Urban Indians are embracing running vacations and biking tours as a new, experiential approach to travel.
This story first appeared in The Hindu on August 23. 2017.
Recalling his trip to Hampi, Rajesh Santhanam is somewhat surprised at himself. An avid traveller for more than a decade, he has had his share of long bike rides and treks in remote mountains. But the trip to Hampi (a cluster of ruins that dates back to the Vijayanagar empire and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) stands out for a simple reason. He went there to participate in a run, something he had never done before.
At the crack of dawn on a cool Sunday morning, he joined a few hundred others in running through the ruins. Much before the hordes of tourists descended upon the scene, the runners were already exploring the place, loping past centuries-old temples and step-wells.
A run vacation is an exciting new development in the Indian travel scene. In essence, it is a run that is professionally organised in a popular tourist destination. It combines two highs: that of running and that of a holiday. As a participant, you can reach the destination a few days in advance, explore it, and then finish your vacation with the run. Or, you could start your vacation with the run and then stay on for a few more days. The fact that the run is not timed enhances the fun.
In its infancy in India, the idea of run vacations is attracting a growing number of people. Go Heritage Run, a company that organises such runs, has seen nearly 6,000 runners participate in their runs in the past three years. Many of them are repeat participants, which is a good indication that this experiment is working. The company offers a calendar of professionally-organised runs throughout the year, in settings as unlikely as Ooty, Halebidu, Khajuraho, Mirjan Fort and Murud-Janjira. Running through the verdant greenery of the Nilgiris, enjoying the pure air, is an unforgettable experience. Or for that matter, taking in the beauty of the seaside Murud-Janjira Fort. You get to see the place in a totally new light. At the end of the run, you are given breakfast, a certificate and a medal.
Journeys on the saddle
If running is not your thing, you could consider signing up for a riding tour instead. A riding tour is essentially all about hopping onto a motorcycle and exploring a place leisurely. It allows you to make impromptu stops along the way, interact with locals and soak in the culture of the place. Seeing that more urban Indians, including women, are interested in long rides, professional outfits such as The Travelling Circus have started organising riding tours. This company has organised more than 25 long rides since its inception in 2011. Destinations on their map include Chikmagalur, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Ladakh and Kinnaur. Rajasthan and Cambodia are being added this year. Details of every tour are planned professionally, with rider safety getting top priority. Your group is accompanied by a support van, a stock of spares and an experienced mechanic.
If you think these rides are meant only for seasoned riders, think again. If you are a first-timer, such a tour can actually help you ease into bike riding. By the end of a tour, you may even fall in love with it!
There are many factors that make these tours tick. Experiencing the sheer thrill of long-distance riding, bonding with like-minded people, and travelling through beautiful places in an immersive manner, are the key factors that make these tours attractive. Of course, they often entail long riding hours and call for a certain level of fitness. At the same time though, you are guaranteed a lot of fun, adventure and a spirit of support and sharing, all of which help seal friendships. And friendships formed on the road do have a special flavour.
Run vacations and riding tours symbolise the changing motivations of the urban Indian, who sees travel as a way to quench his thirst for adventure. In the process, they help discard many stereotypes.