Published: 03rd April 2019
Why Offbeat Tracks could craft your most productive travel experience ever
Vacations aren't just about lazy days and great social media selfies. If you take a trip with Offbeat Tracks, you might just find yourself lighting up a home in a village in the Himalayas — and living
People travel for different reasons. Some want to find themselves in new places. Others like that shot of adrenaline it brings. Then there are those who travel for fun and others who travel to click pretty pictures. But after speaking to Vandana Vijay, CEO and Founder of Offbeat Tracks, we found a whole new reason to travel. It can give you purpose — a purpose to acquaint yourself with the place in a way that is intimate and enriching. A purpose to understand day-to-day life, and sometimes even life itself, through their eyes. And above all, a purpose to give back. "Travelling has been great learning for me, it has made me evolve as an individual," says Vandana, who through her experiential travel company wants to help others evolve as well.
Feel at home
Being an army officer's daughter, travelling had become second nature to Vandana at a young age. And that yen for travelling took her to places that made her realise that vacationing can be for more than mere mindless recreation, "As tourists, we always want to see the unexplored side of cultures and people. I wanted to be a medium that bridges that gap," says the 31-year-old. And thus, in September 2016, Offbeat Tracks was conceptualised and launched in Hyderabad. The goal was to help people understand a little more about their own country. And this is done through homestays with community members, cooking with them and learning about the place from them directly, apart from the sightseeing and other local activities that one can participate in. Travel truly doesn't get more experiential than this.
They also offer tours to Vietnam, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Andamans and other such places as well
It is through Vandana's own trip to Ladakh, Kashmir and other such places that she established a network with different communities who would open their doors to eager learners. "This is why we are not all over the place in terms of scale. We are in the service industry and a reliable network of vendors is vital," she points out. Using that network, they execute their personalised experiences and ensure that the direct beneficiaries of tourism are the community members themselves. "This serves as their additional income," shares the TEDx speaker.
Better together: During one of Offbeat Track's trips | (Pic: Offbeat Tracks)
On their track list
Some of the unique places where their network is spread are Bhutan, Nagaland and Changtang in Ladakh. So in Bhutan, for example, you can opt for an urbane house, farm or a village stay. You can pick fresh vegetables in their organic farm, take a trip to their farmer's market and cook with them as well, apart from the short treks and cycling trips on offer. "Every day, apart from the regular sightseeing, there will be hands-on activities or experiences to participate in which will stimulate all your senses and help you breathe in the culture," says Vandana and adds, "I personally don't like chain hotels, so unless it is a large group, we recommend homestays, boutique or heritage properties." This attention to the community has gained them a global audience, as they have customers from around the world. And though it has been a roller coaster ride for Offbeat Tracks and they have seen highs and lows, it is the positive response that keeps pouring in which keeps the team going.
PVN Sastry, who runs the popular pizzeria Mama Mia Italia, also takes a workshop on the basics of pizza making. "Positive people come in and learn and interacting with them is a lot of fun," says the owner
Inside the community
One particular cause that is close to Vandana's heart is what they are doing for Ladakh. In 2017, 14 participants from the US made the trip to Changtang in Ladakh, known for Pashmina goats and subzero temperatures, to light up ten remote homes in the village. "This region has 300 days of uninterrupted sunlight so there is great potential to harness solar power. So we installed solar panels in their homes," says Vandana. And it was no easy task. They had to time this expedition so that it doesn't clash with their short irrigation season and transport the equipment in the three to four months buffer, when the roads are open. The solar batteries took two weeks to reach the village by road because airlifting was not an option. But they overcame all these logistics issues and successfully brightened the life of 10 homes. They plan to do much more during their upcoming trip.
So if you are a 'selfie traveller' looking for that perfect Insta-worthy picture through your travel, be assured you will still get that, but that's not all that Offbeat Tracks is offering. Their purpose goes much beyond that to not only offer unique travel experiences, but also build communities.
For every trip we offer, we add a personal touch which makes it memorable
Vandana Vijay, Founder and CEO, Offbeat Tracks | (Pic: Offbeat Tracks)
Short and nostalgically sweet
This year, they decided to go local and plan experiential walks, dining experiences, baking, pizza-making and more such 'day-trip' workshops in Hyderabad itself. "For someone who is looking for recreational activities in Hyderabad, there are such limited options. You can either go to a movie or a restaurant, but there is so much history and culture that can be explored. There are so many people who have migrated to this city, there is so much culture here," says Vandana. So there are heritage walks in Old City, Kacheguda Railway Station and so on. Then there are food experiences where you get to eat authentic Burmese food in a Burmese household, get to bake woodfire pizza and even cakes. Coffee roasting at Roastery Coffee House is also up for takes.
Some experiences you can savour
Walk the talk
Ansaar Dewan's family has been living in Old City, Hyderabad for several generations and one can say that he knows the area like the back of his hand. This former techie has handled several walks through organisations like Sahapedia and has now joined Offbeat Tracks to do a few more. For research, he reads Urdu books and interacts with locals. "The Sufi shrines in the Old City are some of the most underrated and unexplored areas in the city. Also, The Nizam's Museum, which houses the world's largest wardrobe of clothes used to belong to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan," informs the 20-year-old.
Shall we bake?
Imagine learning how to bake Rasmalai cake and Thandai mousse! This and so much more is what you can learn if you sign up for Barkha Gupta Ray’s workshop. “My ability to understand flavour and composition and mix things up differently is my forte. Innovation in flavour is not easy. One needs to understand what works, what doesn't,“ says the founder of Ganache Panache Cakery, who started baking at the age of 20. Barkha, who is from Kolkata and moved to Hyderabad a few months back, and her interactive sessions can teach you how to make gluten-free, vegan and diabetic friendly desserts as well.
They did it: Participants at a pizza-making workshop | (Pic: Offbeat Tracks)
All that you stand to gain from a trip with Offbeat Tracks
- Homestay with locals. This gives you a unique insight into their lives, culture and history. This would not be possible in just a regular sightseeing trip
- Unique exposure into the culture of the place in terms of food, customs and traditions. So the locals don't just open their homes, they even open up their hearts
- Social impact wherein every experience has a rural micro entrepreneur as a direct beneficiary. So it also enables local communities to boost their own livelihood
- Food! You get to explore hidden cuisines from the talented home chefs across India. You can not only expand your own palette, but also explore some unique dishes
- Adventure at its peak as Offbeat enables you to experience and explore the Himalayas like never before!
For more on them, offbeattracks.com