Visiting ‘tourist attractions', running helter-skelter on a tight schedule, posting pictures of ‘swallowing the sun' and strategically holding the top of the Qutub Minar will soon be passé. As the average Indian traveller embraces alternative travel, many start-ups vie with one another to offer customised and theme-based packages. Anusha Parthasarathy on some options

www.travellinglens.net

As the name suggests, this Chennai-based travelling company is into photography holidays. Varun Gupta, who started Travelling Lens in 2009, reveals that the idea is a combination of his twin passions — photography and travel.

“I've been a professional photographer for 20 years, and have travelled throughout the world, especially a lot in the mountains. Travelling Lens allows you to learn photography and experience it first-hand, and is customised. Our team comprises photographers, so you can just purchase a camera and register for a trip, learning everything else hands-on,” he says.

While Ladakh is among their specialised tours, Varun and his team also explore places such as Thiruvananthapuram, Assam, Meghalaya, Mamallapuram and Puducherry. “We even have a frozen-river trek, an extreme adventure for 14 days. It has a photography tour built in, and is part of this year's itinerary,” he says.

There is also a ‘Masterclass Photography Tour' for women, and a trip to Tibet. “Apart from tours, we conduct photography workshops through the year. Our customers include everyone from teenagers to senior citizens, indicating that offbeat vacations are becoming popular,” says Varun. “We're also considering including other kinds of tourism such as music, dance and food. Food tourism has a lot of potential here.”

www.getoffurass.com

Nine years ago, Get off ur ass began as an outdoor adventure store by Santosh Kumar in Bengaluru. Now, it has gone beyond just selling travel gear, and offers customised tours ‘to those who have dreams'.

“We started offering trips in 2004, and it began on a small scale with camp-outs and weekend trips. Slowly, we expanded to the Himalayas, Kerala, the Nilgiris and Sri Lanka. The concept is to get people off their office environment, and do something different,” says Santosh.

A lot of research goes into planning these trips, he says. “Our team finds out about little-known places, visits and meets people. This pre-tour effort is substantial to make sure it has tourism infrastructure, since most of the places we visit are off-the-map.”

And, this is a sign that the Indian crowd has been getting adventurous, of late. “So far, we've had positive feedback. People are now exposed to offbeat stuff and excited about the experience.”

www.ecologin.org

Within IIT Madras' own little forest is Eco Login, an eco-friendly alternative travel initiative started by Arul Sekar and Sridhar Lakshmanan — what started as an interest in remote locations grew into a commercial venture.

“My partner is a certified mountaineer, and I was into community media and have travelled to the remotest parts of the State. We know places that are so off a regular tourist's map,” says Lakshmanan.

Eco Login conducts treks, heritage trails and weekend camp-outs. “We focus on unknown destinations such as Marayur, Namakkal, Meghamalai and Thandikudi, to name a few. We have a database of about 60 locations, and since it's typically a weekend phenomenon, we have two- or three-night packages.”

Their no-smoking and restrictive drinking policy has its limitations, but the virgin terrains they cover make up for it. “We're strict about it, because we want to leave the place as we see it. Some groups of friends who come to have fun, initially find it difficult to adjust to this policy. But most people are fine since all they want is a place to huddle together, some hot food and access to a water body.”

www.toehold.in

The silhouette of an urban traveller, shoulders slumped from the weight of his backpack, camera pointed and a safari hat atop his head is Toe Hold's official mascot. It seems fitting — after all, this venture started in Bengaluru by four professional photographers in 2010, conducts photography tours across the world.

“We set this up when we realised the need to streamline tours for amateur photographers. We rent camera equipment, and organise customised holidays and guided tours,” says Jayanth Sharma, co-founder, Toe Hold.

A one-stop shop for photo travel, Toe Hold's specialised tours extend up to East Africa. “We conduct Africa tours once a year; they are very popular. We also have wildlife tours across the country, and a couple of tiger tours in Central India. Our popular destinations are Kabini and Bandipur. We do non-wildlife tours too,” he says.

A lot of research goes into the destinations covered by this travel firm. “Most people now travel with a camera. And, they don't just click photos, they study the place as well and are aware of what they want to do there. So, we hold discussion sessions during our tours.”

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