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Himalaya on Wheels

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Cartier is famous for its distinctive jewellery since the 18th century and last month gave the world yet another unique sparkler, albeit a little different – Gouthami, founder of Travel Another India (TAI) the Asian laureate for the fourth edition of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards. Travel Another India, a Responsible Tourism and rural development enterprise was considered a front runner thanks to its grassroots approach of working with local communities.

This helps stem the tide of migration to urban cities while encouraging local economy to develop.

TAI promotes rural destinations to increasingly large numbers of frazzled Indian city-dwellers. Gouthami says, ‘Urban dwellers are longing to rediscover the peace and quiet of the country breaks they used to have when they were kids. We provide a unique experience to discerning guests who are keen to explore another India... one that is rich in diversity of cultures, cuisines and comforts.”

But TAI is more than just a Rural Tourism venture; it is also a Responsible Tourism Venture with a difference. Other than economic issues that TAI addresses, one of the pioneering initiatives is that of a holiday package in Ladakh for guests using wheelchairs. Himalaya on Wheels has been set up with expertise provided by PAGIR – People’s Action Group on Inclusion and Rights. PAGIR is a group of people with disabilities and their families who have come together for their collective rights as well as to ensure livelihood options for people with disabilities.

Himalaya on Wheels invites people in wheelchairs to explore with family and friends, the spectacular mountain regions of Ladakh.  Sites have been identified that can be accessed, sometimes with a little help, to give a glimpse of the Ladakhi way of life. Each trip will have a Helper and a Driver who have been specially trained to help guests through a comfortable vacation. A guide book details out the history of each of the places they visit along with the accessibility issues at each site. This unique 3 night package costs just `9900 per person on twin sharing basis for this year. Profits from Himalaya on Wheels will flow back to
PAGIR to help them take forward their work of ensuring that people with disabilities ‘stand on their own legs’. 

TAI currently also offers guests a home stay in Channapatna, Karnataka with a family that is involved in making wooden toys and a guest house run by a Village Tourism Development Committee in Banavasi, Karnataka. We are also a marketing channel for the Hodka Village Tourism Committee in Kutch, Turtle Bay Resort near Udupi, The Hermitage Guest House near Belgaum, Ecosphere in Spiti and Arco Iris in Goa.

Gouthami has 18 years of experience with international and national development agencies such as ActionAid, Concern Worldwide, Christian Aid, and Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan. At KMVS, she was part of the team that set up the Shaam-e-Sarhad Rural Resort in Hodka village, Kutch. She was a consultant with the UNDP for their Rural Tourism Project implemented with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, providing management support to three of their tourism projects.

As a winner of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award 2010, Gouthami received a unique and comprehensive support package US $20,000 of funding and one year of coaching. And while these are critical, “The award has given my country and my venture worldwide recognition, which is exactly what we need to reach our goal of 50 destinations by 2012,” signs off Gouthami.

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