Sunil Sharma is ready for a pilgrimage to Haridwar. And he is not the typical octogenarian salvation seeker. Sharma is a 24-year-old IT professional looking for a karmic holiday away from the daily urban stress.
“I need a break from my 24x7 computer environment. I need to connect with myself. I’m going to Haridwar after rafting in Rishikesh,” he says.
Sharma is not the only young person planning a pilgrimage. An increasingly large number of people in the 18-35 age group are taking spiritual sojourns. “About 40 per cent of our bookings come from young travellers,” says Radhakrishnan Pillai, director of Atmadarshan, a tour operator specialising in religious trips.
Whether it is meditating in the Himalayas or taking a dip in the Ganga at Haridwar, India’s Gen-Z is coming back to its religious roots. Says Atul Singh, head of marketing, Travel Connections, “In a group of 40 pilgrims, there are at least 12 in the age bracket of 18-30.”
To draw young urbanites, tour operators have added frills like luxury tenting, adventure sports and ayurvedic massages to the religious tourism itinerary. “Apart from trekking in Kedarnath and Yamunotri, what is attracting youngsters is the trip to Badrinath in winter. We have 25 tents across the Char-Dham circuit,” says Vibhas Prasad of Leisure Hotels, which advertises through social networking sites on the internet to gain access to youngsters.
A trip to Badrinath is generally combined with Auli — which provides skiing in winter — and a detour to the Valley of Flowers.
“In these stressful times, everybody wants some inner peace,” says Ajay Sud of Banjara Camps and Retreats, which provides tenting in Kinnaur, Kullu, Spiti and Shimla.
“Call it the ethnicisation of youngsters,” says Anand Kumar, professor of sociology at the JNU.