Every traveller is unique. While some like a quiet weekend getaway, some others like an upbeat family vacation. Still others are adventure junkies. Born to this understanding is Vandana Vijay’s brainchild, the Hyderabad-based Offbeat Tracks, which focuses on putting together trips that are off-the-beaten-track and offers travellers local experiences.
Vandana who’s an army officer’s daughter talks about her privilege of growing up in India and experiencing cultures. The mountains especially have always been special to her. "India is so much more than a couple of tourist places. Its villages are the true gem, full of cultural diversity. I want to highlight the beauty of the Indian villages to people worldwide. It is very important that we use travel and tourism to transform communities in India," says the former employee of Facebook.
Talking about when her tryst with ecotourism started, Vandana remembers the once she was on a trip to Ladakh in 2014. "I’d spent two weeks volunteering and interacting with the rural communities. It was then I realised that my true passion lies in working with rural communities," Vandana tells us. That trip originated in her the thought to form Offbeat Tracks in 2016.
Today, Vandana and her trusted team aim to promote sustainable and experience-based travel across India, including the Himalayas and South East Asia. Showcasing their local way of life to the world also inculcated a sense of pride among the locals. Her business operates in extreme regions across the Himalayas ranging from far-flung villages in Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan and Nagaland to the tea gardens in Assam and Meghalaya.
So too, Vandana appreciated the need to understand and set up networks with tried and tested, reliable vendors. To this end, Vandana personally travelled to all these destinations to assess the geography to ensure that the experiences she’d provide were authentic.
What makes Offbeat Tracks different?
Vandana’s off-the-beaten travel itineraries come with a twist. "Staying in these village homestays doesn’t mean one has to forgo modern amenities," she reveals. "The homestays are luxurious boutique stays, all equipped with modern amenities so that the travellers can enjoy their immersive stay while interacting with locals. For example, a trip to the North-East can include staying and experiencing the culture, cuisine and activity of the Angami tribe in Nagaland while enjoying the Internet."
Interestingly, some of the regions Vandana and her team operate in are either politically unstable or prone to geographical hazards. "For instance, one of our travellers’ trips to Sikkim and Bhutan was severely hampered owing to the Gorkhaland agitation. And the travellers were stuck at Bagdogra. The team had to reroute through Guwahati to facilitate the trips," she shares.
Presently, Offbeat Tracks has tied up with homestays and local vendors, and focuses on locations such as the Himalayas, North-East States, Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. It also has locations across Bhutan, Turkey and the entire South East Asia, although owing to COVID-19 pandemic, the company is only doing domestic tours at the moment.
There’s another and more pertinent reason that Vandana currently focuses on the domestic scene. "All travelling has to be as localised as possible then only there will be an improvement in the community. The people in the mountains, especially, have among the most affected people because of the pandemic and the resultant decreased number of travellers."
Vandana further talks about the other advantages of her company. "For starters, every component in the trip is personalised and vouched for — from staying and driving to real-time help," she elaborates. "Our team talks to every guest to understand their likes and dislikes so that we can curate their trip accordingly."
For instance, the company recently had a small family, in which the husband loved to ride bikes whereas the others wanted to just chill. "So we arranged for a bike for him and gave him the best biking routes and maps for him to enjoy the ride," she says.
Even in Hyderabad, Vandana organises heritage walks that cover the Muslim heritage in old city and the British heritage in Secunderabad area. "Apart from the walks, we also do in-house dining experiences, where a small group of pre-registered people will go to a particular community’s house to experience their food, culture and traditions," she explains.
While her top five favourite travelling destinations include Ladakh, Nagaland and Bhutan, the latest in Vandana’s travelling radar is Spiti Valley, where she is organising more treks.