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October 28, 2022 03:04 pm | Updated October 31, 2022 06:32 pm IST
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On a trip organised by GlampEco Resorts | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
A lazy walk on the beach, relaxing at the spa and ordering room service while snuggling under luxurious five star bedding. That’s what a holiday used to mean for most people, pre-pandemic. Now, as the domestic travel industry gradually bounces back, families, friends and solo travellers are looking for active holidays, offering experiential avenues and local culture. With international destinations still prohibitively priced, this means exploring the country, looking for adventure and seeing it through a new prism.
Water sports organised by The Alampara | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Chennai-based Anusha Vishwanath and Rahul Subramaniam, have been going on active holidays for close to a decade, though their itineraries and criteria have changed, with a young family. Anusha explains, “When we travelled as a couple we looked for dives, treks and safaris, but now with two kids, we look to do one outing per day, instead of a hectic schedule.” Their trip to The Evolve Back resort at Hampi last year was a luxurious stay with a fairly active schedule. “We made a trip to the bear sanctuary, and went birdwatching and on walking tours to explore the site and local flora and fauna,” she adds. 
Jose Ramapuram, executive director, Evolve Back Resorts says his clients are looking for a confluence of comfort, culture and a communion with Nature. “We designed walks and treks through the 35-acre area around the town of Hampi and on the banks of the Tungabhadra river, surrounded by boulders and scrub forests. Our visitors enjoy candle-lit dinners on hilltops as much as Nature walks in this space, and for us the idea is to deliver beyond their expectations.” The resort has villas with their private pools built to reflect the architecture of the Vijayanagara empire in Hampi. 
As Indians look for holidays at wildlife reserves, historical sites, or languid backwaters, hospitality partners are curating itineraries that are a comfortable blend of luxury and intimate, active experiences outdoors. Arun Vasu, CEO, The Alampara, offers visitors luxurious tents on a private sandbar enveloped by the gentle waters of the Bay of Bengal at Marakkanam in Tamil Nadu.
“We have a wide range of water-based sports stand-up paddling, kayaking, wakeboarding, knee boarding, kitesurfing, snorkelling, jet skiing, or even windsurfing.” says Arun. With activities led by a team that boasts certification from the International Surfing Association ( ISA), The Alampara offers a  glamping experience with an eclectic menu. “Visitors come to us because it is safe on the backwaters and we are looking to attract not just vacationers but even those looking for a day trip out of Chennai, with a lovely meal and some water sports.”
Vivian Peres, director, The Intrepid Club, which creates experiential journeys in the luxury travel market, says, “Being in Nature gives you a sense of freedom, a sense that you are an integral part of the world around you. Age is not a barrier to experience an adrenaline rush anymore. We have groups in their sixties who undertake rigorous trips around the country.”
Snow leopard tracking in Ladakh on a trek by Aatman Tours | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Camping looks very different at the GlampEco Resorts in Manali, 2,800 metres above sea level and far from the bustling tourist spots. Akshat Jain says he was looking to create offbeat accommodation close to trekking routes, at a vantage point for skygazing and snow-based adventures: GlampEco offers geodesic prefabricated domes with insulation, wi-fi and a touch of luxury, with local food and guided activities round the year.”
“We had visitors in 2021 who came from western India to work from here during the day and trek in the evening. During winters, just walking on the uneven snaking snowy paths can be an adventure, but for the braver amongst us, we have snowboarding,” he says, adding that their treks to Hanta Pass or day trips to Chika waterfalls with local guides are what draw a lot of their younger visitors.
Outdoor experiences have become so wildly popular that that CGH Earth Experience Hotels, with properties dotting the landscape across South India and the Andaman Islands, is introducing an exclusive category of  ‘active holidays’ to its roster of travel experiences.
George Joseph, vice president, Operations explains, “There is an interest in experiences as an investment and the biggest change we have seen since 2020, is that holidays are no longer just about the destination. People want to engage with the local culture and actively experience Nature.” The group has a Wayanad Wild package that offers day-long treks and a two-day stay to explore the area, with a local naturalist, while the Spice Village Resort near the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is “the only location where trekking is allowed within the sanctuary perimeters.” says George, adding that they offer one-and two-day camps with a cornucopia of activities like a bamboo raft ride,  border hike, and treks to spot fauna, guided by trained forest guards.”
An inter-tidal walk at Tilar Siro, Andamans by CGH Earth | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
While water-based sports have drawn tourists to the East coast beaches with surfing and stand up paddling events in Kovalam, Tamil Nadu, the Andaman islands are seeing a stream of visitors who enjoy its secluded beaches, unique marine life and pristine jungles. 
At the Tilar Siro Andaman location (Tilar Siro comes from the Great Andamanese Tribe, who referred to the island as ‘Thi-Lar-Siro’, ‘Thi’- Earth, ‘Lar’ means from and ‘Siro’ is the Sea) on Havelock Island, a new Intertidal Walk is a hot favourite with CGH loyalists. “When the tides recede, little pools are created around rocks that emerge out of the sand, and a range of marine life that can be seen. Our naturalists are our destination ambassadors here,” states George, adding, “scuba diving, snorkelling, trekking and other experiences are popular as well.” 
Kayaking in a coconut lagoon at a holiday curated by CGH Earth | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
For those who fancy active holidays on terra firma, safaris are popular. Aly Khan, who helms Jehan Numa expeditions out of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh observes, “Holidays are now transformational, and the experience is the luxury. Like-minded people who want to explore these spaces also contribute to conservation and  upliftment of local communities.”   
Tours to spot red pandas in the foothills of the Himayalas have become popular among Indians in the 30-50 age group, from 2017-19 and back in 2022, says Aly, but the treks into the wild are not for the faint hearted. “It’s a thick bamboo forest roughly 2,400 ft above sea level, and with the rains the terrain and tracks can be unpredictable.” 
Typically, guides lead the four-five kilometre trek that is fairly strenuous and if they spot a red panda, the group is then led to the area that runs on the border with Nepal. For the snow leopard tours in Spiti and Ladakh, “there is a lot of walking, and with the high altitude and minus 25 degree weather some days, it’s a lot of work. But when you spot a snow leopard, it’s a life changing experience,“ he says.
The red panda spotted on an expedition by Jehan Numa | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Herding communities in the area have now opened homestays and help with the sightings, whether the snow leopard or the lynx that roam the snow capped terrain. For the Spiti expedition by Jehan Numa, guests start and end the trip at Chandigarh, with long stretches navigated by road to visit Rampur, Kaza and Kibber.
The Ladakh expedition in February 2023 includes a 11-day itinerary, starting at Leh, and tours into Gya and Lato area, to view blue sheep and trans-Himalayan birds like the bearded vulture, golden eagles, chukar and Tibetan partridge, great rose finch as well as the  rare Ibis bill and solitary snip. A four-day trek follows, through the Hemis National Park,  home to blue sheep and argali (a large horned sheep), prey to the snow leopard, that can be spotted during winters, as they descend to lower elevations.
A jeep safari at Kaziranga National Park by Aatman Tours | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Aatman Tours also offers boutique experiences around Nature, including a packed itinerary through offbeat locations through Northeastern states, or river cruises on the Brahmaputra with an immersive experience at the Kaziranga National Park, including a visit to a local village and the Kaziranga Wildlife Rehab Centre. A weeklong stay at a decadent resort in Lungmar, Ladakh flanked by a monastery on one side, and access to sophisticated telescopes with Swarovski lens, enable tourists to spot the snow leopards as they approach valleys in search of prey.
Nitin Sambhi, founder-director at the company states, “Earlier, these expeditions saw NRIs or foreign tourists since they were fairly expensive and strenuous. But now, 78% of our traffic includes young Indian couples or families. From demands for infinity pools on holidays pre 2020, now treks, hikes and safaris off the beaten path, offer niche experiences for the discerning traveller who wants to be on the move.” 
Akshat of Glamp Eco says exploring the country in a new light has been an eye-opening experience for many. “The most rewarding feedback for me was when a 60-year-old visitor said, for the first time in his life, he saw the moon in all its glory at our camp.”  

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