes you into the heart of a culture, making you a participant rather than a mere bystander.

Tryst with rhythms

While specialist holidays have been around for a while, they're gradually getting more diverse, thanks to adventure seekers incessantly hunting for new experiences. For instance, Ekome Tours (www.ekometours.com.au) run by Simon Fraser and Tuza, both percussionists excelling in traditional West African music, organises a four-week journey into drumming and dancing in Ghana. Involving local artists, this holiday enables tourists to gain an understanding of the Ghanaian people, even as they learn from them.

While some of the students are drummers, Simon states not every one travels to Ghana for the music alone. “Some come for the adventure and the African experience,” he says. Hence the holiday includes watching voodoo priestesses whirl in trances, hiking up a ridge to commune with an oracle and lazing under palm trees, besides playing the djembe and dancing on sunshine soaked beaches.

Traditional holidays might be all about resting, partying and shopping. On a specialist holiday you get rejuvenated in a completely different way: with incessant learning, and constant challenges.

Beyond trekking

Take photographer Varun Gupta's Ladakh workshop (www.travelinglens.wordpress.com), which meanders through Manali, Sarchu, Leh and Nubra, drawing both professionals and complete newbies. “The idea was to do more than regular trekking or driving through Ladakh,” says Varun, adding that it's the perfect destination to learn how to take great photographs. “It's like the surface of the moon in parts. There's red rock, sand, slate… it's quite incredible.”

Varun's Ladakh break, specially tailored for photo-enthusiasts, includes workshops on portraits, landscapes and night photography. And don't even think of sleeping till afternoon. “Sunrise is always a big moment!”

Yes, these holidays invariably involve some hard work. That said, they're an unbeatable way to immerse yourself in a subject, whether you're learning something new or improving existing skills. You're surrounded by equally passionate, like-minded people, you have constant access to teachers and you can stay focussed.

Salsa trails

Not too focussed to have fun though. Lourd Vijay of the Lourd Vijay Dance Studio (LVDS), who spearheaded a rambunctious Goa Salsa holiday last year, incorporated wild clubbing at Anjuna, bachata on the beach and samba in the swimming pool. He's also organised a salsa cruise on the Kerala backwaters besides Salsa Trails in Masinagudi. “These included trekking, dancing and a safari,” he says, adding that they keep itineraries flexible. “It's about the experience,” he says, “Everyone can decide what they want to do — play volleyball, attend class or just dance around a bonfire… it's not just about learning. It's about having a fun holiday.”

Claire Southern, Communications Manager of Responsible Travel (http://www.responsibletravel.com/), which works on offering travellers authentic, distinctive holidays that benefit destinations and local communities, says they have noticed an increase in people seeking special interest holidays since they launched in 2001. As a result, they now offer a wide range chosen from about 300 tour operators across the world, all of whom are now tailoring packages for the new, passion-driven traveller.

“It is becoming more mainstream to seek richer, deeper travel experiences, and tick-the-box tourism is losing its appeal,” she says. “Larger mainstream operators are following what smaller niche operators have been doing for some time and adding their own less conventional holidays to their brochures.” These breaks draw a mix of people, many of whom are solo travellers, since this is an ideal way to meet new people. “For some, it is about challenging themselves in cycling, swimming, and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (one of our most popular trips), for others, it is about learning something new.”

Holidaying the New Age way:

Archaeology volunteering in Peru:

Live among the locals at Huyro village in the La Convencion province, while working on excavations at the newly discovered Cochapata site, where you will help preserve ancient Inca walls and map ruins.

Ethiopia bird watching holiday in Bale Mountains

Soak in the glories of Ethiopia's beautiful Awassa Lakes, bustling with bird life, from African fire finches to spur-winged plovers. Trek through forests alive with wildlife and cool off with a swim in Lake Lagano.

Cambodia Cycling Holiday

Journey through Cambodia covering just under 600 km in two weeks. Cycle deep into the Khmer heartland and then past a thousand years of history at Angkor before heading to Phnom Penh.

Painting holiday in Andalusia

Immerse yourself in the process of drawing, painting and exploring your artistic side in the Andalusian pueblo of Torrox. Guided by an artist, improve your technique while soaking in the glories of the landscape.

Introduction to Japanese cuisine

Experience Tsukiji Fish Market, with 400 types of seafood, in Tokyo. Tumble into sake at the breweries of Takayama. Travel through Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto, incessantly eating and discovering new food.

(Source: http://www.responsibletravel.com/ )

Keywords: holidaystourism

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