A new generation of travellers are seeking to embark on meaningful tours, which give them a chance to be close to nature and understand local issues
George Bernard Shaw once said “I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.” The growing tribe of experiential and volunteer travellers swear by these words. “What is the point of leaving your city and heading into the distant unknown if you are looking to live the same life elsewhere? Travel after all should be meaningful, discovering the local culture, getting close with nature, interacting with the communities and understanding the issues of the place. That takes the idea of travel to an altogether different level,” says Bipasha Majumder, a passionate traveller and a communication consultant.
Her travel experiences took her through the rugged terrains of Uttarakhand to living close to the wildlife at Pench National Park. But what made her journey different was her involvement with the local communities where she did volunteer work during the stay.
An increasing number of travellers are seeking to embark on meaningful tours, which give them a chance to be in tune with nature and understand the local issues. So now, you can lend a hand in teaching local communities along with temple tours in Cambodia, do volunteer work for wildlife in South Africa, involve in community work with the local groups in Kerala or the Agency areas of Vizag and teach in a kindergarten and orphanage in Goa. The evolved traveller believes in “doing something” away from the cookie-cutter tour.
Returning back to her hometown Vizag from Sandhakphu Himalayan expedition, Sunita Kona says it was a profusion of colours, culture and a journey that will stay with her for a lifetime. “The journey and the trek gave me a glimpse of the local communities. Trudging along the dense forest of Singalela National Park, we saw the dense vegetation of oaks, pines, bamboos and learnt about the endemic bird species. Travelling through the region of Darjeeling and the neighbouring places, I could sense the issues surrounding the ‘Gorkhaland’ movement haunting the region for many years now. This kind of an interactive travel experience is very enriching and I feel I am returning back as an evolved person,” she says.
Characterised by a desire to uncover diverse facets of the world, travellers are exploring the path less taken and the boom in travel sector has perked up the industry. Consider this: In 2001, 4.5 million Indians holidayed overseas; in 2011, the number swelled to 14.2 million. Domestic travel boomed too — from 270 million in 2002, the number of travellers soaking in the splendour of Indian destinations zoomed to 851 million in 2011.
This has resulted in a plethora of options of before the travellers today. Groups like ‘Journeys with a Meaning’, for instance, offer specialised tours to foster nuanced perspectives on earth-friendly living, conscious travel and social entrepreneurship.
Moresha Benjamin, who works in the development sector, says her experiences during a trip to Assam and Meghalaya gave a totally different perspective on travel. “It was not just about going around the places. We interacted with the local NGOs and organisations and it gave me a good perspective of the issues the regions face. Be it the rhino poaching problems of Kaziranga or the stark water shortage issues of Cherrapunjee despite being known as the place to record the highest rainfall. The journey made me a more aware and socially conscious traveller,” says the former journalist.
Adventure travel is often clubbed with a dose of local flavour where travellers get to soak in the local culture and taste the cuisine of the region. On his way back from BITS Pilani, Vishaal D.B. planned a week-long solo trip to Solang Valley in Himachal Pradesh where he spent time with the local families apart from experiencing the thrill of paragliding.
Seasoned travellers like Bipasha say that there are many NGOs that offer volunteering services. “Credibility Alliance is a platform of voluntary organisations whose financials are audited and so there is a transparency and authenticity,” she says. Organisations like Satpuda Foundation and Chirag have week-long voluntary services. In order to promote the concept of experiential and volunteer travel, tourism groups like Mountain Shepherds have involved the local communities to carry out a sustainable eco-tourism concept.
“Earlier, most of the trekkers were foreigners but now Indians account for half the number. I look for places that are far away from the tourist circuits. It brings with it the desire and potential to become a better person, something we all strive for,” adds Bipasha.