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HindustanTimes Mon,29 Dec 2014
Travel: breaking off the shackles of packaged tourism
Rishad Saam Mehta, Hindustan Times
February 22, 2014
First Published: 16:39 IST(22/2/2014)
Last Updated: 21:37 IST(22/2/2014)
Rishad Saam Mehta is a travel writer, photographer and author of Hot Tea Across India.

The first issue of Brunch in Delhi came out on February 1, 2004. Nine months later, with the launch of the Hindustan Times in Mumbai, Brunch was introduced to readers there as well. The Delhi Brunch completes 10 years this month.

And so we bring you a special two-part anniversary issue, on the theme 'Look How We've Changed!' We asked writers and specialists in their field, to do a series of essays for us, chronicling these changes.

In this essay, travel writer Rishad Saam Mehta talks of changing face of Indian traveler - from packaged tourism enthusiast to the traveller who wants experiences rather than destinations.

Boutique travel agents
As a travel writer it is not uncommon for me to sometimes get invited for a trip. A few years back I remember receiving a call from Gauri Jayaram, who was head of Globus and Cosmos in India, inviting me to take a luxury bus trip from Warsaw to Moscow through the Baltic countries.

A few months ago, I received another call from her saying that she now runs The Active Holiday Company and inviting me to pick up a cycle and a map in Pisa and cycle on my own from there to Florence.

This is quite a good example of how travel and travel experiences have evolved over the past few years. We Indians are finally and thankfully breaking off the shackles of packaged tourism. While there are still plenty of travel agents who will pull out a pre-planned itinerary and try to get their clients to stick to those itineraries, their clientele is dwindling. 

Read: 62 Indians shortlisted for one-way Mars trip in 2024

There is a new breed of travel agents - very savvy and much keyed in to new trends. They often call themselves boutique travel agents and listen to what the traveller wants and suggest experiences rather than destinations.

So, if you want to drive a Ferrari in the Alps, or take a cruise to Antarctica or go caving in New Zealand or trek to the Annapurna or Everest Base Camp - no problem - they'll set it up for you.

No more 'trip' of a lifetime
For many years travelling abroad was a mid-forties and beyond activity. And then since it was 'the' trip of a lifetime, you had to squeeze in as many places as you could and come back with the entire holiday seeming like a psychedelic blur. But today with the power of spend and disposable income on the rise, trips abroad are no longer like vaccinations  - just one shot in a lifetime.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: Tourists en route the Gadsar Pass in Kashmir. (Photo: Rishad Saam Mehta)

Today middle class Indians in their twenties and thirties travel abroad maybe once every two years or more and they're off the tour buses, and are hiring cars to drive themselves around foreign lands, hopping on and off local transport and generally experiencing the world on their own terms. And they're getting more adventurous too.

Read: Have money, will travel; More Indians going off beaten track

Indians are now hiring huge SUVs and driving into South Australia's Flinders Ranges for an Outback experience; they are into cycling tours, running-a-marathon holidays and walking trips. Thailand, which has been notorious for years as a sleaze destination, is now seeing groups of guys headed there for some clean fun in the form of motorcycling holidays.

It is also not uncommon for Indian travellers now to travel to visit a music festival like the New Orleans Jazz Fest or follow a cricket or soccer world cup.

Social media, e-commerce way
Besides the means at hand, social media also plays a big role. With free Wi-Fi available almost everywhere, travellers often update their social media pages on the go and this fuels the desire amongst their followers, friends and families to go out and do something similar.

E-commerce with respect to hotel, flight and car rental bookings, is also another encouraging factor. There are plenty of deals to be had online and the Internet-savvy Indian traveller is learning where to find them.

Gunning for new circuits
Within India too, the 'Shimla-Kulu- Manali' or 'Ooty-Kodai' or 'Delhi-Jaipur- Agra' holiday chant is growing softer, thanks to more awareness via newspaper and magazine articles and travel blogs. Travellers are realising that there is more to India than just these few circuits - they are discovering the joys of fishing on the Tirthan River, trekking over the Chandrakhani Pass or doing an extreme winter driving road trip to the Spiti Valley in winter. They are going bird watching in Saurashtra, checking out temples in Khajuraho and going caving in Meghalaya.

Because most of us lead inactive lives working behind a desk, travellers are looking at holidays that are a sort of detox from their sedentary lifestyles

Recently on a trek in Kashmir, I met a family of three (mum, dad and teenage daughter) and they told me that trekking is the only holiday they do together as it is fantastic family bonding without the distractions of a cell phone, television, corporate or college commitments. Besides that, it is an opportunity to see parts of India that you could never see otherwise.

Because most of us lead inactive lives working behind a desk during the day and lounging in front of the TV during the evening, travellers are looking at holidays that are a sort of detox from their sedentary lifestyles; hence you now find Indians huffing and puffing up the high altitude Manali to Leh road on a bicycle or enrolling for a week-long river-running rafting expedition or heading to Gulmarg during the winter for some world-class skiing.

With plenty of destinations all over the world looking at India as one of the largest emerging travel markets in Asia if not the world, the Indian traveller has never had it better, there is no better time than now to take a holiday. So don't continue to keep your life on hold - go out there, travel, see the world and feel yourself come alive!

Rishad Saam Mehta is a travel writer, photographer and author of Hot Tea Across India.

From HT Brunch, February 23

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