Did you know that about 45 percent people worldwide travel for an activity, while in India, this proportion is less than one percent?
But a Bhopal-based wildlife enthusiast is on a mission to change this number. Before this, in a life-transforming deep-sea diving experience in the Pacific Ocean, this adventurer had jumped off a boat and spotted sea-snakes and jellyfish among many other sea creatures for the first time. That was the moment when Jagpreet Pabla realized that he had been travelling wrong all his life. And he intends to stop the rest of India making the same mistakes. He has founded GypsyShack.com – a travel startup which is steadily changing the way Indians travel.
Gypsy Shack is a unique travel startup based in Bhopal that has added 90 tour operators that came with personal recommendation from seasoned travelers. The startup is indirectly providing more jobs to local people in far-off, non-touristy areas apart from allowing its customers to get the actual feel of India.
Founder Jagpreet says, “Most of the travel in India is either temple tourism or sightseeing or adventure. Even the most off-beat travel companies usually have this agenda in mind. Well, we cater to a different taste. Sixty-five percent of our travelers are less than 25 years old looking for transformational or spiritual experiences.”
Evolution, exploration, engagement
Gypsy Shack introduced a new travel concept consisting of 3 Es – Exploration, Engagement and Evolution. “Under exploration, we take people to many remote corners of India or give them a new take on old destinations like Manali and Shillong etc. We engage them through activities like kayaking, interactions with the locals and tribals etc. This gives them a chance to make a journey within themselves, resulting in evolution,” adds Jagpreet.
And how exactly do they do this? Most of Gypsy Shack's partner operators are hand-picked local outfits. These operators are passionate about offering experiences like bird-watching or an art walk. For instance, Gypsy Shack offers a tour to a tribal village, Khatotiya near Bhopal. A folklore in this village goes that if one suffers from a fractured limb, they only have to donate a wooden limb to a shrine and the broken limb will be healed. The guides for this experience are trained tribal boys who will vouch for the efficacy of this cure.
However, this doesn’t mean that the tour operators are ignorant of the modern comforts of their travelers. Shares IT professional Raveesh Shrivastava, “In Binsar, which is 30-km away from Almora, we were led by two Gypsy guides to village Dalar. We practically stayed amidst fields, drank soups from vegetables freshly plucked from the garden and the owners offered us a Hotspot internet facility. Moreover, during our trek, the guides carried a bird watching book, so whenever we spotted a new species, they showed its properties from the book. They are extremely professional and very warm.”
Among their niche tours are village stays and bird-watching in Binsar, and a spice-farm experience in far-off North Karnataka apart from several off-beat offerings across India.
Unlike players such as India Untravelled that specializes in rural tourism or adventure tour operators that work on aggregate tour models, Gypsy Shack is a curated travel platform, focused on experiential travel. For the record, the experiential travel industry, which was Rs 800 crore in 2012, is expected to quadruple in the next decade.
A wanderlust story
Jagpreet was born in the home of a forest officer who often took him to the most remote jungles, which gave him his ‘Mougly at heart’ trait. Yet, while working for Amdocs in South East Asia, holidays for Jagpreet meant nice cocktails at the beach, pubs at night, or sight- seeing. So when he dived into the South China Sea off Puerto Galera in the Philippines, he felt like a whole new world had opened up to him. He then decided to pursue a scuba diving certification from a school in Koh Tao, Thailand. The side-effect of this was that he returned home with a startup idea. He quit his job, went off to France, got a business degree from INSEAD and founded Gypsy Shack in 2013.
And as is the case with most startups, his first employee, a former KPMG consultant and Shri Ram College of Commerce alumnus Chaitali Bhatia came on board as a co-founder. “We've worked hard to bring together people and operators who share the same spirit. Our country is abundant in its natural beauty, and it needs to be seen in the very raw state. We are trying and will keep working to get the best immersive experiences from across the Sub continent. Our rewards are the boundless joys experienced by our guests,” she says.
Interestingly, Gypsy Shack does not have a head office. It is registered in Bhopal, where Jagpreet lives, whereas Chaitali works from Delhi. The other four team members, whose roles range from content writing to marketing to programming, work from various other parts of India.
Jagpreet had bootstrapped it back then and together with a team of six people stationed at different places, Gypsy Shack has managed to gain traction among India's travel enthusiasts.