Are caravan holidays the latest domestic travel trend? We have the details.

Pandemic travel for the nervous adventurer demands a bubble. Enter the caravan. As Indian travellers discover these homes on wheels, State Governments are stepping in to sweeten the deal

After covering a large part of the country on a motor bike with her husband, Nagpur-based Neha Soman, decided to buy a caravan. It would be more comfortable, and also novel, she thought. In 2016 she bought a caravan from a manufacturer in Delhi, and decided to also rent it out to other intrepid travellers. She called it Wacation On Wheels.

Neha and her husband are still waiting to take a long-planned trip to Leh in their caravan. “My holidaying has reduced since I bought it,” she laughs, adding that it is booked for most of the year. Fortunately, last week, she did manage to vacation in her friend’s caravan in Rajasthan, as they drove from Jaipur to Ranthambore.

The number of caravans in the country is certainly growing as a result of the pandemic, says Neha . There are proper companies running them now, with licenses, adds Neha, who has two caravans of her own and manages three others that belong to owners in Bhopal/Indore, Mumbai, and Jaipur.

Enquiries at Wacation On Wheels have doubled this year, with 14-15 calls per day and the vehicles are out 14 days a month on an average, says Neha. Last year, this Nagpur-based outfit saw about 5% of tourism-based travel in their caravans. The remaining 95% of business was from people who required assistance getting from one city to another.

This primarily included infants and senior citizens who did not want to risk a train or flight, stand in check-in queues, or were unwell to otherwise travel.

A family enjoying a meal outdoors

Carvaa Travelers, started last October, and Carawander by Siddharth Arya Jolly in April this year, are among the new players in the market. Jigyasu Joshi, along with his friends Himanshu Jangid, Yogesh Kumar, and Pranav Sharma, set up operations for Carvaa Travelers in Delhi. Even with the demand going through the roof, Jigyasu was tentative about the success and future of the business, putting the bookings down to clients’ whims or one time experience.

Revving up

In the months to come, he and his friends discovered that this mode had become more of a necessity than something experiential. “It was revenge travel, revenge consumption,” Jigyasu laughs over a call from the capital. Currently operating with two caravans, the team plans to add a few more to their fleet. Unlike Carvaa Travelers, Carawander had a bumpy ride in the beginning. “We launched in April and five days later the second wave started so we had to suspend operations,” says 22-year-old Siddharth. He commenced services in August, but before that his vehicles — a motorhome and a campervan — had to undergo repairs as they were parked for four months.

Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

The novelty, privacy, flexibility, and sense of being in a bubble is what greatly works in the favour of caravans, even though they may not exactly be pocket-friendly. Operators price them anywhere between ₹4,500 to ₹27,000 or more a day, depending on the size and facilities. The additional costs include fuel, toll tax and State tax that vary from ₹200 per day to as high as ₹15,000 for a month, even if it means one is driving through a State for a day to get to another.

These vehicles provide a sense of niche adventure, says Siddharth, whose wheels have already been booked for a movie shoot in Uttarakhand next month and Jaisalmer end of this month. “My motorhome, has a bedroom, living room, indoor and outdoor kitchen, one big storage space, and wardrobe. It is made on the chassis of a bus and measures 32 feet in length and is eight feet wide, and can accommodate six adults.”

Some caravans can sleep nine people, some six and a few just three. These leisure vehicles have beds, an attached bathroom, well-stocked kitchenette, entertainment units, camping kits, barbecue equipment, and a chauffeur and cleaner. This is also a great way for holidaymakers to explore lesser known destinations. Some governments, such as Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka, have taken note of this and introduced policies and services that will aid tourism in their states.

Luxe Camper has tied up with the Karnataka Government and uses the State-owned Jungle Lodges and Resort, to park their campervans in 15 locations. This includes a mix of well known destinations such as Kabini and Bandipur, as well as offbeat ones such as Sakrebyle and Aanejari. “Sakrebyle near Shimoga has a beautiful elephant interpretation centre,” says Tiger Ramesh who started Luxe Camper last June. Caravaners can park there and in the daytime go on a guided tour to see about 25 elephants in water bodies, along with their mahouts, explains Tiger. Other than these, the company also has its own camp site in Sakleshpur.

Luxe Camper will get its third campervan now and five more will be added within the next 40 days. “Our goal is to have 100 vehicles. Few of them will be in Cochin, Goa, Chennai, Nagpur, and Meghalaya,” says Tiger who says he has been approached by the West Bengal, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments to promote caravan tourism in their states and highlight more destinations.

With caravans one has the advantage to choose where they want to sleep or dine, even if there are no hotels or restaurants in the vicinity. “If a tourist wishes to have breakfast by the waterfall, a traditional lunch amid paddy fields, dinner on the mountain side or enjoy the meals at a five star hotel, he/she will be chauffeur driven to these specific locales in a luxury caravan,” says VR Krishna Teja, Director Tourism, Government of Kerala, which is pitching caravan tourism as its latest product, set to unroll on January 1, 2022.

Majority of the tourists to Kerala visit only developed destinations like Munnar, Thekkady, Fort Kochi, Varkala, Alappuzha and Kovalam, while other idyllic locales remain the draw of “excursion tourists”. “This is because these locales do not have facilities for overnight stay. Caravans provide that, without any need for additional construction. We have plans for dedicated caravan parks with basic construction like toilets and cafeterias.” says Krishna.

Places like Vagamon and parts of North Kerala and Kollam will be included in the caravan circuit. The caravans will be serviced at the caravan parks. This will promote hyper local tourism and help the communities around these parks. “The caravans will adhere to all manufacturing norms and pollution policy as mandated by the government,” he adds. Krishna stresses on the point that caravan tourism will ensure minimal destruction to natural surroundings. “Caravans will have toilet facilities and waste disposal fittings. Each caravan park will have Sewage Treatment Plants (STP), which is compulsory. There will be segregation of waste and compost pits,” he says.

Busy routes

Popular caravan routes for now are Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Rajasthan and Karnataka. Since India does not have caravan parks yet, some operators have tied up with camping sites. “The caravans can park there for the night and the travellers can use their facilities like restaurants, restrooms, electricity, water drainage system among others,” says Siddharth who collaborates with farm houses and camping sites in Rajasthan, where he currently operates. The designated spaces he has identified are large enough to let the clients enjoy their space while having the sense of security as these are walled properties. “In Jaisalmer (the four day trip costs ₹1,20,000,) for example, our vehicles are parked in a two bigha land, by a sand dune,” he says.

This traveller set out to explore the Konkan coast with his best friend

This traveller set out to explore the Konkan coast with his best friend
 
| Photo Credit: Amit Singh

With each operator issuing a different policy, caravans are being rented out anywhere between a day to even a month. Carvaa Travelers’ longest booking so far has been for 40 days, when a young man set out to travel the Konkan coast with his best friend: his dog.

Neha observes that there has been a significant increase in enquiries about travelling with pets. “There are restrictions on aircraft and trains, but here the pet owner and pet can travel together,” she says, adding that she sees this demographic becoming a huge market for caravans. “We ferried three cats along with two of their owners, from Mumbai to Bengaluru. This commute cost ₹1.3 lakh. After that, we drove a mother and daughter and their two dogs as they were relocating from Mumbai to Bareilly,” she adds.

The single day bookings are sought after by families and friends who want to celebrate an occasion: Birthdays, bachelorette, bachelor parties. It is also popular among those ready to test something new. Plus, there’s always the quest to upload something trendy on the Gram. #caravans #yousawitherefirst #goexplore

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