If there’s an upside to the slowing of the global economy, these Indian women have not heard of it.
Groups of Indian women are travelling together to destinations far and wide, from the Taj Mahal in Agra to the Antarctica.
Patriarchy tradition has dictated that the Indian woman always remain under the protection and care of a male – a father figure or husband.
These women opt to be footloose and make their own travel plans.
Women who travelled in groups historically in India were usually widows, abandoned wives or elderly women.
But they would also usually travel in the company of a male chaperone, on pilgrimages to Benares or other temple towns.
With growing education, employment and income, India’s women from the cities are shaking off traditional notions to seek company from their sisterhood while travelling.
“In a typical Indian family holiday women end up in a role-playing mode of being a mother, wife, daughter and are often unable to experience a destination as an individual,” says Piya Bose, owner of Mumbai-based women’s travel group, GOTG (Girls on the Go).
Gurgaon-based Debbie Misra agrees, who besides annual holidays with her husband and family, makes sure she leaves with “my gal pals of similar interests” on two holidays a year.
“At any given time, an Indian woman has to accommodate the various needs of her family, be it her husband with a desire for golf and home cooking or kids with adventure or infants with baby food and nappy changes.
Even the educated and emancipated women relax more in the company of like-minded women”, she says.
Wanderlust and the Indian woman
With a growing number of urban, educated Indian women expressing the desire to travel, many groups have mushroomed across the country to address this need and this captive market.
Ask Sumitra Senapathy, the pioneer and leader of this niche market who works out of offices in both New Delhi in North India and Bangalore in South India.
A travel writer, Senapathy founded her travel club exclusively for women called WOW (Women on Wanderlust) eight years ago.
She recalls it being a “humble home enterprise” but it grew 100 percent year on year with women learning about it through “word of mouth”.
“We’re not a travel agency, but a travel platform for women to come together and share exciting experiences.”
The WOW club organises some 75 tours annually, out of which about half are international trips.
Ladakh, Kashmir, Valley of Flowers Trek, Kerala, and spa and wellness resort programmes are a big hit.
Bhutan, Japan, Morocco, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Iceland and Pacific cruises are popular choices with the women.
Socially, women no longer have to think twice when they need a holiday. They can turn to women-only groups.
“They can come in solo but travel with the security that a group provides”, says Senapathy.
The various clubs offer a variety of travel experiences for women’s groups to choose from.
Besides assuring quality and comfortable hotels, travellers can choose from a range of experiences like adventure trips, leisure and wellness, historic site visits and unique cultural attractions.
The women-only travel groups all have well established websites and use social media networks to spread the message of their travel business.
They also accommodate or include Mommies and Kids only trips when women cannot leave their children behind at home.
Have money, will travel
The growing tribe of women-only travellers belong to the upwardly-mobile, educated and financially independent women.
Vidya Deshpande, partner and owner of Soul Purpose-adventure travel for women based in Gurgaon, says there are many reasons for women to want to travel.
“Many husbands are too busy with their stressful jobs and have no time for their wives,” Deshpande says.
“Single women and mothers exhausted from the routine of parenting find these women-only travel experiences exhilarating.”
Her travel club offers “independent minded women travellers a chance to travel to offbeat places”.
“Economic independence and the opening of traditional mindsets have made this choice possible, says Deshpande.
“A growing number of Indian women with incomes of their own, with an appetite for travel and adventure across the big cities now see travel as an expression of their own individuality,” she explains.
Why does the modern Indian woman prefer company of her own kind instead of travelling alone?
Piya Bose says that whatever be the level of adventure seeking, Indian women are “interested to explore new places in safety and comfort”.
Safety is a prime concern for an Indian woman across class divides. They may seek adventure, but safety is an aspect Indian women are conditioned to be aware of.
All the major players in the women-only travel market concur that these groups offer a one-stop solution to address issues of companionship, sorority and freedom.
In mixed groups many times Indian women are not able to talk freely or do the things that they want to do.
Even for small things like shopping they often feel they have to deal with sulking husbands.
While men may freely go to a pub for a drink, women are not allowed to do so.
Today women-only travel clubs may be one percent of the Indian travel market, but these entrepreneurs predict a faster growth in this profit-making enterprise.
The aim of such travel groups ultimately as Piya Bose says is to “liberate Indian women through travel”.
This feature is a part of our ongoing special India coverage. To read more stories click here.