BENGALURU: One of my favourite science fiction writers, Ray Bradbury wrote in his dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, “See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask for no guarantees, ask for no security.” This was imprinted tattoo-like on my mind, teaching me to learn how to travel without an itinerary, experience places through their food, shared conversations over a cup of coffee or a beer, walking the streets endlessly and simply watching a new world unfold.
I wanted space to breathe, not the alarm clock shrilly announcing the beginning of the next day. I longed for a leisurely carafe of wine and cheese by a roadside cafe in Montmartre rather than endless queues to enter the Eiffel Tower. The package tour was my holiday nightmare and all that I wanted never seemed conceivable by a travel consultant sitting across me, completely devoid of imagination when it came to offering anything more than a great bargain price, or a free cruise.
However, things have begun to change as the adventurous who like me love the idea of travel, have taken this passion a step forward and come up with curated holidays.
From the Bengaluru-based WOW or Women on Wanderlust, a travel club that organizes women-only trips across India and the world, to the fast-growing Thrillophilia that offers high-octane travel experiences across India for all those who want to venture off the beaten path to the newest kid on the block, No Thepla Holidays.
This startup is the brainchild of three friends, Arjun, Ayesha and Sanaya, who come from backgrounds as diverse as corporate M&As, animal rescue operations and event management, drawn together by their love for travel and especially the kind that does not involve carrying a bagful of deep-fried snacks and pickle in a foreign land.
"We want to cater to the modern Indian flashpacker who is roughly between 25-35 years, is open to meeting a whole bunch of fellow travellers and having a whale of a time in another country discovering its local food, underground clubs and the lesser known experiences," says Arjun Malhotra, one of the partners in No Thepla Holidays.
For the uninitiated, flashpacking is a global trend that seems to be made for the lazy Indian as all the arrangements (stay, internal commute) are made for you which means that you don't have to wander the streets searching for a room for the night, be stranded at a train station because you forgot to book a particular leg of the journey and can also go occasionally posh with a champagne cruise or a truffle lunch!
No Thepla Holidays might have just two trips under its belt so far, but their resounding success portends well for the future and it’s no surprise that they already have three trips planned for the first quarter of the year.
Their first trip was to Europe in June-July 2014. Rather than do the typical six countries in five days itinerary, these guys curated an offbeat music-wine combo that was bound to work. Thus the trip covered five days in Paris during the Fete da la Musique, taking in the different performances across the city, a champagne cruise on the Seine, five days in Barcelona, a 'booze cruise' of the city and exciting pub crawls with your fellow travellers and finally ending up at the village of Haro for the San Vino or a crazy wine fight, just like our Holi, but only with the lovely wine of the region.
In the second trip to North Vietnam, parties and outdoor activities were the focus and thus water sports, local underground clubs and the delicious Vietnamese food formed the highlight here.
So while making friends, sampling street food, partying with the locals and an overall good time with plenty of good cheer, dancing, high-adrenaline sports and a lot of beer form the trademark experiences of No Thepla Holidays, there is also culture (trips to famous archaeological sites and monuments) as well as activities that allow you to mingle with the native communities (like fishing with the locals in the villages around Mai Chau Valley in Vietnam). The winning feature is their fluid itinerary.
"So while we travel with all our guests offering them our experiential advice as well as inputs for food, tourist-friendly bars, public transport etc as well as plan different activities to keep everyone entertained, we also don't make a rigid itinerary for them.
So if somebody wants to go and get a drink at a local cafe with a friend he or she has just made at the hostel instead of a visit to a temple, they are more than welcome to do so," says Arjun.
The company makes internal travel arrangements, provides accommodation at hostels and some homestays, organizes cruises, parties, barbecues and other activities and so far all of the partners actually travel with the group to ensure that a jolly good time is had by all.
Their upcoming trips include a scuba-diving trip to Andamans in March, an adventure-party trip to Cambodia in March-April and another trip to Vietnam later this year.
These holidays minus theplas (their website warns that these might go missing if you actually end up carrying any) are the perfect solution for those who have hunted for options that are not determined by rushed itineraries, packing in every monument and museum on the block, or bookended by group meals of chicken butter masala and tandoori gobhi in foreign lands.
These are for the new and improved Indian traveller who is on a quest to explore and understand diverse cultures, sample local flavors, dance to eclectic music and meet kindred souls along the way.
Visit notheplaholidays.com or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org