Following the trail: This Bengaluru travel start-up is helping people experience and not just see places

When you think of Goa, you think of beaches and booze. Do you also know it has a wildlife trail?
Following the trail: This Bengaluru travel start-up is helping people experience and not just see places
Following the trail: This Bengaluru travel start-up is helping people experience and not just see places
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Travel is high up on the priority list of most millennials but while you might know where you want to go, it doesn't mean you'll always see what's worth seeing. 

"If you go to Cochin airport, you can see these tourism stands that are usually unmanned and have a bunch of brochures lying around. It is up to the people to pick those up or not. There's nothing to tell you 'Hey, this is what you should be doing in Kerala'. And very often you are at the mercy of your hotel reception desk or cabbies. These don't necessarily give you the right sense of the place," says Narayana Menon. 

And it is precisely this void that Wandertrails, a Bengaluru-based start-up of which Narayana is a co-founder and CMO, is trying to fill. 

"All of us travel, we travel on work, or go on personal trips. So we thought 'Why not be the solution for the millennial traveller who has a time-constraint but wants to have an authentic experience?'" he says. 

Formed last year by a bunch of friends who hail from varied professional backgrounds and who quit their jobs to start their dream enterprise, Wandertrails curates experience-led trails for its customers. 

Travellers can opt to for stays, activities or a combination of both in the 65 destinations across 12 Indian states in which the company currently has a presence. 

From a nature camp on the banks of the Cauvery to staying amidst spice plantations in Wayanad, a 3-day trek to Nag Tibba in Uttarakhand or boogie boarding in Goa's Baga beach, there's plenty to choose from. Also those who aren't feeling too adventurous and want to simply have a relaxing time can go on cooking trails or book a wellness session. 

While the love for travelling and exploring may be shared by many, Narayana says, what people look for when they visit a place can vary from person to person. 

Someone can be a foodie, another can be interested in the heritage of the place, some may like adventure and a few like Narayana, who loves writing, may look at a destination from the perspective of a story. 

"For us, 'What can I do' in a place takes precedence over simply 'I want to go there'. We look either at the uniqueness of the location, the aesthetics of the place, the activities available there or the nature of the homestay host before finalising it," he explains. 

The trigger to start the company came from a personal experience, i.e. when Sruti, another co-founder, got married a few years ago. Sruti's husband hails from Kerala and they had several guests coming over from the US to be a part of their special day. 

One of the requests was, Narayana narrates, that they wanted to "get a real sense of Kerala" and not just another regular tourist-y outing. 

So, Sruti turned to her friends, the other co-founders, and a trail was created for the guests. This included a houseboat stay in the backwaters, canoe ride, watching toddy being tapped and eating very authentic local cuisine. They also got to watch sessions of Kathakali and other art forms. 

"When these guys left, they had a real sense of what Kerala is all about and fairly authentic experiences that they took back as memories," Narayana shares. 

The company, which currently hosts over 5,000 experiential stays and immersive activities, says it has made nearly 3,000 units of sale since it went live in July 2016. And a significant part of it is driven by reviews and references from its customers. 

Earlier this year, it raised $1m in seed funding from a UK- based venture capital firm and it plans to build India's largest experiential travel network by 2020. 

Uttarakhand, Alibag, Mahabaleshwar, Pondicherry, Coorg and Wayanad are some of their most popular trails. And Narayana says people don't necessarily have to burn a hole in their pockets to have a truly enriching experience. 

"You can stay at a decent place and have a decent experience in as less as a couple of thousand bucks. And it can sometimes go as high as Rs 50,000. But there's something for everybody."

As he signs off, the former marketing professional says they want people to "discover the real". 

"When you think of Goa, what comes to your mind?" he asks. 

He then proceeds to answer the question himself: "You think of beaches and booze. But did you know, Goa also has a wildlife trail and that you can go on a feni (a local drink extracted from cashews or coconuts) trail?"

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