From its bustling cities and ancient monuments to its majestic mountains, the vast range of places and things to see and explore in India is at once exciting and intimidating. Exciting because there’s always something new to experience even for avid travelers, intimidating because the many options may leave first-timers struggling to find their footing. In a bid to point travelers in the right direction, Chief Concierge Ram Krishan Pandey established Ravishing India in 2015 after amassing years of experience as a naturalist for luxury hospitality companies such as Oberoi Group and Aman. With well-trained concierges to cater to its clientele, the tour operator prides itself on the personalized itineraries they arrange and the unique places they have access to around the country.
We speak to Pandey about how Ravishing India looks to address some of the country’s tourism issues and ask for his suggestions on places to visit.
What makes Ravishing India different from other tour operators in your region?
Ravishing India Holidays (RIH) distinguishes itself by being more than a tour operator—we don’t just organize a tour and leave the guests to figure out the itinerary when they get there. The key lies in the quality of our concierge service. We are a top-end concierge travel service, looking after every detail of their needs and offering local authentic experiences that they would never get on their own as foreigners. The concierge-to-group ratio is very small and we never mix any two group of guests. In this way, all our trip itineraries are highly personalized enabling each traveler to pursue their interests and fulfill their trip expectations. Our concierges are trained to know when to be around and when to leave the guests for their time alone.
What do you see as India’s biggest tourism challenge at the moment and how is Ravishing India addressing these issues?
That would have to be tackling the negative misconceptions portrayed by the media to the world. It is baffling to us as Indians to see mainstream international and even local media organizations cover India. They cover it through a particular myopic lens, choosing to highlight only the bad—the rapes, the traffic, the haze and the hot climate. This is very damaging to our tourism industry. It is true that these are happening and we are actively addressing all these issues but we are a large country and there is a lot more good to be shown to the world as well. India deserves coverage that is balanced and fair, but no one talks about the great food, rich diverse culture, breath-taking mountain ranges and gorges, beautifully maintained historic forts and palaces, myriad of wildlife in the national parks and high-end accommodation and hospitality way above any other place in the world. This really is the founding story of RIH; the idea of RIH was first conceived by the founders as they felt the need to address these issues. The best way was to start showing our guests the best of India and let them be our spokesperson to the world. Hence, we take great pride in our services provided and itineraries. We believe in word-of-mouth marketing more than anything else.
What are some common misconceptions people often have about India?
To list the top few—and this comes straight from the lips of our guests when we ask them—it would be that India is smelly, hot, food served is unhygienic, and rape happens on the streets. I would of course defend all the above by saying that India has everything, the good and the bad, it’s a country you have to come and experience for yourself. Say that India is smelly and I can bring you to the most sweet-smelling garden or sweet shop. Tell me India is hot and I can show you snowy peaks in our many hill stations in any season. Our guests who travel in October to March during winter have to wear sweaters to keep warm. Food hygiene and security are the two issues RIH concierges take most seriously. We only take our guests to clean places for street food and restaurants and our concierges are there to make sure our guests are kept safe at all times.
What’s the most underrated destination in India and what’s a must-try experience in India for first-time visitors?
There are too many, but if I had to pick only one, it would have to be glamping (glamorous camping) in our National Parks, in particular Ranthambhore National Park for a safari experience. I have a special affinity for the place for two reasons. First, I was born and raised in Ranthambhore. Second, I have seen for myself that same smile repeatedly on all the faces of my guests when they come face-to-face with a wild Bengal tiger. We have a saying in the jungle: “You don’t have to ask if someone has seen a tiger, you just have to see the smile on their faces!” It’s a must-try experience for all. Safari drives in India are different from Africa. The foliage and wildlife we see are different and there is always a strong element of “chase” in the Indian safaris. But no animal has the magic of a Bengal tiger. It should be on every traveler’s bucket list to spot a Bengal tiger! Ranthambhore boasts the best tents in the world with our partner hotel brands Aman Resorts, Sujan luxury and Oberoi hotels leading the way.
Are there any special trends you’ve picked up or noticed from Ravishing India’s clientele?
The most noticeable trends in recent years would have to be the interest in eco-tourism, conservation, and humanitarian travels. We have been getting more requests from guests who want to be involved in wildlife and nature conservation and our Junior Ranger Club program for kids which focuses on ranger skills and environmental conservation has been in huge demand. We started introducing some humanitarian activities in our itineraries and that has been met with a very positive feedback that we now offer in all our itineraries. People want to know that even while on holiday, they are benefiting the local communities or are also able to spend some of their holiday time helping others.
Where do you personally go for a holiday and what’s your favorite destination in the country?
India is a vast country providing opportunities for all experiences, so where I head to depends on the season and climate. In monsoon, I like to head towards the highlands and hill stations, such as Mussoorie and the Indian Himalayas (Leh, Ladakh). Mussoorie serves the best chai in the country and has lots of adventure sports for adrenaline junkies like paragliding and bungee-jumping. The Indian Himalayas has such a stark landscape and the towering Karakoram range always makes me feel like I have touched heaven. In winter, Rajasthan is gorgeous and cool, my favourite city being Udaipur, where Octopussy was filmed. It is the most romantic city in my country and I love lazing by Lake Pichola watching sunset and enjoying the cool, crisp winter air.
For more information, visit Ravishing India.