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People will want to travel and explore again once the situation normalises in the state, says director, Folk Living ,Shreyash Diukar

Trail travails

The ongoing pandemic may have put a temporary dent on their activities. But local heritage trail groups have been using the lockdown time to connect with enthusiasts virtually while planning the way forward

CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ

“When the lockdown happened, it was something very different for us. We didn’t know what to do at first,” says founder, Soul Travelling, Varun Hede.

Deeply involved in showcasing a different side to the much publicised ‘sun sea and sand Goa’, over the last few years, Soul Travelling has regularly organised a variety of trails – from food and tavern trails which introduce participants to some offbeat local favourites to Christian Art Trails which are an education into some interesting art in the state.

These are usually attended by a motley group of heritage enthusiasts, locals seeking to know their state better, and tourists passing through Goa. However, with the lockdown (which began with the Janata Curfew on March 22) sealing state borders and clamping down on all activity across Goa, people were left grappling with an uncertain future. With the pandemic also putting tourism activity on hold, groups like Soul Travelling, which are all about exploring offbeat Goa, have had to pause and do a rethink about how they will approach the new normal

situation.

“We took a call that no matter what happens we wouldn’t close shop,” says Hede. While the group initially used their built network across different villages to facilitate grocery distribution in the state, they then turned their attention online, doing a form of virtual travelling. “We thought that this might be a good opportunity to connect with people around the world who are doing something similar,” says Hede. And as such, every Wednesday and Saturday, the group has been conducting live sessions with those who conduct similar heritage experiences in different parts of the world. Some of the locations they have managed to cover include Mumbai, Kolkata, Lahore, Tanzania, and Granada. “The stories that they have brought out are absolutely amazing. We have started getting people from around the world on the platform,” says Hede.

Apart from this the group has also worked on creating videos on Goa which will be out shortly. They are also working on a series where travellers will share their experiences. “The idea is that the main purpose of Soul Travelling ie exploring with people, stays alive,” says Hede, adding that they have in fact found themselves busier during the lockdown, as they worked to create content online.

In contrast, being a fairly new start up, Folk Living was hit harder. An organisation working towards preservation and promotion of Indian art and culture, participants are usually given a hands-on experience of village life and all its folk beauty. They are often invited to milk the cow, make something out of mud, etc. The group was in the process of identifying new places when the lockdown was

announced.

“The lockdown was a heartbreak for us because we were about to get into a bigger plan, venture into new villages and open new tours,” says director, Folk Living, Shreyash Diukar.

The strict nature of the lockdown prevented the group from also being able to conduct proper research. “We couldn’t do everything over the phone either as these are villages that are remote and without network,” says

Diukar.

In the meantime, they took to putting out folk stories on Facebook and YouTube which covered mythology, Goa then and now, etc. They have also begun a Villages of Goa series with the first episode centring around Divar Island. “The content for these videos will be produced by locals from that village itself. Next on the list is Cansaulim,” says Diukar.

Exclamations Goa has also been doing a myth buster series online during the lockdown. In fact, on May 31, it collaborated with Goan Ranchikud to give people a glimpse into the vegetarian cuisine of Goa.

“Most people only know of vegetarian food from North India, there is no awareness about vegetarian food synonymous with Goa. In fact, even during our trails we take participants to local Goan houses to acquaint them with this food,” says curator,

Exclamations Goa, Sawani Shetye.

A venture of Vinsan World focusing on exploring unexplored Goa, the group has in the recent past done a number of interesting trails like the handloom trail where people got to see the weaving of kunbi sarees, a farm trail in Netravali, etc.

But during the lockdown the group has resorted to sharing knowledge online. The group will soon be putting out a video on pre-Portuguese history on Goa. Historian Sanjeev Sardesai will also be releasing a video on how Goa is a tourist place not only for youngsters seeking the party life but also for family vacations or a spiritual vacation. Alongside this Shetye has also been using her personal social media account to conduct live sessions on various topics like rivers of India, introduction to archaeology, career opportunities in archaeology, the Goa-Maharashtra connect, etc

“As of now it looks like a lot of live sessions will happen and the advantage of this is that it is a repository that stays online. People in their 70s and 80s, etc, who have otherwise never done anything like this are now doing these talks and people from different places now have access this,” says Shetye. And sessions like these are also useful in developing a solid online presence, she says. “We have got quite an interesting response from a new crowd and it will definitely help in our brand building,” says Shetye, adding that they also used the lockdown time to work on their website and backend processes, besides researching on new places to add to their trails list.

But wouldn’t all this free content on social media make people lazy about actually making the trip to later be a part of these trails? Hede doesn’t think so. “What you see online is just a trailer and it will make you want to explore more. What you will experience in real time in much more complete,” he says.

But of course, conducting these trails again will take time and there are a lot of factors that will have to be taken into account. “We don’t know how many people will be receptive to going on these trails now. Although we have observed many people moving around on beaches, etc, now, they are usually with family and friends. We don’t know how open they will be to being around people that they don’t know,” says Shetye. Besides, given that the economy has taken a hard hit, with salaries being affected, people may not be ready to dole out for experiences which are not essential at the moment, says Shetye. Perhaps, she says, they may have to do some cost cutting on their trails to make it more viable for people.

“We are expecting that tourism will start soon but it is still dicey to plan ahead. We don’t know our target audience. We don’t know if Europeans will be travelling soon given the money crisis. Elders may be hesitant too given that they are in the high-risk category,” she says. And while Indians seem to be moving out a lot more freely now, this may just be limited to India. However, she says, there could also be another outcome of this whole pandemic situation. “The hippies who came to Goa in the earlier days had seen the World War II and thus had the attitude of you only live once and wanted to enjoy to the fullest. They were without any inhibitions. This could also happen here once things settle down,” she says. And lots of people will want to come into India to learn yoga and other ancestral knowledge that the country has, she feels.

Diukar also believes that a lot of people will come into Goa once things settle down. “I don’t think people will be hesitant to come for these trails. There is a lot of pent up energy in people from sitting inside for so long and they want to let it out and see and experience things,” he believes.

Of course, safety measures in place will be paramount. “Even before the lockdown began, we already had the practice of sanitising in place. In the last food trail we had just before the lockdown, all the places we visited were sanitised before the trail began. Distancing was also maintained,” says Hede, adding that they have begun working on certain SOPs that they expect will come into place. And while the state is slowly opening up, Hede believes that it will take much longer for them to begin operations. “It will take time for people to come out. There are going to be challenges. But once a few people come in and see that the safety measures are well in place, word will get around and more people will come in,” he says. “I think people are well rested now and are ready to explore. The enthusiasm is still there.”

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