Still hung over from the Women’s Day rush, Pankaja Srinivasan talks of how to get away from it all. With women, of course
Would a guy dress in pink to meet a bunch of strangers, also dressed in pink, at a railway station, bus stand or an airport? Ummm… doubtful. But a gal most likely would. That is why girls-only holidays are so much fun. All-women tour operators are doing brisk business as they take women fishing, cave trekking, exploring craters, climbing mountains, museum hopping, tasting wine and more. Says Sumitra Senapaty of Women on Wanderlust (WOW), "I started with just two trips a year and now I do nearly 80."
From the Hornbill Festival to La Tomatina, they are travelling like never before. Says Piya Bose of Girls On The Go, Mumbai: “We have trekked down a meteorite crater at Lonar, watched the transit of Venus at Jaisalmer, explored Bali in a Volkswagen, and gone on underwater walks…”
As women finally take time off from being wife-mother-CEO, all rolled in one, the thought that they can now check out the nightlife, go pub-hopping, or just spend the entire day at a museum, spa or shopping centre without being questioned or escorted by a sullen male, is proving irresistible.
“We have admired Dali and Picasso, eaten chocolate for breakfast, had Balinese massages and chilled at the Sarawak Rainforest Music Festival,” says Rathi Nilakantan of Duchess Club, Chennai. “We have gone dune-bashing, splurged on luxury cruises and slept in tree houses… Thirty of us spent five days together in Mauritius, cooked Creole food and danced the Sega. It was scary, but thrilling that the 60-plus women in the group insisted on going deep-sea diving!”
It is different for women, says Shireen Mehra of Women on Clouds, Delhi. "The pull factor could be freedom, stress-busting exercise, an ego boost, education-cum-fun, me time, making new friends, or just shopping. When a woman travels with her family, her role is limited to that of a caretaker, but our trips are high on fun and low on stress. Our holidays are perfect for the single women or those whose families are too busy or simply not interested in the same things as they are.” The important point to note is that women may want to travel, but they usually don’t want to go alone, almost always for reasons of safety. “The Indian travel industry for one is not geared to dealing with women travelling solo. Women, though, know how to work around problems. And I feel safety in numbers is a good maxim. This happily dispenses with the need for a male escort,” says Sumitra.
Women know how to have fun, just like anyone else, says Piya, who remembers her first outing to Ladakh drawing plenty of stares and comments. “Some thought we were brave and others that we were completely nuts! Ladakh in 2008 was more a place for rough and tough bikers. Initially, I was apprehensive about my group’s reaction, as this was clearly out of their comfort zone. We stayed at Sarchu in tents. The temperature was minus four. The water in the bathroom was frozen. But when I stepped out of the tent, I saw them dancing in the snow. They loved it,” says Piya.
What do women really want? It may not be possible to generalise, as Shireen says. “We all cook, so food is always a special focus. We love homestays, like going for nature walks, enjoy cultural performances and look forward to shopping. Art, culture, dance and retail therapy are a must in our trips,” she says. According to Sumitra, women tend to be detail-oriented. “We need to know if the sheets are clean and fresh, or what the bath amenities are, or if there are interesting food options.” But along with the colour of the upholstery and the shape of the tea cups, women also look for adventure and the complete holiday with more than just the usual sightseeing and shopping. It also seems as if women are more willing to try out new things and make friends more easily. And when women interested in a particular experience sign up for a tour, they already have something in common. The fun is when a variety of women come on board, each bringing their own flavour to the trip.
Age is no bar. Six-year-olds have delighted making snowmen and 60-year-olds have bungee-jumped. Mothers and daughters have travelled together, sometimes three generations of women in a family have signed up, milestone birthdays, reunions, spiritual trips… anything and everything has become a reason to travel.
The big attraction is that it’s really hassle-free to sign up for these tours. Most tour agencies provide a single-window service where everything is taken care of. From travel documents and tickets to hotel reservations and insurance. The women are made to feel comfortable, safe and pampered. As women who love travelling themselves, these entrepreneurs enjoy meeting others like them who are also bitten by wanderlust. As Sumitra sums up, “It’s a different experience each time. While taking in the sights and sounds, I am also taking in women's experiences and sharing a part of their lives.”