by NADEEM BADSHAH
FILM AND TV SHOWS SET IN SOUTH ASIA DRIVE UP TOURIST NUMBERS
INDIA and Pakistan have become the go-to destinations for British travellers seeking adventure holidays, according to travel firms.
A growing number of thrill-seekers are heading to south Asia for mountain treks, bicycle tours and motorbike trips.
G Adventures has seen a 24 per cent increase in Britons travelling to India in the past 18 months, while Intrepid Travel said passenger numbers to the north-western state of Rajasthan in January to July 2017 rose by nearly 40 per cent compared to the same period in 2016.
Holiday company Cosmos said bookings have doubled in a year to the Indian subcontinent, making it the fastest growing long haul choice with tours, including seeing tigers in Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan.
Experts say experienced daredevil tourists are being inspired by films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and actress Joanna Lumley’s recent ITV series travelling around India.
Kit Wilkinson, from KE Adventure Travel, organises climbing and trekking trips to Indian cities including Ladakh in Kashmir, Manali in Himachal Pradesh and Darjeeling in West Bengal.
He told Eastern Eye: “We will take approximately 300 travellers on our Indian holidays in 2017 and this figure has actually fluctuated very little over the past five years.
“The typical KE adventure traveller is a professional and in his or her 50s.”
Wilkinson said there had been a revival in mountain trips to northern Pakistan. Security fears in recent years had led the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to advise against travel to the region.
“It has only been in the last two years that we have been able to reintroduce a programme of three classic trekking adventures in the Karakoram mountains.
“There is effectively no city component to these holidays. We have a single night in Islamabad and fly north to the small town of Skardu in Baltistan, the point of access to the mountains for each of these trips.
“This year, we are delighted to have been able to set up six groups, totalling around 60 clients.”
One traveller who ventured to the mountains in Pakistan with KE Adventure is Chloe, from Haslemere in Surrey.
She said: “The scenery in the Karakorams is simply awe inspiring. There was a real sense of good feeling among our team, partly due to the incredible shared experience of being in such a magical place.
“Also, largely owing to the wonderful treatment we received from our Pakistani hosts and from our group leader Tom’s sense of humour.
“Tom’s knowledge of the region is tremendous and he had stories of funny misadventures in nearly every mountain we passed. And there were a lot of mountains.
“On the journey to Skardu, we had to find accommodation at the last minute in Gilgit due to a delay as a result of a landslide. KE, Tom and Baltistan Tours made sure we all had accommodation and I was very glad at that point that I was not trying to travel independently.
“The food throughout the trip was really superb. In the most trying conditions, on glaciers, in the middle of the night, after days without fresh supplies, the kitchen boys managed to produce heaps of delicious food.”
TV series Joanna Lumley’s India saw the actress, who was born in Kashmir, travel 5,000 miles, visit the World One Tower skyscraper in Mumbai and meet the Dalai Lama.
Michael Edwards is managing director of London-based Intrepid Travel, which offers more than 40 trips to India, including biking around Rajasthan and visiting Rishikesh, known as the yoga capital of the world.
He told Eastern Eye that Lumley’s ITV show had led to a spike in bookings.
“India appeals to British travellers of all ages and backgrounds.
“Many of our travellers choose to travel solo to India and we launched our first solo-only departure to India last year on the Golden Triangle itinerary, for those who prefer to travel with fellow solo passengers.
“We often see a spike in interest in bookings to India when it is featured in TV programmes or movies. Over the last few weeks, ITV’s Joanna Lumley [series] has been inspiring lots of people to check out our India trips online.
“Movies such as Monsoon, Slumdog Millionaire or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel have also helped generate interest in the destination.”
Bangladesh and Bhutan have also emerged as a destination for adventurous travellers. Lupine Travel in Manchester is offering a tour of the countries in November as well as to North Korea.
Dylan Harris, who runs Lupine Travel, said the majority of its customers were aged between 30 and 50.
He said: “In Bangladesh, the most popular part of the tour is taking the rocket steamer from Dhaka.
“In Pakistan, Lahore and Multan have proved popular. No activities there but just soaking up the atmosphere of the places.
“My favourite country in the region is Pakistan. The reasons are solely the people. We were made to feel so welcome, from everyone including hotel staff, general public and even the police.”