I ndian travellers are on a self-discovery trail, busy exploring places and lapping up the historical knowledge that comes along with it. The quest to attain this “ultimate experience” is driving one category of Indians to shun stereotyped journeys and embark on solo expeditions.
In 2009, when Tushar Agarwal thought about a break from the daily grind of life, he looked at a world map and thought: Why not drive from London to Delhi? He persistently worked at it for a year and embarked on his incredible road trip in April 2010.
“It was a lifetime experience,” recollected Agarwal, who took 51 days to travel 12,000 kms in his SUV, traversing Europe, Central Asia, Russia, China/Tibet and Nepal, consuming 1,571 liters of fuel.
“A road trip comes with an experience that is culturally enriching. You connect with local people, see vibrant cultures and meet good and bad people,” he added, saying it was a self-financed expedition.
Ajay Reddy’s solo wanderlust began in a rather unexpected way and had an unexpected spinoff.
Reddy, who works in the corporate sector in Bangalore, came across an image on Twitter that challenged people to identify India’s World Heritage Sites. Like many others, he miserably failed to name anything beyond the Taj Mahal, Khajuraho, Ellora and a few others.
So, he took it on himself to visit all the 29 such sites in India and says he has been to most of them.
“I first started travelling to these sites on my own. This was because you might not be with like-minded people when it comes to exploring heritage sites. People have different notions about holidaying,” Reddy said.
“Cultivating love for history and historical monuments is not everyone’s cup of tea,” added.
Then came the spinoff. Reddy started an online initiative, www.gounesco.com, in 2012 that urged travellers to take up the challenge and visit World Heritage Sites across the globe on their own.
There are 981 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a travel enthusiast can take up his country of residence or the epic challenge where one has to travel to all the heritage sites. Leading the latter race is Gary Arndt of the US with 10,500 points.
Each visit to a site gets you 100 points. And there are no prizes in kind — just the satisfaction that you’ve been there.
“History is not everyone’s cup of tea. This challenge is for those who don’t boast about places they have travelled to, but the ones who like to know about the culture, the people and the places,” Reddy explained.
These solo endeavors reflect the paradigm shift in the travel industry, which has reaped benefits from religious, rural, health and adventure tourism, tour operators say. In a country where a vacation becomes more of a family ritual, solo expeditions are purely for experience seekers.
“Today’s youngsters want a vacation of their own. They go for their annual family vacation, but the explorer in them is always on a look-out for something new,” pointed out Vikrant Nath, founder of Travel Quotient that offers designer holidays to exotic destinations like the Arctic region, Latin America and Mongolia.
This again is a spinoff from his solo expeditions.
“Before I organize my trips, I go on the route to familiarize myself with the terrain and the people. Personal attention is given to everything as we provide an experience that will stay with you forever,” said Vikrant Nath.
This tailor-made travel experiences do come with a hefty price-tag.
Vikrant Nath admits his target audience is well-travelled individuals who have exhausted their options and are now seeking destinations that they can boast about.
“Europe, Southeast Asia, North America, Africa ... they are done to death for people who travel frequently. I cater to a niche, sophisticated audience,” Nath said, pointing out that for his 14-day expedition to the North Pole, one has to shell out Rs. 600,000 ($10,000). It requires passion, dedication and money to satiate these solo drives, and the Indian traveller isn’t shying away from it.