Arun Veembur

I will never meet Arun Veembur – and it is very much my loss. Arun was an intrepid traveller who died earlier this week in a tragic accident while trekking near the remote city of Dali in the Yunan province of China. He was just 28.

Arun started out as a journalist with an english newspaper in Bangalore. On a trip to India’s north-east, he came across the story of the Stilwell road (Ledo road), the tough mountainous road that the british built in the backdrop of WWII. And was hooked. Soon he gave up his job and went to Kuming the chinese outpost where he spent the next few years. He was researching for a book on the Ledo road and in the years that he was there became a bit of an institution.

More on Arun:

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/35518/bangalorean-dies-china.html

http://newshyderabad.wordpress.com/2009/11/11/young-writer-and-intrepid-traveller-dies-in-china/

http://www.dalichina.info/

Accessible Travel

I had never really thought of it before; the needs of the disabled when they travel. While traipsing around India in the last 10 days (I did Bangalore to Chennai to Bangalore to Delhi to Chennai to Tanjore to Chennai to Bangalore, which explains my disappearance from this blog for some time), I came across the group that was in India for a series of conferences on Accessible Travel, which is short-hand for ‘doing all of those things that help disabled travellers travel easier’.

Met a couple of interesting people that evening in Delhi – guys who are opening up a world of easier travel for the disabled.

Scott Rains : Scott is the man who put the disabled on the world agenda. He coined practically all the phrases that are today the cornerstones of all discourse on disability, including Universal Design. In fact, almost all US legislation on disability has the Rains imprimatur. Read Scott’s writings at the Rolling Rains report here.

Craig Grimes : Craig was the first person to demonstrate conclusively that the disabled are a definite ‘market’ in world travel. While living in Barcelona, Craig set up AccessibleBarcelona, a tour operator focused on helping the disabled have a good holiday in Barcelona. And made it into a viable and vibrant business. Craig now lives in Nicaragua and is at it again. Check out his latest venture – AccessibleNicaragua.

I also met Jani Nayar of Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality in NY. They are a Non-profit that works to increase awareness of the needs of the disabled for Travel.

A common theme that ran through all of the conversation was the notion that disabled travellers form a large market. And that it is in the interest of the travel trade to focus on this market and make it easier for the disabled to get around.

Segway across New Zealand, Turkey and soon all over the world

Ok, this is an interesting one. Kevin Hey and a bunch of other guys now offer tours that allow you to explore New Zealand’s cities on a Segway. You remember the Segway Personal Transporter? Those contraptions that allow you to stand on them and move about on wheels.

Looks like Segways are catching on in Tourism. I came across a video that show Beach Resorts in Turkey using them (see the video on top). A friend of mine in the travel business in Goa tells me that a couple of resorts there are thinking of getting a few here too.

On my recent visit to Dubai, I happened to glimpse a chap tearing across a boulevard near my hotel on a segway, a sight which rang all the right bells in me. I would certainly like to have one, although driving one around in any Indian city is asking for serious trouble. In Bangalore, I will most likely disappear down a man-hole never to be heard of again. I can think of at least 3 people who would like that.  :)

Yossi Ghinsberg & HolidayIQ

With almost 150,000 travel maniacs as members, HolidayIQ has been bombarded with the question of organising some kind of a get-together for members. So, finally we decided to take a small step and have a cocktails & dinner evening in Mumbai. We also got Yossi Ghinsberg, one of the better known international motivation speakers to be a focal point of the evening. Not as a motivational speaker, but as a traveller and a nomad which is what Yossi’s true passion is.

So, a couple of Fridays ago, about 50 of us trooped into a room at the Leela Kempinski in Mumbai and had a great time.

Yossi spoke of his travels worldwide. About his longstanding love affair with the Bedouins. And how he went to the remotest island in the Pacific. And many more. While each story stuck in my mind, a couple of points he made about travel really resonated with me.

He said he always travels alone, since that is the only way to connect with the place and the people. I find this absolutely true and this is what I do every time I ‘travel’ (ie. when I am not taking a vacation with my family). Incidentally, Paul Theroux mentioned something similar in a recent talk – read related posts here & here.

Yossi also said he uses the Lonely Planet each time he travels – and he uses it in a pretty unique way. He decides on a country to go and then looks up the Lonely Planet and reads it from cover to cover . Then he finds a place on the map of the country that is NOT covered in the Lonely Planet. He goes there. The idea, he said, was to go to places that even backpackers don’t get to. That is when you see the real country.

Yossi lives in Byron Bay in Australia, a place I went to about a year ago. Of course, I didn’t know Yossi then and so didn’t meet him. But I now have an invite from him to visit Byron Bay & since it is one of the more beautiful places I have been to, I just might take him up on it sometime.

Between Baby Sitter and Brain Doctor : A guide to guiding tourists & travellers

Recently I met someone who has the onerous job of helping first-time European tourists ease themselves into India. And who thought the job was ‘somewhere between being a Baby Sitter and a Brain Doctor’. Other than the fact that the phrase has a nice ring to it, it made me think about Tourism (you’d have thought that I have had enough, but obviously not).

I think this neat phrase actually captures the essential difference between the modern Tourist and the intrepid Traveller.

Tourists go to a new place to wonder at how different it all is. The idea is to somehow get to a point where you feel lost, baby-like and in constant need of looking after. And a whole paraphernalia has developed to cosset you in this place. Resorts, guides, concierges, charter flights – the works. The more I think about this, the more I can see its attraction. In a world that demands a lot from each person, a ‘touristy holiday’ is exactly what you need. To leave the cares of existence and move to the cossetting of childhood. In such a situation, I can see how the Baby Sitter idea works.

The Brain Doctor comes in when you meet Travellers. Travellers ‘go away’ for exactly the opposite reason. They go to conquer. Not for them the innocent pleasure of regression. Continue reading

11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India

I was doing one of my usual google searches for HolidayIQ and stumbled upon something that is very gratifying. The sentence was – “One of the best travel sites we’ve seen anywhere on the web”. Apparently, IndiaStreet, the online magazine for new projects & investments in India, did a detailed exercise to identify what they called “11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India” and lo & behold, HolidayIQ is one of them. When one is immersed in work and in creating something new, there is very little time to look up and see how far one has reached. This, for me, is a sure marker of our progress. Obviously, happy about it.

Here is the link>>

Yotel

The biggest luxury in long-distance travel is the possibility of a fully flat bed to sleep on. I have done too many bus & air journeys to now crave for this in quiet desperation, everytime I have an overnight trip. So when flat-beds came along in the business class of long-haul airlines, I was an early adpoter, scrounging around for any loose mileage point to get an upgrade. Later, I found flat-bed configurations in inter-city buses in India. But since most of them are crummy, unkempt buses, I am not too enthusiastic (although the idea is fundamentally appealing).

Yotel is a chain of hotels that combine the virtues of business class flat-beds with those of Japanese capsule hotels.  Dreamt up by Simon Woodroffe, the founder of Yo Sushi!, these hotels promise to give the weary long-haul traveller a decent & inexpensive place to sleep while in transit. The first hotel opened in Gatwick. The next is due to open in Heathrow. Eventually they plan to open these hotels all across London. Will they work away from an airport? I dont know.

Click here for a slickly made promo video.

Or, check out this sneak preview video from Youtube.