Over the past one month, Manav Mehra has been looking for a place high up in the hills where work calls cannot reach him. Peeyush Pal, who was dreaming of Valley of Flowers this year, is now considering hiring a campervan to do a Shah Rukh Khan. Academic Twinkle Soni is running from pillar to post trying to arrange an organic farm-stay in rural Punjab where her travelsick partner can escape for a work break and probably learn how to milk a buffalo.
The pandemic has left the world in such a state that let alone travel, even stepping out of home has to be thought through carefully. An idea that has depended, for most of its existence, on people actively mingling and using shared resources and environments, has been upended. With social distancing and frequent sanitisation, only bare essentials to avoid getting infected by the virus, one is forced to strategise and plan every detail.
The other choice—and also arguably the more lucrative one—is isolationist travel, or escaping to faraway, secluded destinations, with often not a soul in sight (okay, there might be one or two). What until now had been the offbeat zone is waiting to turn into the key to safe travel, no matter if it comes at a premium.
Caravans and Camping
Ever since Karnataka Tourism introduced caravan tourism last month, the industry is slowly swinging into action. Bengaluru-based LuxeCamper, the first Indian company to have acquired the approval of the central government for motorhomes for use by the public, is offering luxury campervan experiences in the state. Several circuits are offered from Bengaluru as the base, to Bheemeshwari, Kabini, Bandipur, Hampi and arounds. You can even create your own trail.
Read : The Secret World of Hampi
Caravan tourism in India is still only in the nascent stage, but efforts to extend trip durations and enable self-driving are in progress. The Tarzan Way (TTW), an NCR-based company, is working on experiential trips with RVs as the sole mode of transport. Camping Co, which connects campers with campsites for driving holidays in the northeastern states and even over-landing to Bhutan, goes one step further with its range of vehicles.
Based on your trip type, number of passengers and any other considerations, Camping Co offers top-of-the-line pick-up trucks, off-roaders and UTE vehicles, fully-outfitted for camping, including retractable rooftop tents. The company, which had been looking to expand to Himachal, is now looking at resumption of operations in September. Shikhar Chadha of The Tarzan Way believes there is a lot of potential waiting to be tapped into as far as RV travel goes. The company provides minutely tailored experiences and is currently developing an AI-enabled workflow to strengthen their post-COVID 19 offerings.
If camping in motor vehicles on self-identified circuits sounds too Spartan, you could try curated van tours, the likes of which are now being launched by Thomas Cook India. The company is also offering EMI payment and free cancellation up to a fortnight before travel. Another alternative is to look for car hire, the demand for which is ballooning considering the market right now. Car purchases have been affected by the recession and subscription-based models are predicted to be a hit, even though companies like Zoomcar don’t provide self-drive options for remote locations yet.
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Media professional Aparna Joshi feels the time has come for her to realise her dream of living deep in the woods, which she had always deemed extravagant. “I’d been planning my long-due trip to Australia for April but then we know what happened. I am now looking at a private cottage for a nice, long stay, somewhere in the hills maybe,” she says.
The likes of Joshi might be looking to splurge on luxury experiences, but for the others, rural experiences in the hills await. Provided that you come from a Green Zone and have an e-pass from the Uttarakhand authorities, you can detox and live a rural life at The Goat Villages, present at secluded locations in Nag Tibba near Mussoorie, Dayara Bugyal, Kanatal, Pangot, Kumali and Bastadi in Pithoragarh.
Pradeep from TGV informs that their popular Pay What You Like option has been temporarily discontinued, but you can still become a volunteer and contribute to the local community. However, if you would rather bring your skills to the table, you can offer your services as a guest manager.
For those travelling from within Karnataka, several resorts are offering experiences tailored for the times. At the Ibnii Eco Luxury Resort, tucked away in Coorg’s coffee plantations (5km from Madikeri), you can fish, cycle and undertake nature walks, all while practicing social distancing. Out of its 37 rooms, only 15 are on offer currently, and different guests can’t occupy the same room without a day’s gap, which is reserved for sanitisation.
Workations and Homestays
Having stayed locked inside for close to three months and with no spontaneous travel looking possible even in the near future, the desire for getting into the unexplored wild outdoors and remote locales is all the rage now. Shikhar (TTW) shares, “Ever since Unlock 1.0 was put into place, we’ve been having queries from corporates and startups that want to take workations in far-off places, in groups of four or five. They want to go there for 15-20 days and work.”
In addition to providing worry-free travel as regards health concerns, a complete surrender to nature along with teaching reasonable self-dependency, isolationist travel aligns nicely with responsible tourism. It necessitates austerity, and ingrains gratitude for the chances that you will get for exploration of the great outdoors, permanently into your travel philosophy.
And working to that very end is the aptly named Not On Map, a company that has a network of 300 homestays all over the country. Nature walks, birdwatching, angling Karuna from the reservations team informs that bookings for homestays in Goa, Uttarakhand and Himachal have seen surging ever since they introduced long stays, keeping in mind the necessity of having to quarantine. The company has issued WHO-adherent hygiene guidelines to the homestays under its ambit that have started operations.
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Cycling in cities has picked up pace, as have bicycle sales, evident from the buzz around famous shops throughout Delhi-NCR. In much the same way, walking in nature (mostly remote corners) seems to be the answer to the demand for slow travel that is not monotonous. A number of unique travel experience companies are combining rural stays and long nature walks where one can discover indigenous flora, witnessing local architecture and culture, or simply explore the woods.
VillageWays, which offers extensive walking tours in Uttarakhand and Nepal, including routes in the scenic Saryu valley, has plans to come up with trails throughout the rest of India, starting this autumn. “We work very closely with the communities and all of our stays are run by the communities themselves. We are operating from October and have recreated some of our itineraries to bring in guests for our North chapter,” informs Puneet from VillageWays.