Travel blogger Philippa Kaye shares some of her India experiences with us:
To say I have a passion for India would be an understatement, this passion for India is closely followed by a love for Nepal and Sri Lanka, two countries which have incredible diversity but which are infinitely more manageable. I am lucky that when I started my career in this part of the world, I worked for people who had a policy of, “If you haven’t seen it, how can you sell it?’’
This was my first foray into the ‘art’ of tour operating and I was on a sharp learning curve. I also couldn’t help grinning inanely to myself, talk about landing on my feet! I’d recently returned from being a ski rep this was meant to be for one season but somehow turned into six. I figured at the grand old age of 28 that it was time to return to the UK, get a ‘proper job’ and settle down. It had never occurred to me that I could land a ‘proper job’ that would involve me, initially, being sent out on a six week trip to south India, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, checking out all the best hotels and homestays, sightseeing and activities and meeting extraordinary people. But the company policy was we had to know first-hand about every aspect of the destination.
A tour operator is so much more than a holiday planner, they are there to guide you of course, but also to get to know more about you as a person, your likes and dislikes and then match those to the destination, the hotels and activities chosen. They advise, steer, handhold and reassure. When it comes to far flung and exotic, not to mention baffling and seemingly chaotic destinations, it stands to reason that people will feel more confident planning their trip with someone who has been there and (selflessly) checked it all out for them in advance. From hotels to train journeys, transport and guides, the local teams on the ground who will be taking care of the details. This is what we do.
So it was, that every time we wanted to expand into a new destination, off I would be despatched, admittedly far from kicking and screaming, to explore more regions of India, ultimately adding Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Seychelles into my product portfolio. All of them are spectacular destinations and I will be chatting about each of them in turn in the weeks to come, but it was India that really drew me, India with its endless fascinations that has held me in its thrall ever since. Ultimately, three visits a year didn’t prove enough and even now, twenty-two years later, and having spent thirteen years living there, and traveling voraciously to its more far-flung destinations, people say to me, ‘Surely, I must have seen it all?’ when the reality is that no, I’ve barely covered half of what I would like to see. You see, the thing about India, as anyone who has travelled there and fallen for its chaotic charm will tell you, the more you discover about India, the more you discover there is to discover.
Around seven years ago, I discovered social media and living in India, I was on the road at least 10 days a month. Having never having been one to be in front of the camera, I started sharing the places I was lucky enough to be able to travel to and the people I was lucky enough to meet, the extraordinary experiences even I had never dreamed of. And slowly the rhetoric of my friends started to change, friends who, when I moved to India almost screamed, ‘Are you mad, what about Delhi Belly and is it even safe?’ began to say, ‘OMG, where is that place, it looks incredible,’ to ‘Okay, enough now, I am just plain jealous.’
You see, when most people book a trip to India, they go with what they have heard of, the Golden Triangle, a bit of Rajasthan perhaps, maybe Goa or Kerala. They follow the herd on standard sightseeing packages in destinations that have fallen prey to over tourism. But what most people fail to do, is think about what their actual reasons are for visiting India, or think about what their hobbies and interests are and asking if these things are possible. Anyone can sell you a trip to the Golden Triangle, it is the most done itinerary in India, give a budget, travel dates and off you will be sent. But what if someone chatted to you and asked you why? Why you would like to go to India, and what, what are your interests, where did you go on holiday last year, what did you love about it? What is it you want to get out of a holiday? If you were to go away next weekend, what would you do?
From these conversations, all sorts of different reasons for travel start to emerge:
• You love Indian food? How about a visit to a local food market followed by a meal at home with a family? Or an entire journey discovering more about India’s cuisine from some of its local experts, even in the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur there are three distinct cuisines, Indian food is as varied as the country!
• You love the great outdoors and walking, well, do you know what, India has the magnificent Himalayan range spanning five of its states?
• Horse riding? I see, well did you know that India has the Marwari horse, indigenous to the country and one of the most magnificent breeds I’ve ever ridden?
• You love fashion, how about textiles? India abounds with unique textiles. Workshops, no problem, we can get you to meet and work alongside local artisans.
• You just fancy an escape from it all, a reboot, to spend time in a wonderful spa, not a problem, did you know that Yoga, Ayurveda and Vipassana were all ‘invented’ in India?
• Wildlife? Did you know that India has 8 more wild cat species than Africa, including the tiger? Yes, elephants and rhino’s and lions too.
Of course, most people on a first trip do want to see the classic places, including the world renowned Taj Mahal, but it’s worth remembering that, alongside this, the possibilities are endless.
Philippa Kaye is author of Escape to India and founder of www.iconicandoffbeattravel.com