Travel

Girls on the go

Laotian coffee by a paddy field in Laos (after a session of ploughing, of course), foot massage by the pavements of Myanmar, chilling with the head-hunting Iban tribe in their longhouses in Sarawak, changing in the back of a bus for an impromptu night of partying… the all-women Duchess Travel Wing (a part of Duchess club) is used to such quirky experiences; these perhaps define most of their travels. “It’s all about trying out what’s local — culture, clothes, food… even if it means sampling anchovies with  podi in Spain. Sometimes people bring along their traditional favourites and it’s a mix,” laughs Rathi Nilakantan who started this club in 2005, assisted by Anuradha Sachdev.

Celebrating a decade this year, the group embarked on its 30th trip this month. Since the number is associated with the pearl, Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Orient was their choice of destination. With a clientele comprising home-makers, business women, and members within the age group of 35 to 70, what is it that makes them tick? “It’s the fact that we are an all-women’s group and we feel like we are reliving our carefree girly days. That helps us come back rejuvenated,” says Anuradha. Since most of the travellers have responsibilities at home when they travel they let go. People who wear saris are in shorts… everything is relaxed, no families to take care of, only lots and lots of ‘me’ time.

The club kick-started its journey in 2005, with 47 women travelling to Mauritius.   That was followed by trips to Cambodia, Bali, Taiwan, Turkey, yoga retreats… and this year will be rounded off with a cruise to Norway to spot the Northern Lights.

They aim at four trips a year with each destination being planned a year in advance. “This helps us figure out what’s happening where and prepare for it. We went to Taiwan for the Lantern Festival, in Cambodia we had a Khmer Rouge survivor talk to us, we were in Japan in time to see the cherry blossoms bloom… Rathi was so anxious that every week leading up to our departure she would call and check with our agents in Japan if the cherry blossoms had bloomed,” laughs Kausalya Padmanabhan, who does the ticketing.

“The trip isn’t just about the journey. There’s a pre-party and orientation and after we get back, a post-party. Its great fun for women who have never travelled without their families before and for those who have never travelled globally,” adds Rati. Back then it was a new concept to adopt and offer. The families of these women were however encouraging. “Now a few husbands even compete to match their holidays to what we offer and we really pamper our gang,” they laugh.

Even with solo travellers preferring to break away from groups and travel, this trend hasn’t run out of steam. Movies, television and pop culture have opened up new channels for them to explore. Numerous hotels encourage women travellers by offering an entire floor for them along with pretty pink towels. “Women need to find a space for themselves. Some of them may not be comfortable travelling alone. Women-only travel groups are the perfect choice for them. They do not have to wait for company,” says Shibani Vig, director Wonderful World Getaway.  “So many times I have had to talk to fathers and husbands and ensure them that travelling with us is safe. Since its only women the families feel comfortable too,” she adds. Started in 2013 her company takes women on offbeat holidays to rural India. Arunachal Pradesh, Spiti Valley, Bhutan, paragliding and pottery sessions at Andretta… international destinations are gradually crawling into their scheme of things. In the beginning it was only women from the metropolitan cities. Now there are people from Ahmedabad, Thirupur, Lucknow, Ludhiana and other Tier-2 cities coming forward.

The average age group is often above 30. The reason, she believes, is that women under 30 have enough company and are daring enough to set out on their own. Such trips are a favourite with older women and the retired set. They have more time on hand, money and a penchant for discovering new places and adventure.

Shireen Mehra who runs Women on Clouds says that it’s always the 50-plus crowd that’s more enthusiastic. “At a monastery in Ladakh, the 30-somethings didn’t want to climb up but the 50-years-olds insisted because they felt they may not get to do this again,” she says. Often they end up meeting interesting and inspiring people. “Once we had a cancer survivor in the group. Even though she couldn’t communicate well in English, by the end of the trip she was a hit with everybody because of her wonderful attitude,” she adds.

Since the rooms are on a twin-sharing basis, those who sign up are open to meeting new people. There always is the option of a single room but people rarely ask for it. The trips are often a way of self discovery, education, fun and a bonding exercise. Though, on the odd occasion there might be a difficult tourist or two who make demands for coconut water in the middle of nowhere or wonder why a road trip can’t incorporate flight journeys. And yet when the trip is over most of them come back with their suitcases full of shopping; new friendships, and memories to last a lifetime.


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Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 5:29:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/women-in-wanderlust/article7522306.ece

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