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Holidays with a difference

Ideas for great vacations that celebrate India, and the people who're working tirelessly to protect and promote its diversity

Fringe Ford is nestled amidst 520 acres of forest in Wayanad. Photo: Amogha Varsha
Fringe Ford is nestled amidst 520 acres of forest in Wayanad. Photo: Amogha Varsha

Over many years of working as a travel writer and editor, and despite the many unusual destinations around the world that I’ve visited, I’ve realized that what makes me truly happy is exploring India.

Trips outside the country serve as reminders of just how much we have to celebrate within our borders. A beautifully displayed 100-year-old chair at a furniture museum in Daytona, California, reminds me of the gorgeous old furniture most Indians have in their homes. When I see Carrickmacross Lace being promoted with pride in a small town in Ireland, I think of the very many kinds of beautiful embroidery in India. Our monuments date back thousands of years, our landscape is as varied as many countries in one, our music, dance, art, exceptional. What we seem to lack, sometimes, is the wherewithal and drive to celebrate and protect these many wondrous things.

Yet, there are many amazing people who are working tirelessly in their corners of this vast country to protect forests, revive arts, break caste barriers. They have channelized travel to help fund their efforts and make them viable. I recently found myself in a roomful of such inspiring people at the Outlook Responsible Tourism Summit & Awards in New Delhi in February (full disclosure: I helped plan the event). I was struck most by how self-effacing most of them were. Here were people I consider path-breakers—Ahmed Chamanwala, who is rewilding a former plantation in Wayanad and re-establishing an animal corridor; the folks in Orchha who are helping break caste barriers by encouraging local communities to welcome guests; Puja Mitra, who is encouraging community-based marine conservation in Goa and conducting thoughtful dolphin-watching tours; Neha Arora, who has made adventures like rafting and skiing accessible for disabled travellers—yet none of them was willing to simply bask in the laurels of what they had already achieved. They were full of energy and plans to do more.

You and I can also play a role in celebrating India. We can do our part as travellers by having fabulous holidays. All we have to do is to make slightly different choices while planning the next trip. Here are some exciting holiday ideas from that day:

A new side to Goa: New operators are moving away from Goa’s overburdened beaches to explore the sunshine state’s many other charms. Explore the mangroves along the Chapora river on a cruise with Konkan Explorers, or go on a dolphin-watching tour with Terra Conscious.

Get a dose of the mountains: When you need a break but work doesn’t permit it, take a working holiday at Ghoomakad’s unique co-working space in the village of Rakkar, near Dharamsala. Or immerse yourself in mountain culture on a trip through Sikkim with The Folk Tales, living with the Limbu and Lepcha and learning about their religion, folk songs, and traditional ways of farming.

Be a water baby: To protect the idyllic untouched quality of Rameswaram that draws visitors, Quest Expeditions suggests low-impact holiday activities. Stay on a white sand beach and learn to kitesurf, go sailing, or take a guided cycling trip along India’s eastern coastline.

Immerse in Indian heritage: What started as a project to get to know their city better has now become a business for the women of the ladies’ wing of the Alleppey Lions’ Club. Go on a walk with Preserve Alleppey to discover the city’s heritage; or book a stay at The Bhuj House in Bhuj, to discover the Parsi community’s impactful footprint in the Gujarati city.

Heal in the forest: Fringe Ford in Wayanad, Wildernest Nature Resort in Goa and Sai Sanctuary in Coorg are private sanctuaries that are protecting our forests and reviving animal corridors. A stay at either can revive city-plagued souls and the jungle too.

Here’s to more travel, responsibly.

One For The Road is a monthly column on personal takeaways from travel.

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