Guest Blogger and Unhotel Mentor – Kunal Sinha writes about curating special Unhotel experiences especially for Chinese travelers
With over a hundred million travellers heading overseas last year, the Chinese have turned into world’s most avid explorers. This exploration, of course, is not limited to snagging the best deals in shopping malls. It’s the experience of skiing in Austria, penguin watching in Antartica, camping under the Aurora Borealis and castle-hopping in the Loire Valley that has captured their imagination.
For over a decade, as an Indian living, working and travelling through the length and breadth of China I have observed, made friends with, been entertained by countless folks from my host country. I have encountered immense curiosity about our history, traditions, cinema, cuisine, inability to do well in the Olympics, extraordinary prowess in information technology, and bewilderment about caste, gender and politics. Even as old taxi drivers break into the tune of ‘Awara Hoon’ at the sight of every Indian passenger – a legacy of the Raj Kapoor film being the first foreign film to be released in China after the Cultural Revolution, I’ve marveled at the sudden popularity of ‘3 Idiots’ – a remarkable resonance between the pressures faced by high school and college students in both societies.
But it was the remarkable sight of hundreds of young Chinese students performing yoga in the ancient city of Xi’an that set me thinking. What would it take to give some of these enthusiasts an authentic experience in the birthplace of yoga? A peek into the selfies posted by many Chinese friends, in yogic poses on the beaches of South East Asia suggested that the demand was clearly there.
I reached out to my good friend and former colleague Manish Sinha, who, with his wife Shilpi, her mother and aunt ran a collection of charming, personalized homestays in India. They are anything but cookie-cutter hotel-like, hence the name Unhotel. There’s the lovely Cinnamon Stays in Gurgaon, Granny’s Inn smack bang in the middle of my hometown Varanasi, Mukteshwar’s serene mountain retreat with a view of the majestic Himalayas, the atmospheric Rainbow Villa in Goa, and the Safari Lodge in Jim Corbett Park. As we exchanged notes over WhatsApp, and later in person, I discovered that for some of Manish’s Chinese guests, such as Jaclin Chen from Shenzhen, it was sheer serendipity which had turned them into guests and fans of Unhotel.
“We can’t leave it to chance, can we?” Manish and I concurred. And so we decided that we would bring together my insights into the expectations of Chinese travellers, with Manish’s experience curation – to offer unique, memorable itineraries to the Chinese outbound travel market.
What could be a better place to begin than yoga – especially when it can be combined with royal Rajasthan? What might be a better time than Chinese New Year / Spring Festival – when millions of people fan out across the nation and the globe? I’m delighted that a group of yoga enthusiasts – led by Ganesh Singh who runs the very popular Just Yoga centres in Shanghai, will be heading out to Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer (with a bit of Delhi thrown in) for 10 days for the experience of a lifetime. They will do yoga on the ramparts of forts and on the sand dunes against the rising sun; in the tranquility of Lodhi Gardens and against the colourful landscape of the Blue city. This will be interspersed with trips to bustling bazaars and sampling delectable cuisine.
But we don’t want the Unhotel Experience to stop there.
A resurgent interest in China (and elsewhere) led us to create a week-long Buddhist Break – covering Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Sarnath and Varanasi, with chanting and meditation sessions and rickshaw tours of the ancient city of Shiva. Then we offer the old favourite in the form of the Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra and Varanasi, which serves up a cultural voyage through Mughal Era India, with a diversion to experience Indian classical music, exquisite silks and mysticism on the banks of the Ganga.
These curated itineraries are expressions of the Unhotel beliefs. It is not about where you stay: it is always about how you were treated there. It is not just about what you see or do. Rather, it’s about the most meaningful experience, guided by insiders who understand your motivations and the best a destination has to offer.