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Off the beaten track
Adventure is preferred over comfort by the new Indian traveller. He wants to experience exotic locales with just his backpack, not dull packaged tours, finds Ritusmita Biswas
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T first I could see nothing. And then my eyes adjusted as I realised with a gasp that I was finally under the sea. The feeling was uncanny and I could see colourful organisms and fishes all about me. A sudden gasp from the woman next to me and I turned my gaze in the direction she was looking.

Tie the knot in Goa
Ervell E. Menezes talks to Lester Melo, who has made it is his business to arrange marriages in the land of sun, sand íní surf for not only Indians but also NRIs and foreigners
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HE open market has opened new vistas for us in India, and especially in Goa. Weíve heard of NRIs coming down for medical treatment. What we are referring to at present is what targets foreigners as well as NRIs. Itís getting married in Goa and the need for someone to do all the arrangements.

Mrinalís new Quest
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HE made her mark as an engaging actress in serials like Hasratein, Sparsh, Zindagi Teri Meri Kahani and Son Pari. Now Mrinal Kulkarni is showing that she has what it takes to be on the big screen as well. And none other than Amol Palekar has acknowledged her talent with a lead role in his latest film.
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Off the beaten track

Adventure is preferred over comfort by the new Indian traveller. He wants to experience exotic locales with just his backpack, not dull packaged tours, finds Ritusmita Biswas



New locales and activities are being sought by vacationers
New locales and activities are being sought by vacationers

AT first I could see nothing. And then my eyes adjusted as I realised with a gasp that I was finally under the sea. The feeling was uncanny and I could see colourful organisms and fishes all about me. A sudden gasp from the woman next to me and I turned my gaze in the direction she was looking. It was then I saw it eye to eye. Eyes as mean and almost daring me to come out and face the challenge. Of course, I was safe within my cage and thankful for that. Seeing a shark from such close quarters could take a toll on my nerves, I thought, but at the same time I was elated that it was such a welcome break from the mundane holidays, says 28-year-old Shweta Pandey, finance manager with a multinational company after her trip to Hawaiian Island, where she went shark-watching.

Calm holidays comprising romance and star-gazing seem to be pass`E9 for the regular traveller these days. They look for thrill and unusual activities like underwater shark-watching during holidays.

In fact, a new kind of Indian traveller is coming up. He hates packaged tours and buffet lunches. He is out on a foreign land with just his backpack and is keen to enjoy the adventure and exotic feel of a foreign country. Comfort for him is not the key word but adventure is.

"Yes, thatís correct," says Shreoshi Moitra, a leading travel agent. "These new travellers like to check out everything by themselves. Although for most Indians I would say holidaying is sort of a comforting concept, a time to take rest, itís not for these people. They come to us demanding for exotic destinations which will have opportunities for sports-related activities." For example, a couple months back there was this traveller who wanted to go to a virgin place, somewhere no one goes. "The problem with such demands is that these places usually lack basic tourist amenities," she adds.

But some travel agents long associated with the industry point out that it is not a problem for these tourists as they are mentally prepared for it. They want adventure and fun, thanks to the programmes of National Geographic channel and other adventure series that are regularly watched in homes with cable television.

One such traveller is Anarghya Basu. A media professional working with a well-known ad agency in Mumbai, he is a mountaineer, camper and hiker to boot. "For my travel related to work I have enough five-star comfort and air travel. But for my holidays, I want it different. I keep everything necessary, including the provisions, with me. At times I hitch hike alone in a countryside, while at other times I go with my group to trek at exotic locales like Pindari Glacier."

Agrees biker and adventurer Gaurav Jani who has travelled across India on his bike. "The thrill of discovering something new, going to places people usually never go makes my holiday. Itís not about comfort but mental happiness and relaxation which make it worthwhile. After all, if you want comfort itís best to stay at home," he declares.

Keeping pace with this new kind of traveller, travel agencies have come out with new schemes and locales destined to thrill the tourists. Some of the popular activities include snorkelling and scuba diving in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Here one can explore the underwater world and enjoy sea life to its fullest. The best time to go is December to April.

Or one could try paragliding at destinations like Kallahaiti (near Ooty) Virar (near Mumbai) Billing (Kangra valley) and other places. The best time to try out paragliding is September to March and it costs about Rs 1,500 per day.

Then there is parasailing which one can do on Goaís famed beaches. The passenger is harnessed to a flat parachute which takes him to air from where he can enjoy vistas of the coastline or cliffs. It costs Rs 400 to Rs 700 for three to five minutes in air.

Skiing, the popular winter sport of Europe associated with highlife, is getting increasingly popular in India too. Now a Ford company is even going to start a private ski resort in the foothills of the Himalayas. Auli in Uttaranchal has steep slopes as high as 9000 km and the best infrastructure. Manali and Rohtang Pass could be the other destinations and the best time is December to March. One needs to spend around Rs 10,000 for a weekís sport and training.

Today, unlike in the past, the Indian traveller does not seem reluctant to spend money in order to enjoy these thrills. Explains psychologist Rina Basu Roy: "People today are mostly bored with the common things. They are forever craving for thrills and an escape from mundane work-loaded lifestyle. They have all the comforts they need at home. So the holiday becomes an ideal option for looking at the other side of life, experiencing nature."

Agrees trekker Soma Nath: "All of us are scared while trying out these sports however brave we might be. And only when you are scared and face near death do you appreciate what life is! After all, life is so short and you need to have all experiences in one life." ó TWF

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Tie the knot in Goa

Ervell E. Menezes talks to Lester Melo, who has made it is his business to arrange marriages in the land of sun, sand íní surf for not only Indians but also NRIs and foreigners

Wedding planner Lester Melo
Wedding planner Lester Melo

Foreigners find the idea of getting married in Goa fascinating
Foreigners find the idea of getting married in Goa fascinating

THE open market has opened new vistas for us in India, and especially in Goa. Weíve heard of NRIs coming down for medical treatment. What we are referring to at present is what targets foreigners as well as NRIs. Itís getting married in Goa and the need for someone to do all the arrangements. The thinking is if Goaís the place to be in, one might as well get married there. Itís also cheaper than abroad.

Knock, knock, and we now have a new breed of entrepreneursóthe Wedding Planner. Of course thereíll be Goans making money only by hiring out motorbikes, or subletting their premises for huge sums. But the more enterprising will go a step further and cash in on their existing skills.

Yes, thatís Lester Melo (32), whoís been in the travel business for 11 years (Melo Tours) and when one of his friends asked him to plan his wedding, he thought why not. Now it looks like he may move from being a tour operator to being a wedding planner full time. Most wedding planners, he admits, are either women or gays. "Iím neither," he says proudly. Whatís more, he has a fiancee. Wonder whoíll plan his wedding, surely he canít do that, or who knows?

Born in East Africa (his father helped set up Air Tanzania) and schooled in Muscat, Lester did his college in Goa (St. Xavierís and Dempos). His commerce degree has surely helped but at barely 19 he helped run his fatherís restaurant in Calangute. From then on it has been work, work and more work, but he kept breaking new ground. Like he was the first to take groups to the Dudhsagar waterfalls. With Melo Tours (started in 1994) as base, Lester has continued to experiment with ancillary businesses.

He was inspired no doubt by the film The Wedding Planner that featured Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez. "My first wedding was on October 23, 2001, Elizabeth and Atilla," he recalls near nostalgically. It was semi-Christian, registered in Mapuca and the reception was at Resorte de Lagoa Azul, says Lester showing pictures and the comments (he has a file of them). "Thank you for organising everything for us, we never knew you could do it`85 it went on (edited). May be Lester didnít at the time. But by now heís an expert with a staff of more than 20 (his suppliers run into over 200) and had only one free day this March.

"An Indian wedding is a three-day affair, sangeet, mehndi, pheras and reception and will cost Rs 6 to 10 lakh," he adds knowledgeably, but he does everything. In fact, if the party is in Mumbai they have to come to Goa only twice. Once, to tell him what they want, and the next time, for the wedding. Being in the travel line he has good contacts with hotels and transport companies. A Goan wedding would cost Rs 2 to 4 lakh, and here he refers to upper-middle class Goans who will not cut corners.

On his laptop, Lester has photos of different weddings. His friend Vinay Anand, a Jet Airways pilot, married Jayasheel Rodrigues, an IT professional from Bangalore, on February 21 this year. It was an inter-religious wedding and he planned it two weeks in advance. The decor was in lilac and white, his favourite combination.

Are there others in the line, you ask him, and he nods. Thereís one he knows in Margao and may be others but enquiries elsewhere gave an indication that he was the leading one. Ask for any location, on the beach, in an exclusive place in the five-star hotels and Lester is said to manage it.

"I got an elephant for an Indian wedding at the Marriotts," he says. The couple were from the United Kingdom. He got a helicopter to drop leaflets for another. He speaks of an Aggarwal wedding, where he booked 230 rooms at the Park Hyatt. They also booked the Caravela (casino) for the night and a triple-decker cruise Paradise boat for non-gamblers. This yearís Valentine Day, he doubled the tariff as prices soar on that day, he points out.

Lester also supervises other wedding planners. So itís all smooth sailing, it seems. What next, you ask him, and he comes up with this: "My lifeís ambition is to be a wedding planner for Goan weddings. There surely is a need for one," he says with a tinge of pride and poses the rider: "Why shouldnít Goans do things in style?" May be he has a point.

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Mrinalís new Quest

Mrinal KulkarniSHE made her mark as an engaging actress in serials like Hasratein, Sparsh, Zindagi Teri Meri Kahani and Son Pari. Now Mrinal Kulkarni is showing that she has what it takes to be on the big screen as well. And none other than Amol Palekar has acknowledged her talent with a lead role in his latest film.

Quest is a fast-paced, contemporary depiction of an urban coupleís life. The story revolves around Sai and Aditya who weave their lives together despite professional pressures and individual dilemmas. The film has gone on the foreign festivals circuit and will be premiered in the Brisbane Film Festival in Australia. It will be released in India in August.

Though she says itís been an experience working with Palekar in a film, Mrinal loves the small screen and especially Son Pari. As proof of her popularity, she shows loads of letters she gets from children daily, cheering her for her powers.

"Itís as if thereís some Pari who is guiding me in my career." Sure itís been magic all the way for the soft-spoken Mrinal. ó NF

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