A trip with an agenda

Published: Jun 17, 2012, 09:48 IST | Dhvani Solani

A growing breed of travellers is mingling its passions and hobbies while on the move. Suddenly, going all the way to Thailand just to learn ancient tattooing techniques, or heading to Nepal only to party in the mountains is far more exciting than just taking in the sights and sounds

Travel is no longer just about seeing the sights, stuffing your face, drinking, clicking pictures and meeting locals before heading home. A growing number of travellers is choosing to micro travel with a very specific agenda — be it taking a culinary trail across Europe, going for a traditional bamboo tattoo to Thailand or setting out on an adventure sports circuit in New Zealand. “While first-time travellers are still doing the usual circuit, it’s the guys going on a second visit who are doing such detailed trips,” says Yogi Shah, founder of The Backpacker Co., an ‘experiential’ travel company that stresses on immersing oneself into local cultures.

“We used to get around 4-5 enquiries a month about such specialised travel last year. This year, the number of enquiries about such trips has shot up to atleast 20-25 people a month.”  City-based travel companies like Life Away From Life are planning experimental photography trips to Ladakh as well as Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, while freelance travel planners like Manju Lalwani are getting more requests to customise trips based on their clients’ hobbies. “In January, we did ticketing for a group who went to Thailand only for the Full Moon Party, while two amateur dancers went to Spain only to learn Flamenco in June last year,” says Lalwani, from her Tardeo office. “Until a couple of years ago, only the elite could afford such trips. Today, everyone has a higher disposable income and more knowledge. They don’t mind such trips, even if it means only teaching English in China, shopping in Dubai, doing the Harry Potter trail around Britain or learning to make pasta in Italy.” 

Are such trips more expensive than the regular ones? “Aside from the fees you pay for classes or the cost of music festival passes, they work out to be pretty much the same. Of course, if you learn to make cupcakes from an expert chef, you will pay that much more. A bike trip I had organised across Scotland was about 20 per cent cheaper than a regular trip, but my friends who are going for a music festival to Europe next month are paying 25 per cent more because the airfare and concert tickets are expensive.”  We spoke to three such travellers who took off on trips with an end purpose in mind. They saw the sights and did the must-dos, but they planned their trips around very special purposes. Would you?

Sonal Chabria travelled to Tuscany purely to see the city on a cycle. Pic/ Suresh KK

Pedal pusher
Who: Sonal Chabria (40)
Travelled to: Tuscany, Italy
Why: To cycle
Over the week, Sonal Chabria is either attached to an organisation that encourages kids to become aware of their civic responsibilities, or RJing at a community radio station. Over the weekend, you will often see this Juhu resident mount her trusty bicycle and head outdoors to feel the wind on her face and discover another stretch of our city. “I am a member of a cycling group and have been riding all over the city since the past couple of years,” she tells us. “It’s fantastic to explore a place on a cycle. It’s so different from seeing it on foot or in a car.” Robert M Pirsig, author of the bestselling Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance might tell you that this is because you are “in” the scene and not just a passive observer.

As you are reading this, Chabria will be “in” the scene, somewhere in the rolling hills of Tuscany. With a bunch of friends, she set out on Friday on a week-long trip to this gorgeous region in Italy to discover it on a pair of wheels. The group will cycle across enchanting vineyards, woodlands and cypresses, passing by the Chianti region, the Elsa valley, the village of San Gimignano, and a little-known area called the Merse Valley and Siena. “When you are driving across a new place, having a driver and a navigator makes it easy. On a cycle, it might be a challenge to consult our maps for directions at every turn. But it’s an exciting way to discover a new place. I have done all sorts of trips — luxury ones, camping, backpacking —but this is something new and sounds like a great reason to visit a gorgeous place in Italy. Plus, the roads will be so good!”

Kaushal Karkhanis travelled to Goa to learn boxing, not lounge around on its beaches

Fight club
Who: Kaushal Karkhanis (31)
Travelled to: Goa
Why: To learn boxing
Some would tell you that the world can be divided into two categories of people — those who work out and those who don’t. Karkhanis easily falls in the first category. In fact, when boxing caught his fancy, and when he realised that there weren’t any good boxing classes in Mumbai, the Dadar resident packed his bags and headed to Goa last year. The sun, surf and sand were added bonuses of course, but it was the combat sport that was uppermost in this web designer’s mind. “Working out at the gym was getting too boring for me,” he tells us. “What induced me to get into boxing was that it matched my tempo. Some people prefer calming exercises like yoga, some people like to dance but in boxing, I found something I enjoyed, and I was more than happy to get out of the city to learn the sport.”

From February to March 2010, Karkhanis set up temporary base in Goa to train under former Italian boxer Coach Fabrizio, who runs the Tiger Boxing School in Chapora in North Goa. For three months, he learnt and practised everyday for a couple of hours. “At that time, Mumbai didn’t have great boxing schools. Though boxing was my primary agenda, I also used this time to relax and just find myself. My love for martial arts and combat sports grew when I was travelling around South America a few years ago. The Goa trip only helped me love the sport even more.”

Ayushi Shah wrote to chefs asking if she could meet them and enter their kitchens, when she took a trip to Paris to savour the food. Pic/ Atul Kamble

Gourmet central
Ayushi Shah (23)
Travelled to: Paris, France
Why: To eat
It was Nepean Sea Road-based Ayushi Shah’s love of hot chocolate that took her all the way to Paris earlier this month. Not just any hot chocolate, mind you, but a steaming mug of molten chocolate that is considered the best in the world by many a gourmand. And it was this modest tumbler along with dozens of café-hops that transformed Shah’s 4,000-miles-away getaway into a stellar trip.

The confectioner and founder of Icing on Top — whose central kitchen is based in Masjid Bunder — decided that a much-needed relaxing break had to feature food as its central component. And with two of the four girlfriends travelling to Paris being chefs, it was only natural that eating did not mean just fuelling their systems for the day. Food was their raison d’être, high up on their to-do list for the four days they were in the capital of France. The girls had everything from macarons at Ladurée (inventor of the double-decker macaron) to truffles at the celebrated chocolate shop, Jean-Charles Rochoux, to a heavenly drink of hot chocolate at the legendary tea room, Angelina. “We also travelled an hour out of Paris to check out a farmers’ market,” says Shah, who also packed in some sightseeing and walking around the city between meals.

“Since my focus was to discover the country through food, I wrote to some chefs in Paris to ask if I could work in their kitchens for a couple of days. The head pastry chef at Angelina, Chef Sebastien Bauer, wrote back. He took me around his kitchen and showed me how to whip up some of his specialties. I spent little more than a day there, and am dying to try out some of the goodies, especially their Caramelised Millefeuille.” Coming up on Shah’s menu post her trip will also be French yummies like croissants, apart from her version of the famed hot chocolate. “Paris is food at its best. You can’t take a trip there and not stuff yourself, right?”  

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