I first met Gaurav at the Outlook Traveller Responsible Tourism Awards in Delhi where he was a gold medalist! He is the inspirational figure behind The Folk Tales, which started in 2013 with the aim of offering travelers a chance to experience life in rural India by integrating tourism with socially and environmentally responsible initiatives at grass root level. Stays in local homestays which are self-managed by locals and hands-on activities designed to give a deeper experience of the local culture. They works in diverse destinations from Rajasthan to Uttarakhand and from Punjab to Meghalaya, guests can now stay with locals and foster deep and meaningful connections with the local community.
1.Who you are (naturally!)
I consider myself to be very fortunate. I have travelled in India and abroad which has given me the opportunity to live and interact with people from different cultures. I think it has helped me get a wider view of life and respect for people with varied perspectives (not that I am a zen master. I too have those brief heated moments when the perspectives don’t match). I like to invest more time in nurturing relationships, be it family or professional because at the end of the day it is the people who matter. My business relationships are much more to me than a cheque. I like to live the life of a minimalist, and put as little stress on our natural resources as possible. I only buy things that are necessary and are sustainably sourced. If I am running a company that believes in sustainable tourism, I need to practice that in my life first. I also practice meditation because it helps me remain well balanced. For spiritual and environmental reasons, I also keep my diet mostly vegetarian.
- What inspired you to create your business?
A weekend holiday break in rural Rajasthan. I wanted to move on from my IT job which had run its course and was looking for a bigger purpose where I could earn a living yet contribute to society. Village travel wasn’t well known back then. Homestays, storytelling experiences, cultural immersion were all alien terms. The tourist hubs were over burdened (which they still are to a large extent). I thought that travellers really needed to see and experience other aspects of India outside the cities. After that trip, I realized that people of India in general are great hosts. All they needed was a support structure and some training to run small homestays and tours in their villages. We started as a homestay booking platform, but then moved on into running end-to-end customized tours. That way we could add more value socially, economically and environmentally to local communities. Currently we have an inventory of multi-day and single-day tours in west, north, and north-east India which we almost always customize based on individual client’s requirements.
- An anecdote which epitomizes your India?
India is seldom driven by rules and systems. Indians are driven by emotions, and things have to be a movement here to become successful. Currently, the Indian environment and wildlife are going through a tough time. Its conservation has to become an emotional movement.
- One thing that you can’t live without?
People who have stood with me during this journey.
- One thing that you hate?
Boasting. Let your actions and knowledge do the talking.
- If you could change one thing about India what would it be?
Population growth. It has to slow down and reverse. 1.3 bn. people are putting too much pressure on our natural resources and we can’t really be sustainable until we reduce this pressure.
- Who is your greatest inspiration?
First one is my father. He was a natural dreamer who raised himself from a pretty modest background to be a successful person in life, and my mother was the balancing force in his life. I inherit the same tendency to dream and consistently go after them. Second one is my ex-boss from the IT job. He tolerated me when I seriously under-performed and mentored me patiently – even when I resigned to start the company. I think when we are down in the ditch, the people who matter are the ones who still believe in us.
- What is your favourite quote?
Thank you for all that I have.
- I have noticed huge changes in India over the last few years but what is the biggest change you have noticed in India over the last 10 years?
People have now started to think differently as entrepreneurs. They are taking risks rather than following the usual path. This creates a positive environment (even though our media shows otherwise). Entrepreneurs now have more resources and tools to innovate than what was available 20 years ago. The rat race or hamster wheel are no longer the only norm.
- What do you think are the biggest challenges India faces over the next ten years?
Water and ever expanding cities. Water conservation is not rocket science. It needs to become a movement and people need to educate themselves. Reverse migration needs to become faster to reduce the pressure on cities.
- Which is the destination at the top of your bucket list?
Not one country. But a motorcycle trip from India to London is at the top of my bucket list.
- What is the one place you visited that you have NO desire to return to?
Hapoli. That’s one of the worst towns I have visited in Arunachal Pradesh. Another one is Poipet on the Indo-Bhutan border where I had to spend 2 horrendous nights.
- Book or Movie?
I have been a book reader. But now I am more of a movie person. I like dark movies that don’t make it big on the box office, but have very interesting stories and better actors.
- Just for fun! I am doing a survey to find India’s most popular breakfast, what is yours?
Poha with lemon.
- In retrospect, what is the one thing you wish you could have told your 20 year-old self?
Everything happens for good.
You can find out more about the Folk Tales at: https://thefolktales.com/
Gaurav BhatnagarJuly 16, 2021 at 5:53 am
Thank you Philippa for sharing this and for your efforts to bring out the good in India. 🙂