Fascinating packages in store
The tours are curated with cooking demonstrations, with a historic perspective to the diverse culinary influences, peppered by visits to cultural hotspots and historic locales, to break the monotony. “I recently took a group of people to Chettinad, where we had a home cook demonstrate how to make paal payaasam and other local dishes. Certain recipes are region-inspired. For example, we have a culinary tour coming up in Thanjavur, which has an interesting culinary history. Some of the local recipes have Marathi names and use ingredients like copra (dried coconut), but are different from what will be made in a typical Maharastrian home. This is a hangover from the Maratha rulers. It redefines how people in Thanjavur seamlessly incorporated Maratha cuisine within the ambit of south Indian fare,” explained Rakesh.
The food blogger behind Puliyogare Travels said these tours are popular among people within the ages 25 to 50. “Many people remember what their grandmothers made back in the day. They want to understand their roots. These tours are more like a weekend getaway, where they get a rustic experience as well as luxe elements, including a spa treatment and stay in a heritage hotel,” he said, adding that the pricing for a three-day stay in Chettinad would cost Rs 30,000.
Heritage in real sense
Priya Thyagarajan, Managing Director of Embassy Travel and Tours, realised that most “heritage” tours are customised to the needs of international tourists. “The way ‘heritage’ is being presented is quite misleading. Historian Pradeep Chakravarthy and I decided to curate customised tours for people in Chennai and Tamil Nadu to rediscover our heritage. During our recent tour to Madurai, we had around 10 residents, who wanted to rediscover their ancient city. We did a lot of research before starting these tours three years ago,” she said, adding that these tours come under the heritage wing, Mystical Palmyra. The Madurai tour saw the participants explore the street food scene, in an autocade of 11 autorickshaws and experience a typical Saurashtrian meal at the Saurashtra School, followed by a tour of the heritage building. Having a historian added immense value to the quality of the tour, she added. “Historians connect the dots and delve deeper based on the interests of the group, which is different from a tour guide. We also had people like cartoonist Biswajit Balasubramanian recount their experiences of growing up in Madurai,” she said, adding that their tours to Pollachi, Kumbakonam, Tiruvannamalai and Kanyakumari often have repeat travellers.
Many are sceptical about the price initially said Priya. “For example, people think twice about spending Rs, 25,000 for a trip to Pollachi. But once they see that they are getting their money’s worth and experience the luxury, they are willing to spend,” said the 40-year-old heritage enthusiast. For Jayaraman Krishnan, a businessman, these curated tours are a sort of a learning experience. “There is a lot of homework that goes into customising these tours. I have travelled to Tirunelveli, Karaikudi and Vellore, where we have explored off-beat and hidden gems. What I like about these tours are that it is not only about the architecture or history but also other experiences like a discovery of the local cuisine. Moreover, the duration is neither short nor too long, perfect for people who are engaged in business,” he said.
Thirukurungudi in Tirunelveli fascinated Jayaraman. “The grandeur of the temple here is marvellous. In fact, the temple tower had three tiers inside the gopuram, which served as a sort of an art gallery with traditional south Indian art. That was a memorable experience,” recounted the 58-yearold history aficionado.
Commenting on the popularity of these tours, R Venkatesh, a citybased historian said, “There are quite a few people who are willing to try. These tours are popular because there is a demand for it. We are seeing a lot of history coming indoors — people want a closer view of what’s in their own state.”