Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Where are you holidaying this year?

There have been a couple of interesting reports on trends in Indian tourism over the past week and I thought I'd share some of the main findings with you.

The first, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, shows that there has been big rise in the number of Aussie holidaymakers travelling to India – a whopping 29%, in fact! The report says that people are being compelled to visit countries like India as there’s been a lot of investment in accommodation and service levels for overseas visitors. The full story can be read here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/travel/news/holy-cow-aussie-travellers-flocking-to-india-and-philippines/story-e6frg8ro-1226319821597

The second report, from the Ministry of Tourism in India, said there has been a huge upsurge in the number of female visitors, accounting for 2.3 out of the 5.7 million tourists overall. This has apparently been as a result of the Tourism Board focusing on India’s culture and heritage and presenting it as a shopping destination (which shows just how dynamic India can be). What’s more, they expect this to keep increasing year on year.... Read more here: http://bikyamasr.com/65260/women-wake-up-to-indian-tourism

It’s great to see India finally being recognised as a desirable tourist destination. It may not be a traditional holiday hot spot but I know the people who come on my tours are always blown away by the surroundings. There’s such a great mix of culture, heritage and experiences that a simple beach holiday can’t compete in my eyes.

No doubt this rise in popularity is helped by the Incredible India marketing campaign being run by the Indian Government; if more and more overseas tourists continue to see the value and hidden beauty of India as a result, I’m all for it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bikers - Hard Nuts or Really Quite Clever?

There was a really interesting article on The Independent’s website last week about motorbikes and the stereotypes we have of the people who ride them. This was a UK-based article but it really resonated with me – read it here.

As the journalist says, stereotypes encourage you to forget that there is a person on the bike....especially if a motorbike is being driven badly!

In India, motorbikes are a very popular mode of transport. They are cheaper and quicker than cars and allow you to weave in and out of traffic....even though most traffic on an Indian road weaves!

The article goes on to say you need a healthy fear of accidents to ride a bike so you can stay safe. I don’t think this really applies to the Indian rider who fearlessly dodges in and out of traffic, wherever there is room. To some, that would make them dangerous. However, in my opinion, they’re doing what they need to do to get to their destination.

There was a similar article about the appeal of bikes in the Montreal Gazette....ok, this time it was cycles, but same principle. A group of commuters has started cycling to work to avoid the gridlock of rush hour in Indonesia. Their heavily populated roads may be dangerous but at least these people can get from A to B.

It seems we’re hearing more and more about alternative forms of transport, including the bike. I may be biased, but isn’t it time you got involved?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Royal Enfield Tour of Rajasthan

The Royal Enfield tour of Rajasthan 2012 took place between 5-15 February and it seems a great time was had by all; having just returned from our first tour of the year, we were incredibly jealous!

As a tour organiser myself, I wanted to put the spotlight on the Royal Enfield tour as it’s a great example of what a tour should be.

The tour started in Jaipur where the riders were given lots of memorabilia e.g. stickers and t-shirts to really add to the sense of occasion and anticipation for the start of the journey the next day. It’s a great way to get Royal Enfield lovers coming together and making them feel a part of something special. There’s even a starting flag to herald the start of the tour and see excitement reaching fever pitch! To cement this, riders are given certificates at the end of the journey so they have a great memento of their tour.

Although run by Royal Enfield, it’s not all about the bikes; it’s about new experiences and time to unwind too. For example, from dune bashing and a visit to Karni Mata Mandir, famous for its rat population to sampling the local cuisine, camel rides and a (much needed) rest day in Jodhpur. Whilst it’s important to recharge the batteries – tours can be very demanding - these sorts of activities are also important because they help the tour group (most of whom won’t know one another) to bond over a shared appreciation of this (potentially) once in a lifetime experience.

What was great about this tour is that it has been planned to pass major Indian landmarks and give people an experience not to forget e.g. Pokhran, location of the demonstration of India’s nuclear capability and the historic battlefields of Longewala. So people aren’t just getting a great ride and some great sights, they’re getting to absorb some of the history and culture which make India such a fantastic place to tour.

There’s a great blog on the Royal Enfield website which followed the riders on each day of the ride http://www.royalenfield.com/community/events_updates.aspx?eid=39   

We have a similar tour through Rajasthan which this year runs from 13th-30th November. There are still places available so get in quick! http://extremebiketours.com/rajasthan-tour

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

'Dysentry Dodgers' - Funny or Un-PC?

There was a story in Metro the other day about a group of three men who are planning to do a charity rickshaw ride across India. Starting in early April, the Rickshaw Run will be a massive 3600km trip across India. Sounds standard enough...until you take in to account that they will be wearing Morphsuits in temperatures of up to 40C...which is no doubt why they caught the attention of the media!

However, it wasn’t this which caught my eye. I was interested to read that their training involves ‘eating curry’ and that their team name is, wait for it...... Dysentery Dodgers. At first glance, this made me laugh; it really is typical British laddish humour at play. Then it got me thinking about the backlash against Top Gear at Christmas and the uproar Jeremy caused by implanting a loo seat on to his bonnet. I’m a Brit living in India so I like to think I can see this argument from both sides of the coin...and I find this sentiment funny, regardless of whether it’s coming from Clarkson or the fundraising team.

What these men are doing is the exact same; there’s no difference in ‘dysentery dodging’ and experiencing ‘gut rot’. What is different is that one of these sentiments came from Jeremy Clarkson who the majority of the British media just love to hate at the moment. Albeit he is contentious but he can’t do anything right and it’s a shame that the perception of Clarkson has overtaken the show itself.

All they’re highlighting what happens to Brits when visiting India – the rich food can be a lot for their stomachs and it can lead to “gut rot”; it’s not insulting or racist, it’s a fact! And it’s something I even experience when travelling back to the UK as I’m no longer used to British food. However, it’s still very interesting how the UK can latch on to a figure to hate..and it seems Clarkson is it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

South India Tour 2012

Our first tour of the year is now done and dusted – and what a way to start the year!

We had a great time on the tour, as always (sometimes I have to pinch myself that this is my day job). Even better, the first tour group enjoyed it too, one of whom said the tour through 4 southern states of India was one of the best times (if not THE best) I've ever had on a bike”. Not a bad recommendation, we don’t think.

It’s often said that what goes on tour stays on tour, but not with us. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve been up to over the past two weeks....

The tour started in Cochin and first took us to Munnar which has been called a ‘bikers dream’ and has some wonderful lakes, tea plantations and forest canopies which make up the sight-seeing on the fourth day.

From there we rode to Madurai to see the Sri Meenakshi temple and then shortly back to another hill station, this time in Kodaikanal.

Bit of a change of pace then and a long drive – and six thousand foot climb - to the Ooti Madurai national park and Tiger reserve; riders used their free day (while we serviced the bikes) to get really up close and personal with the animals on a safari trip or relax by the pool…think we know who get the better end of that deal!

The next day we headed to Mysore which is famous for its palace, temples and bazaars and then moved on to Udipi which is a beach resort completely at odds with the city from the day previous.

It was time then to wind down and head up the coast towards Goa and Agonda Beach. Once here, we toured the best beaches of South Goa – so calming and beautiful that it caused one rider to exclaim ‘I knew I had come home’ - before riding to Anjuna beach. Relaxation was the name of the game for the last day before flights home.

All of our routes are carefully planned to not only showcase India at its finest but also so that there’s something for everyone – from 72 hairpins to open flowing roads to staying in a tiger reserve, being on the beach, riding through beautiful mountain scenery, jungles and along coastal routes…. Variety is the spice of life and we try to give our riders it all. No package deals or benign entertainment here – just full throttle adrenalin and excitement.

Above all, we’re trying to give people an experience they won’t forget (unless they come back to do it again!) We want them to experience the freedom and fun of riding a motorbike…as it should be. There’s no better place to do this than India. We’ve all heard the horror stories of Indian roads but, as a matter of fact, there is little traffic in India apart from the big cities and we arrange our tour routes so you see as little traffic as possible (although it’s not unavoidable).

India remains the fascinating, ensnaring, infuriating enigma it will always be. Time and again you catch yourself thinking, "it would be so much easier if only they . . . ." but then you remember that the Indian way is not our way. And their way does seem to be working.

So if you’re looking for a tour which offers the most 'smiles per mile' (as one rider described it) get in touch and find out about our array of tours. There are some still available for this year. Visit http://extremebiketours.com/prices to find out more.

As one of our riders put it, ‘[Extreme Bike Tours] can offer you ten days of sweat… adrenalin, excitement, exhilaration, pain…and sheer hard work’… but my god, it’s worth it. Why not find out for yourself?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

BBC defence leaps in to second gear...

My last blog post looked at the UK media’s reaction to the Top Gear Christmas Special 2011 in the aftermath of the show. Despite it being nearly a month since the show was on TV, it appears it’s still managing to hit the headlines. Since my last post, the Indian High Commission lodged a complaint with the BBC that they had been duped in to allowing the show to be filmed in India.
Up until then, the BBC had remained very quiet on the subject but it appears this was one step too far, leading them to release a statement last week in defence of the crew’s antics.

In it, they said the programme showed India for what it is and that all it did was poke fun at the presenters....NOT at Indians: 'Our film showed the charm, the beauty, the wealth, the poverty and the idiosyncrasies of India, but there's a vast difference between showing a country, warts and all, and insulting it....It's simply not the case that we displayed a hostile or superior attitude to our hosts.' As a long time resident of this beautiful country, with many friends here, I couldn’t agree more.

However, this is something which seems to have been lost on the viewing public. The crew themselves even acknowledged this at the end of the show, saying the cars were better ambassadors than they were. Yet again, it seems people need reminding that the show wasn’t trying to be something it wasn’t. Regardless of this, it was also announced last week that Top Gear was the most watched show on BBC iPlayer not only over Christmas, but the whole of December; with viewing figures pushing 5 million, it’s still an immensely popular show and it seems a shame that the enjoyment of these people is tainted by a few hundred complaints which have been picked up and whipped in to a media storm. Us Brits have always been quick to complain......!

From my perspective, it’s a shame that such a positive (if not stressful!) experience has been misconstrued in this way. It was such a fun show to film and, at the end of the day, the shoot was received extremely well by the Indian locals. The reaction the show has received is a real shame as it feels some people are being very quick to judge what was an unforgettable time for me and my company. There was no hostility or bad feeling so why has this now overshadowed the programme? Even local Indian newspapers, such as The Herald, printed stories about the BBC press statement – would they have done that if they were really offended by the show?

So, for just one moment, let’s forget all the negativity and celebrate what is still a British institution. Visit our Facebook page to see some behind the scenes photos from filming and follow us on Twitter for more news and views.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My reaction to the Top Gear Christmas Special 2011

I haven’t blogged much of late (bit of an understatement, I know!) and thought there no better time to start up again than with my reaction to the Top Gear Christmas Special. It was aired in the UK on 28th December and it seems it got everyone talking! The show pulled in a staggering 5 million viewers, making it a real success in the Christmas ratings war.

As a lot of you know, I was approached by Top Gear to be a ‘fixer’ for the show because of my in depth knowledge of India (more on this to follow in later posts). This meant I helped to pull the show together behind the scenes and it was a great honour to be asked.
However, it would seem opinion was split on the show itself. Once it aired, there was a barrage of negative reviews in the UK media...and the fallout is still continuing. As I had the pleasure of working on the show, I felt it deserved the reaction of someone from behind the scenes. I’m not here to defend Top Gear against all those who didn’t enjoy the show but I felt I had to let people know what it was like to film because, trust me, it was a very different experience than what you saw on screen.

The Top Gear cast is renowned for their sense of humour and love of controversy and this Christmas Special is no exception. My main recollection of the show was one of laughter – not derision. If I could say anything, it was that people had FUN on the shoot and I feel this has been lost slightly on the viewing public.

I love India and have lived and worked here now for many years; a lot of my friends, colleagues and staff are Indian and some were present on the shoot itself so if anyone is best placed to comment on the show’s racism, it would be them. However, I’ve yet to come across anyone who took the show badly; in fact, it was the opposite. People queued to witness the shoot in progress and there was real excitement around it. Know the phrase ‘Mad dogs and Englishman’? The Top Gear trio bemused its Indian audience - but in a good way! - and it’s unfortunate that some of the activities from the show were taken out of this context.

It may not have been to everyone’s tastes and some may have even thought the show derogatory but I do wonder why we can only latch on to the negative. As the guys themselves said, the cars were better ambassadors than they were and the show was not trying to be something it was not. Also, you have to counter this with events in the show such as exhaust pipe cricket and the vehicle race, which drew large crowds all wanting to be involved; parts of the show such as this made me extremely glad to be a part of a great British institution....my staff were even working overtime just to be involved; not the actions of people who were taking offense!

Also think of the times during the show which showcased the real India and reminded me why I now live in this wonderful country. Richard Hammond, for example, called it ‘The kind of [landscape] which stays with you forever’ and I have to agree.

It’s a hot topic and one we all have an opinion on. As someone who got to know the cast and crew, this once in a lifetime experience was unforgettable for all the right reasons and I am proud of the involvement I had in its production.