Mahindra ConClay “unconference” an eye-opener
It will probably come as a surprise to western travel bloggers that Mahindra Holidays has been organizing travel blogger conferences for five years in India. I had the honour of being invited to attend one such conference, called ConClay Kanatal, at the Club Mahindra resort in Kanatal near Mussoorie (in the foothills of the Himalayas). It was a wonderful experience — and eye-opening in more ways than one!
The first eye-opener was the sight of the Shivaliks, the mountain range that Club Mahindra Kanatal is set among; and, in the distance, the soaring, majestic white peaks of the Himalayas. The Himalayas are known as the “abode of Shiva” and “Dev Bhoomi” (land of the gods) and for good reason: you can feel sanctity in the invigorating air. It instantly lifts your spirits to be here, and Club Mahindra has a beautiful spot, alongside a hill that offers an incredible view of the rolling Shivaliks. The sunset is truly sublime.
The other eye-opener was to find out about how Mahindra has been supporting travel bloggers for at least five years; and about how active and professional the Indian travel blogging community is. Myself and five Indian travel bloggers gathered to meet, share presentations, experience the Club Mahindra resort and bask in the beauty of Kanatal. ConClay is an “unconference” all about “congregating, conversing and collaborating.” Con is for conference and Clay stands for Club Mahindra and You, and it’s the name of their travel blog.
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Each of the six travel bloggers took turns giving a presentation, and allowing a discussion about his or her topic to flow. Naturally, we also visited sites in the region and enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Club Mahindra Resort. Aside from a spectacular location and very comfortable, stylish rooms I have to mention the quality of the food — which was some of the freshest and tastiest Indian food I have eaten during my many travels. I will be blogging more about Kanatal soon. It’s a lovely, undiscovered spot and I encourage travellers to seek it out.
The ConClay unconference speakers
First up was traveller, photographer, blogger Deepak Amembal, who exudes a quiet, positive manner, and spoke simply yet profoundly about his long-time travel experiences. I loved his reminiscences about travelling in India many years ago, when he was a young man. He went with little money and no agenda: just a motorcycle and a thirst for adventure. I was not surprised to learn he has not had a lot of negative experiences, as he has such a positive attitude. Even when he and his friends ran out of gas in the desert in Rajasthan, he was saved by the Prince of Jaipur, who stopped and siphoned gas from the tank of his car into all three motorcycles.
I was also interested to learn that he often writes about where to find good toilets in India — always a challenge — and the group talked about what a killer app that would make. “Clue to the Loo,” Arun Nair, one of the organizers, quipped. Deepak has been blogging since 2007, and you can visit his blog about the magic of travel in India at Magic Travels. Deepak quote: “The more you travel, the wiser you become.”
Le Monde – A Poetic Travail
Next up was Nisha Jha, who I have been following on Twitter for at least a year or two, but meeting for the first time. Her presentation was about voluntourism and what it entails, and I hope she puts the whole thing online. I think the most important point she made was to thoroughly research the NGO you are planning to work with, and everything the position entails including expectations, accommodation, culture — and be very honest with yourself about whether you are actually up for the challenge. Voluntourism can be very rewarding, but it can also be emotionally, physically and financially fatiguing.
She then took us through a photo essay about her own experiences as a teacher in Cambodia, and did not spare us the truth about how difficult it was. She had made a commitment, and she stuck with it to the end of the term, and she’s glad she did — but she readily admits it was very challenging and even disturbing, because of the brutal history of Cambodia. Nisha quote: “Voluntourism is a great way to live with locals and really learn the culture and the language.” Nisha has been blogging since 2009 and she is one of the very few Indian solo women travellers. You can find her blog at Le Monde – A Poetic Travail — it’s all about sweet and sour memories of journeys around the globe.
Nandita Iyer was the only food blogger among us. Her warmth, bubbly personality and natural talent as a speaker made her presentation about how to travel the world by cooking various ethnic cuisines very engaging. She shared with us the basic ingredients you need to make foods from Italy, Mexico, China and other countries — and especially what flavourings make the food distinctive. I was very intrigued to learn she trained to become a doctor before discovering her passion for food, and became one of India’s first food bloggers. Nandita started blogging in 2006, and has had lots of press attention in such publications as India Today and Indian Vogue; and her blog has opened up many opportunities for her. You can find her food blog featuring healthy vegetarian cooking and baking at Saffron Trail. Nandita quote: “If you are doing what you love, and you are on the right track, people will find you.”
Musafir Hoon Yaaron
After a well-timed lunch (we had just spent 30 minutes watching Nandita’s food photos!), Manish Kumar got up to speak. He spoke with such enthusiasm, pacing the room, and smiling from ear-to-ear, that he woke us all up from the usual post-lunch stupor. Manish is very passionate about travel blogging in Hindi and he told us all about the Hindi blogging community and some of the challenges they have had to face. When he started, there wasn’t even a Hindi script available and the work-around was complex and time-consuming. He also took us on a light-hearted and insightful photo journey of his 40 days in Japan, and some similarities he noticed between Indian and Japanese cultures. Manish, who describes himself as a technocrat by profession and travel and music enthusiast by heart, has been blogging since 2006. His Hindi travel blog, Musafir Hoon Yaaron, is in Hindi with lots of interesting travelogues, photo features, travel tid-bits and more.
An Indian Backpacker
Lakshmi Sarath was second-to-last, and she is perhaps the most experienced of the group, with a rich background in journalism, media, TV production, travel writing, blogging, social media expertise — she’s a one-woman media tour-de-force! I have known Lakshmi online for some time, too, and she is quickly becoming my go-to person for Indian travel tips as she has been many places and has covered many interesting stories. Lakshmi took us on a journey through the top five transformational journeys of her life. The latest one is about to be launched, a new online venture she is creating that will aggregate unique tours in India. Lakshmi started blogging in 2005 and her blog is A Travel Blog of an Indian Backpacker. She writes about journeys around India, travels around the world, people and places. She quit her corporate job to travel around the world and write stories. Lakshmi quote, from Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
Breathedreamgo: Seeing the Positive
I was last and I spoke about my editorial decision to “see the positive” — including the life events and yoga teachings that have led me to this philosophy. I showed a slideshow of photos from my first trip to India, which I liken to a magic carpet ride; and I explained that I have learned from my yoga studies in India that our thoughts create our life. I read one travel blog aloud, called Taking the train in India, to illustrate my philosophy in action. In this story I depict the reality of trying to hire a porter at the medieval New Delhi Train Station, and weave in a true story of connection and transformation. Finally, I ended by talking about the movement towards professionalism in travel blogging; about the upcoming launch of Delhi Travel Massive; and about my desire to make Breathedreamgo my main source of income. I founded Breathedreamgo on August 23, 2009 — but I’ve been travel blogging since December 2005.
Here’s one other blogger you should know about: Arun Nair accompanied us on the trip as a social media representative for Club Mahindra. He’s been blogging since 2007 and he is an authority in the digital, social media domain. Arun’s blog is Indian Eye, where he writes on social media, digital and occasionally travel.
And of course check out the Mahindra Clay blog for lots of inspiring travel stories set in India.
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