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How to learn new skills while you holiday this New Year

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Sitting and working with my hands at a loom in Kathmandu, I come to realise that the meditative art of weaving was not what I had hoped it would be. Instead, as a left-handed person, I was floundering with getting the warp and weft in the right order, and found that the malleable water hyacinth I was using was maybe, too floppy, and required some dexterity to hold in place. I was struggling, but I was happy to get out of my hotel, the Kathmandu Marriott and away from the tourist sites, to discover something truly local.

Read more |Craft tours to village stays: Take a slow holiday this New Year 

This experience was courtesy an hour spent at the Nepal Knotcraft Centre, through Marriott’s Good Travel initiative. Founder Shyam Badan Shrestha explains the impact her organisation had made and their various products — all woven from natural fibres like straw, bamboo and sage. As travellers seek out a sense of authenticity, no matter where in the world they’re travelling, hotels and apps are bridging the divide, offering the intrepid the chance to really engage — whether it be out of an interest and thirst for authenticity or just the chance to showcase something different on social media.

Dining at the Postcard Gir Wildlife Sanctuary
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Bart Buiring, chief sales and marketing officer, Asia Pacific at Marriott International says, “We have observed that travel is becoming increasingly purpose-driven and impact orientated.” According to the 2022 American Express Travel Global Survey, 83% of millennials are considering the importance of purpose when they plan trips and decide which companies to work with, higher than 79% of overall survey respondents, he says. At Urbanaut, a discovery platform with local recommendations for travellers, founder Samyukta Ranganthan says, “I think COVID-19 has given a boost to [experiential travel], and now, I don’t think people are thinking about them as experiences, but as regular activities.”

Via the app, users can book everything from pottery workshops amidst the hustle of Mumbai to bespoke meals and one-of-a-kind experiences, like swimming at hidden quarry pools in Goa or rafting in the Indus or Zanskar. While some cultivate a sense of learning and discovery, most offer the chance to go off the beaten path, away from the crowds. For example, Zarir de Vitre, an independent sustainability consultant, who has done multiple Urbanaut experiences in Goa, explains it is the chance to spend time in smaller groups and trying out local, offbeat experiences that draws him.

A snapshot from the Nepal Knotcraft Centre

A snapshot from the Nepal Knotcraft Centre
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

In most cases, these kinds of activities engage the local community, as Bart notes. He explains, “With Good Travel with Marriott Bonvoy, we worked very closely with NGOs and local experts, such as marine biologists and artists to help curate the custom purpose driven experiences offered by the programme. Some experiences require a minimal fee to help these local experts and NGOs run the experience professionally, informatively and meaningfully.” 

His words are borne out by Ladakh’s Nimmu House, a boutique property about 45 minutes away from Leh. There, engagement is varied, from locals leading guided tours of the village to a deeper engagement that the property has — like buying of vegetables locally. Indrani, host and curator at Nimmu House, says, “Post pandemic, more Indians are becoming interested in walks and hikes. The village walk is really popular wherein someone from the village leads the three hour walk bringing together personal history and guided details.” This is echoed by Sanjeev Sharma, the general manager at RAAS Devigarh who explains that post-lockdown, there is a new group of tourists, especially international tourists, that are, “very keen to see the villages and see the life of villagers,” which is possible through village tours that are led by locals. 

Weaving at the Nepal Knotcraft Centre

Weaving at the Nepal Knotcraft Centre
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Besides the desire to empower locals, these experiences also seek to showcase the destination. While a hotel like the Postcard Gir Wildlife Sanctuary offers a safari experience, there is a more local Siddhi Dhamal Dance experience which showcases Ngoma drumming and a tribal fire dance. Akanksha Lamba, senior v vice president – Operations, The Postcard Hotels, says, “Each experience at The Postcard is conceptualised to provide a true sense of the neighbourhood and the destination. Our dedicated experience team starts with an extensive preliminary research- cataloguing diverse experiences of the region, be it spiritual, cultural, historic, adventurous, and even wildlife interactions. ”

As for me, I left my craft session painfully aware of the time, dexterity and skill needed to create even a simple coaster. I came away curious to learn more about local invasive plant species while marvelling at how Kathmandu has more to offer than what I’d imagined.



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