Amrit Singh, Managing Director of TransIndus, talks about Asia, her travels and where to visit.
What inspired you to start TransIndus in the 1990s?
I was born in Burma, raised in the UK, I had lived in India and travelled across Asia, Europe and the Americas, so travel was in my blood. When an opportunity to work for one of the flagship properties of an Indian premier hotel group came about, it opened a whole new world of possibilities for travelling though parts of India I had never even considered.
On my return home, the prospect of going back to a 9-5 job no longer appealed and starting a company to help others explore India in the way I had just done felt like a natural progression. With virtually no other company offering tailor-made travels through India at the time, we soon became established and have been helping people discover India and other parts of Asia ever since.
Our mission statement was to help people get into the heart and soul of the destination and experience local culture and society rather than just the site.
Where would you advise mature travellers to start if they were taking their first trip to Asia?
Asia is vast and exciting, culturally rich, historically significant and offers an exhilarating array of natural habitats from the highest mountains to some of the largest deserts, glorious beaches, extensive grasslands, lush valleys, dense tropical forest and deep blue seas, all home to a myriad of wildlife and flora. It offers a plethora of arts, crafts, traditions and mouth-watering cuisines that are all legendary but above all, it’s the warmth and hospitality of the local people and amazing value for money which means that visitors are keen to return to Asia year after year.
With more than 25 countries on offer, it’s hard to decide where to begin. My advice would be to take a scientific approach and make a shortlist of the things you really enjoy doing and experiencing on holiday. Then pick the top five and see which of the Asian destinations offer all five. That way you will be sure of enjoying your first experience of Asia.
Transindus consultants will be able to discuss your likes and help you find the best suited ‘first’ destination. Sri Lanka and Cambodia might be good choices as they are small and very manageable in terms of size, culturally rich and diverse, offer a host of experiences to enjoy and almost everyone speaks a high standard of English.
What is TransIndus’ most popular destination? And why?
For Transindus India and its immediate neighbours of Nepal and Bhutan remain the most popular. This is largely because the British people have a strong cultural affinity for the Sub-continent as a result of their long shared colonial history. Some British visitors are keen to explore these connections for themselves while enjoying a great holiday. Others simply want to experience the excitement of India’s grand monuments, great cities, its tiny rural hamlets, vast mountainous regions, rich forests, jungles, beaches and wildlife.
The glorious hotels here offer great value for money, local food is familiar for most British travellers and almost the national cuisine of the UK, local hospitality is exemplary and with as most people in India now able to speaking English, communications are easy.
Where are the emerging countries for visitors? What are their unique attractions?
Sri Lanka is currently experiencing a renaissance after a being hidden away as a result of a long and protracted civil war. Despites its tiny size, Sri Lanka it is a complete, year round destination that has preserved its unique and traditional Sinhalese culture beautifully. Its traditional dance forms, music, food, ancient temples and religion are a huge draw as are its misty rainforests and beautiful national parks that offer opportunities for exploring its amazing biodiversity and wildlife.
One of the greatest attractions of the teardrop island is its jagged coastline that hides numerous sheltered bays with white sandy beaches that are a huge favourite with visitors. Once again, the local hospitality is second to none.
What has been your most memorable TransIndus trip?
There are far too many to pick from but if I had to choose one, presently it would have to be my last visit to Japan to explore the Kumano Kodo trails. Having visited Japan previously and been enthralled by the neon lights and sushi bars of Tokyo, the beautiful Geisha of Kyoto, the awe-inspiring and omnipresent Mount Fuji, I felt ready to venture off-piste to one of its remotest sites that few tourists ever experience.
The 2000-year-old Kumano Kodo trails passes through the vast and fragrant Cedar forests of the Kii Peninsular trace the footsteps of Shinto priests, emperors and pilgrims who walked the 38 kilometre tracks which connect the three most revered of temples of Japan’s Shinto religion and the original home of Japanese hot spring baths or onsen. The complete change in culture, spirit and pace with tiny hilltop villages and remote fishing towns offering a window into ancient Japan, a time when Samurai Warriors were revered and life ran at a more peaceful pace.
In what way has Covid-19 affected TransIndus and its customers?
At the moment the dust has not really settled on long-haul travel and unlike Europe which has opened in part, travel to Asia is still restricted. Travellers who had booked prior to Covid-19 have largely postponed their holidays to the next season. Savvy travellers are now taking advantage of amazing offers available for the next season, meaning they can confirm their 2021 holiday at 2020 prices or even lower at times.
How do you see travel to Asia (and elsewhere) evolving from 2021 onwards?
Over the 30 years we have been operating holidays to Asia, we have found that long haul travel has become more and more ‘casual’ over the years. It used to be a much more considered and longer experience designed to explore a destination at leisure rather than a 2-week rushed trip to a few standard places.
We anticipate, in the interest of personal health and safety, as well as responsible tourism, that people will return to taking fewer but longer vacations, and they will take their time to enjoy a destination rather than the shorter, rushed trips that had become the norm in recent times.
Do you have a favourite country? City?
Indeed, but again there are a few too many to pin one down!
My favourite places revolve around home, and as they say, home is where the heart is, with great memories and enjoyable moments!!
For me home is London where my incredible children and family are. But, equally home is Yangon, in Myanmar, the place in my life which evokes such fond memories of ‘firsts in life’ – like the first rickshaw ride, my first journey by boat across the Andaman Sea from Yangon to Kolkata.
Home is also Amritsar, where I spent my formative years with incredible memories of young friends all running to the Golden Temple together in the morning, before school to enjoy a helping of the sweets or ‘Prasad’ offered to visitors by priests.
If I had to choose a place from a more contemporary time, it would have to be the pink city of Jaipur, in Rajasthan, India. A small but inviting place with tremendous history, great monuments and places, surrounded by tiny villages and vast tracts of countryside to explore. In recent times it has evolved into a centre for the preservation of Rajasthan’s crafts and cultural traditions, offering a huge amount to do and see at all times of the year. I love it.
The other would be the Komodo & Rinca Islands, two of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands and home to the Komodo Dragons. Seeing the Komodo dragons was a riveting experience, far faraway from civilisation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Do you collect souvenirs or mementoes from your travels?
Funny you should ask! Always!
I’am yet to return from any visit, no matter where, without a meaningful example of a local craft or delicacy, usually after a degree of bargaining. Sometimes if it’s a food item it might get enjoyed immediately but almost always I bring back a moment. Some of my favourites are:
- A trio of suspension lamps from Kerala, that hang from the ceiling in my living room.
- A hand painted Mandala by monks in a monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.
- A small piece of Turquoise from Iran.
- A handcrafted and beautifully ceramic tea port from a master ceramicist in Uzbekistan.
- And much, much more.
To find out more about TransIndus, please visit www.transindus.co.uk.