Un(t)ravel: Off the beaten track

For the eco-conscious traveller looking something different, there are plenty of possibilities. The Un(t)ravel event brought together travel experts and enthusiasts.

"Double Road nalli jaaga yellide", (where is the space on double road?) I quizzed my friend on the phone. As the soon as the words came out, the question’s literal meaning immediately dawned; I was grinning as I entered the busy KH road (or double road as we still call it).

Luckily my friend knew of ‘Jaaga’ and gave directions. The new ‘Jaaga’ is bang on KH road, opposite Corporation Bank and lurking from behind a bus stop; a huge space with some iron constructions. Aarti Mohan, one of the organisers & co-founders of the Alternative, a magazine that covers social development had invited me to an event titled Un(t)ravel.

The email invite described Un(t)ravel as ‘travel-out-of-the-box’.

The event brought together entrepreneurs, environmentalists, groups that promote sustainable travel, themed tours etc with presentations, panel discussions and informal discussions on alternative and sustainable travel. Un(t)ravel was a mix of discussions, workshops and presentations on travel as a genre; its impact on the local communities and the traveller.

I had also read some of the travel stories in the magazine – it was a mix of eco travelling (biking, wildlife), social problems, responsible travel, train travel stories; generally offbeat.

One of the chai sessions at the Un(t)ravel event. Pic Courtesy: Aarti Mohan

The venue chosen was also unusual. For first timers like me it resembled a grid-like huge steel structure that can be used for makeshift workshops.  For the event, the iron scaffolds divided the space into three sections – the main hall for presentations and workshops and a couple of stalls for the brochures and bikes (for the biking groups). Beside these makeshift rooms, a swing and a few chairs for an informal chai discussion had been arranged.

The session started with an interesting talk by Gopinath Parayil of Blue Yonder, a Bangalore based company that promotes responsible travel . He spoke about the river Nila in Kerala, his memories connected to this place and it’s drying up that made him think of spreading the awareness through responsible travel.

His presentation included some fascinating facts. He gave examples of creating jobs to  ex-sand smugglers to make a decent living. I was blown away by the pictures of Kerala hinterlands and his marketing skills.

A panel discussion on the subject of alternate travel and experiences provided by such travel companies brought out some interesting perspectives. The panellists who participated were Jose Ramapuram from Orange County, Kalyan Akkipedi from Integreater, Sridhar Pabisetty representing Tour of Nilgiris and Prateek Sharma from MyGola.

Prateek of Mygola analysed the kind of travellers who usually seek help from his website. While majority of them were consulting on honeymoon or weekend trips, there was also a growing populace who wanted to have a ‘different experience’ – a segment for whom the travel groups like Blue Yonder  and others would seek.

The stalls set up by different travel companies were very exciting and varied. I was like a kid in the candy shop!

Stalls at the Un(t)ravel event. Pic Courtesy: Aarti Mohan

The tours and destinations were so different from an ordinary travel company that I dutifully recommend all of you to visit the various websites that I have listed below. The India Backpacker provides consultancy and packaged budget tours in India. NirvanaNomads, Blue Yonder,  ITNatureClub, Photography on the move, Bums on the saddle  and Basic Halli  provide themed tours and companies such as Travel Another India, Black Swan, Linger provide destinations with a cultural backdrop.

Some non-profit ventures that participated in the event were Green Peace India and Vanamitra

Among the people who spoke was Sameer (Linger), Renjana (Black Swan), Akshay (Indianbackpacker), Sumanth (Vanamitra) and Anand (Basic Halli) and I. We shared our experiences, and talked about the different tours and destinations.

Sumanth of Vanamitra talked about promoting harmony with wildlife. As the city expands, we are encroaching into wildlife. He explained sightings of varied species from snakes to leopards. Though leopard sightings and killing are high, they are not highlighted as much as the tiger, he lamented. Vanamitra conducts regular educational and awareness programmes with villages and helps in wildlife rehabilitation once caught.

It was the first time such a group had come together. For the traveller who wants to visit some place different or do something different, this event was an ideal platform. Personally I feel we should have such events frequently.

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