As I write this piece a family friend is doing a WFA (work- from-anywhere) in a city in Maharashtra called Shrivardhan. Amongst a variety of beach destinations in Maharashtra and located in the Raigad district of the state, Shrivardhan is a standout. Against a backdrop of steep limestone cliffs, simple and elegant bungalow resorts dot crescents of palm-shaded, bleached-white sand. I can imagine him taking a leisurely walk on the pristine beaches under the early morning sun and cycling through a vast, yet somewhat empty countryside, slowing down to let cattle cross the two-lane road and stopping to order lunch from a local eatery. He is sending me emails and posting Facebook updates and I can feel his excitement and sense of wonder.
Yes the world has changed beyond recognition. And for most people any travel plans in the future remain uncertain with a majority of them living in countries with travel restrictions amid COVID-19. However, people still want an escape from the mundane. And there still is really no downside to taking a holiday, except for maybe fatigued driving, a little jet lag and a dented bank account. Now isn’t that a small price to pay for a multi-sensory experience even in these troubled times? And most importantly does this give us the opportunity to cultivate a slightly out of the box approach to travel that probably defies convention? Especially since travel remains a mix of the unfamiliar and the predictable—a sort of a reminder that even in this global age of a homogenising COVID-19 world there are still remarkable and wonderful things to behold—some that I hope still imbue that same simple sense of wonder. So here goes, a few aspects that one needs to keep in mind in 2021. After all, travel is also about opening up your mind and probably this is the best time to push boundaries as well.
Look Beyond The Obvious
I for one equate wanderlust to wanderlove something that runs through my veins. And to quote Winston Churchill, “I have never felt an hour spent in the seat of an airplane or a bus or a train was ever an hour wasted.” As a child getting introduced to travel, I realised that the whole big world awaited us every time we locked the front door and piled into the railway station to make that mandatory trip to our native village, just an hour’s drive from Pune. And what caught my attention over a period of time was the far reaches of an India so big and exotic that it almost felt like make-believe. Drawing from a lifetime of wandering and while following one’s heart and gut when deciding on a place of travel, the lockdown has made most of us realise that there are places within India, even within our respective states that were simply never on our radar. These are a combination of both grand and humble, iconic and sometimes totally unsung. Some of these hyperlocal gems within gems, as I would prefer to call them, were poorly equipped to welcome tourists but today they can guarantee visits that can be a revelation. Yes, we all would want to save these for another day, years from now once you’ve seen and experienced the touristy, popular and the conventional.
But as uncertain as the current times are, how many more opportunities are we going to have to compile that slightly unconventional, eclectic and all-encompassing list of some far-flung gems that tick all required boxes given the present scenario. To look beyond the obvious. Yes it’s a challenge for sure, but I believe it is a whole lot of fun as well. And also much more than just a visceral response to India and its wonders.
So in 2021, revel in the unexplored. By all means do your research on critical parameters like safety and hygiene, but be rest assured that you will enjoy the sense of excitement when sharing a new place, discovery or a secret. It could just be an untrammeled and lovely island overlooked by tourists for decades or simply a drive that guarantees a scenic odyssey. Look beyond popular destinations to offbeat places in states with tremendous natural beauty such as Maharashtra, Odisha and Chattisgarh. Help it catch the world’s attention. Now is the time.
That Perfect Platter Just The Way I Like It
Coming from so many years of travel, I almost seem to have cultivated an internal meter now - a sort of a radar that sets off an alert when I approach a new experience, be it a homestay, a luxury hotel, a local restaurant, at times grand, humble, sometimes iconic and even surprisingly unsung. And mostly it distinguishes itself from the ordinary, just quietly waiting for my attention. At times generic but sometimes personalised without it being both planned or unplanned. As a traveller I have realised a wide world of experiences await us every time we pack our bags and are raring to go.
While travel contributes to making us a better and more aware person, it’s travel with those little personal touches that I believe we should cherish as both a privilege and a gift in 2021. Arduous and challenging. Not really! Not when everyone worth their salt is competing with each other to offer a grab-bag of wondrous options to travellers. And then getting them to try a new experience to lift their spirits and lighten them up. Simply put, just bring a smile to their face amid the gloom and doom. This then will be the year of hyper-personalised travel.
Now this is also an opportunity of a lifetime for hotels and state tourism boards to position their offerings in a culturally relevant way that is completely unique and unprecedented and truly show the best of their potential. Not only does this capture the spirit of the current times but also comes with a sense of responsibility while ensuring social distancing parameters remain in place. So what are you waiting for? Go get that totally exclusive, maybe solo, maybe not amazing socially distancing holiday of a lifetime in 2021.
No Better Time Than This to Embrace Immersive Travel
My friend decided to move to a small place in Shrivardhan, where an old traditional house was being converted into a homestay and he now (temporarily) owns a boat and a bicycle. Him and his wife chose to move to someplace local at least for the time being, thereby spending more time in a single place instead of just scouring multiple destinations. While they are open to trying other places as well they want to stay in this place longer than usual so that they end up trying everything local that they always wanted to, including learning the finer nuances of the local cuisine (Shrivardhan is an absolute seafood lover’s delight). In fact, they have begun sourcing directly from farmers, fishermen, and artisans to get a complete sense of their way of life. They have already spent time discovering places off the beaten track, while interacting and mingling freely with locals along the way.
In the process, over a period of time they are hoping to contribute to the local economy, keep their carbon footprint low and build a deeper connection with the place. All in all a truly immersive experience at their own pace while slowly discovering its natural beauty. While they wanted to do this for the longest time possible, never was this a priority item on their travel bucket list and one day, a couple of months back they just decided to take the plunge.
The key to travel in 2021 then is an approach that each one of us needs to take with a fresh eye and an inexhaustible reservoir of both patience and enthusiasm. Combined with an unflappable outlook and an optimist’s soul. This while nurturing a new found appreciation for everything that you are lucky enough to feel and experience.