A venture that allows you to experience artisans and their way of life - up close and personal.
Image: Project Kalayatra

Think of 'art tours' and an exorbitantly priced tour of complex art and architecture comes to mind. But what if we tell you that you can now indulge in a tour as good as any, with just under Rs 500 per day? Chennai based traveler Lekshmi Gopinathan’s Project Kalayatra does just that.

Lekshmi launched Kalayatra back in March 2016, aiming to help the struggling artisan community in India. “I started Kalayatra to connect these indigenous artisans to the real world,” says Lekshmi.

Facilitating a real-time experience for the tourists, Kalayatra is for people who want to get up-close with the artisans and their way of life.

Though the price varies from region to region, the fee begins at Rs 500 per day, including accommodation and food, for week-long trips enabling people to live with these craftsmen. From learning the folk dance of Kalbelia in Jaipur to mastering the art of weaving patch quilt in Balmer, Kalayatra lets you be a part of their journey.

Carrying a strong passion for travel since she was 18, Lekshmi knew that she wanted to do something to appease her wanderlusting soul. “I didn’t want to be a wandering soul without a purpose,” she says.

A trained journalist and also a start-up specialist, she worked with a renowned e-commerce company that specialised in native Indian ethnic wear. But she quit her job soon and initiated Kalayatra.

“As part of my job, I would go often visit the native weavers and interact with them,” Lekshmi narrates. “On one such trip to Varanasi, I spoke to a weaver who told me about the challenges which forced him to migrate to a nearby city and work in a garment factory,” she recalls. She remembers it as the moment which gave her strength to quit her comfortable job and work for these artisans.

A few sessions of research and brainstorming later, Lekshmi decided to couple her passion with a cause. She started going for recce trips and approached artisans with the idea. In the two months since its inception, Kalayatra has arranged 6 trips across Rajasthan with backpackers coming from Brazil, Austria, Germany and France. However, Lekshmi says that the venture is not just for the foreigners but also for the exploring Indians.

“The venture is absolutely non-profit with every penny going to the artisans. In fact, the money exchange is strictly between the traveler and the artisan,” she says.

The firm is now looking for crowd funding. “Though the responses for the same have been minimal, we are looking to tie-up with a few investors,” she says. She is eyeing Himachal Pradesh, Nepal  next, along with a few heritage spots down south.

Eventually, Lekshmi hopes to have a self-sufficient e-commerce model for these artisans.