Powerpuff Travel 

Hyderabad-based travel company Offbeat Tracks helps support women entrepreneurs in remote mountain regions of Himachal Pradesh and  Ladakh. Founder Vandana Vijay shares some stories of resilience.
Vandana Vijay, founder of Offbeat Tracks. (Photo | Express)
Vandana Vijay, founder of Offbeat Tracks. (Photo | Express)

HYDERABAD: All good things that go into the mixture of making a powerful travel itinerary include travel for leisure, community-building, a clean environment, supporting livelihoods and local tourism. All these good things come together for Hyderabad-based travel company Offbeat Tracks, founded in 2016 by Vandana Vijay. Keeping sustainability and livelihoods in mind, Vijay firmly believes that travel should benefit the local people and help in the development of the places that tourists visit. On a regular travel plan, it is mostly the hotel or the taxi driver who makes money. “At Offbeat Tracks, we ensure that we plan the travel in such a way that our guests get a taste of local culture as well,” said Vijay. 

“The itinerary includes at least a one-day visit to a village where guests are able to taste the food made by the locals or see them practising their crafts. We encourage our guests to take up accommodation at the homestays run by locals,” she adds. 

Through these practices, the company has been able to kickstart a more revolutionary project of supporting women entrepreneurs in the remote areas of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. “We at Offbeat Tracks have been training many rural women in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh to become entrepreneurs in the space of tourism and hospitality. Under this project, we help them in setting up homestays, becoming hosts and curating local experiences. We also give them customer access to earn revenue,” said Vijay. 

Vijay recounts the remarkable story of a woman from Ladakh. “Rigzen Inkang is a young graduate hailing from a small village in Ladakh named Likir. Rigzen returned to her village after completing her studies and was determined to bring her community and village on par with other well-known tourist sites in the region. One of our NGO partners was already working in the region.

Through them, Rigzen seized the excellent opportunity to list her beautiful property as a homestay. She works as an official tour guide and operator in Likir and she is the first point of contact for all tourists travelling to the tiny hamlet where she lives. Rigzen also guides guests to other designated homestays in the village so that every host gets a fair share of hosting people. This smart, enterprising lady has also created a women’s Self-Help Group (SHG) in the village that introduced people to pottery. Every time guests go there, they experience a live pottery session. They make their own souvenirs that they bring back home. In a tourist season spanning for about five-six months, she was able to make about `1 lakh for herself. This is more than just a remarkable journey!” said Vijay. 

Entertaining us with yet another exceptional example of resilience and empowerment, Vijay introduces us to Uma, a woman who faced severe financial difficulties when her husband passed away. “In a village close to Manali, named Karjan, Uma has an ancestral property which is about a century old. Her son, addicted to drugs, sold off most of her land to buy drugs.

All she was left with was her home. In order to support her, we identified that being a local to that region, she has a lot to offer in terms of an authentic Himachali experience. So we curated these in-house dining experiences at her place where people come to her home and have a sit-down traditional Himachali meal with her. She makes some sort of supplemental income from it. She also encourages guests to try on the local costumes and pose for the camera!” 

Through these experiences, says Vijay, the tourists are also able to see who are the stakeholders, who are the people involved and what is at stake when they open up a piece of their lives for us. “You can travel, you can enjoy, you can have fun. The leisure component of travel is not being taken away. But a beautiful byproduct of that is to be able to give back to the community,” she concludes.

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The New Indian Express