Vegan adventures with VegVoyages

VegVoyages, a tour group promoting off-the-beaten-track travel and vegan diet, had a stopover in the city

Published - February 01, 2018 04:09 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

 Team of VegVoyages with members of Maruti Marma Chikitsa Kalari, Mudavanmugal

Team of VegVoyages with members of Maruti Marma Chikitsa Kalari, Mudavanmugal

“My nose is running...the food is quite spicy you know,” says Valerie, even as she continues tucking into the beetroot pachadi on her banana leaf. Apparently, the ginger pickle was too much to handle for this nurse from California. So too for many of the other travellers who were with her as part of VegVoyages, a group that is touring Kerala. It is at Maruti Marma Chikitsa Kalari near Mudavanmugal that I meet this 10-member team where they sat through a session of Kalaripayattu and relished a no-frills lunch, vegetarian of course.

VegVoyages is a tour venture for vegans from across the world, wherein the travellers get to know more about people, places, culture and cuisine via interactions and stay with local residents and communities. Led by Zac Lovas, one of the founding members of VegVoyages, the team is on a 16-day trip across South India.

“We undertake 23 trips in five countries — India, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. In India itself, we have separate packages, like the one covering landmarks in North India or exploring the cuisine in Rajasthan or a trip across Gujarat. The focus is on sustainable travel and we also support animal rights and organisations that make a difference,” Zac explains.

Vegetarian spread

Living on a diet that excludes meat, egg, dairy products, honey and all animal-derived ingredients is not easy in the modern world, especially when travelling. “There are people in our group who aren’t 100% vegans, but they are trying to be so. Wherever we go, if we don’t get vegan food, we encourage the hosts to come up with vegan versions of their food. That is the case when we stay with families or at a resort or hotel,” says Zac.

 Members of VegVoyages having lunch at Maruti Marka Chikitsa Kalari, Mudavanmugal

Members of VegVoyages having lunch at Maruti Marka Chikitsa Kalari, Mudavanmugal

At Maruti Kalari, however, the spread was totally vegan as the VegVoyages team has been visiting the Kalari for six years now. For lunch, there was sambar, avial, kichadi (prepared sans curd), a sweet version of beetroot pachadi, thoran and three pickles. Kadala payasam was also served. “We didn’t make pulissery. We used coconut milk in the payasam and the nuts were fried in oil instead of ghee,” says Ajith Kumar, whose father, Thankappan, started the Kalari six decades ago.

For most of them, it was their first trip to Kerala, although they have been to other destination tours of VegVoyages. Some were finding it difficult to squat on the ground and eat with the hand. “I know your pappadam and dosa. But this spread is fairly new for me,” says Felicia from the United States, who is travelling with her husband, Gene. An IT professional, Felicia isn’t a complete vegan, but is trying hard to be one. So too is Janet from Scotland. “I love pizza and therefore cheese!” says the banker who has taken a three-week break from her job to explore South India.

Kalari in focus

Prior to the lunch, the team enjoyed a session of Kalaripayattu staged by Ajith and his team. Starting with the salutation, they displayed free-hand combats and those using spear, dagger, stick, swords and urumi. “We always look forward to their visit because it gives us an opportunity to showcase our tradition and way of life. They get to know about the martial art, some of them even try out a few moves,” says Ajith. They learn about the significance of the kalari pit and various rituals associated with it. The team also got to see many medicinal oils prepared at the kalari.

“I have travelled across India as part of India Rail Tours. But the trips have been mainly to busy, crowded spaces and therefore this is a refreshing experience for me and my partner, Janna. It is so quiet and calm,” says Rudi, who used to work with a newspaper back home in the Netherlands.

The group had started their journey from Chennai on January 20 and had travelled to Puducherry and parts of Tamil Nadu such as Neduncherry, Kadiapatti and Kanyakumari before coming to Thiruvananthapuram.

On the itinerary is a stay in a houseboat at Alappuzha, followed by a trip to Coonoor where they get to know more about Toda village and communities such as Kurumba and Badaga. They wind up the tour with a visit to Mudumalai where they have a programme with IPAN (India Project for Animals and Nature).

“The package is the same every year, only the participants change. So at all places, our hosts know what we eat and what not. It is an adventure in itself, and if you are ready to experience different cultures, the vegan and vegetarian style, you can register for the trips,” sums up Zac.

The trio

VegVoyages was started by R.K. Singh (India), Sofna Wati Yusi (Indonesia) and Zac Lovas (US) in 2004. They had coordinated for film and media units together in South and South East Asia prior to starting VegVoyages. For details, log on to

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