‘There’s no other way to travel than to travel responsibly,’ believes Disha Kapkoti. Travel writer and entrepreneur, Disha hails from Nainital, Uttarakhand, and started The Doi Host, along with co-founder Sambit Dattachaudhuri, with a special purpose – to support local communities and livelihoods while encouraging responsible tourism alongside. Now with tourism being one of the worst-hit industries owing to COVID-19 and the lockdown, there’s enough reason to contemplate and bring together systems which will make sustainable travel more approachable and consistent.
In conversation with SheThePeople, Disha Kapkoti discusses travel writing, how ‘The Doi Host’ encourages responsible travel, why the tourism space will change post-pandemic and problems of being self-employed.
How did you get into travel writing? What are some of the biggest illusions people have about travel writing?
I have been a student of literature so reading and writing is something that I have always loved. Although I must confess that I am an accidental travel writer. I started working for a travel portal some years back. I was never hired as a writer but I ended up writing this one time and everyone seemed to like it. So, in that miscellaneous job profile at a travel startup, I also started writing. I was lucky to have started travel writing as a full-time job.
The biggest illusion of travel writing is the fact that it does not require actual work. Writing as a hobbyist is something you would do at your own pleasure. You must read about places, explore them and talk to locals. Get to know a place so well that people want to learn at least a few new things from what you write. You have to also find a story to tell and have the flair to write it.
If you’re interested in being a full-time travel writer, then you must be capable of giving quality information to the reader.
What advice do you have for aspiring travel writers trying to break in, especially in the post-COVID-19 world?
We all know that the way we travel will change in the post-COVID-19 world. Travel writers, a lot of times, influence their readers to travel where and how they did. People will opt for more hygienic and safe choices and some of them need a travel writer to give them information about such places and experiences.
The rules around travel will change, that gives travel writers an opportunity to write about a lot of trends that will change hereon.
You started your travel venture, along with Sambit Dattachaudhuri, underlining a special purpose. What made ‘The Doi Host’ happen?
I work as a travel writer and Sambit works as a documentary filmmaker. Both of us had a lot of travel experiences before we started The Doi Host. Our two points of focus were to curate the kind of travel experiences which bring people closer to the locals and indigenous culture of the place, and to create more job opportunities in the hills. This was the main motivation behind the initiative. We started by curating trips that give a more meaningful experience to travellers.
We believe there’s so much we can learn from the inherent knowledge of locals from a place.
How did you come around practising responsible tourism during trips? What were some of the roadblocks along the way?
This understanding has come from my experience of travelling in remote places and staying in villages for a long time. I understood that waste management and other such modern world problems have reached the villages with tourism. There is no waste management plan in most remote places in India. Plastic bags that reach there with tourists never go back. So, unless people visiting these places are more mindful, the travel industry will not sustain.
The biggest challenge has been to convince the educated and privileged that their efforts towards mindful travelling will help the place they’re travelling to.
Do you think COVID-19, and the uncertainty that follows, will leave an altering impact on the tourism industry?
The tourism industry is, without a doubt, one of the worst-hit industries. We can only hope for better days. I feel it’ll also be a very sustainable way to get businesses back on track. People are strategising the changes to travel in the post-COVID-19 world and we are already hearing about terms such as High Value, Low Volume.
As someone who is accustomed to travelling for the most of the year, what keeps you motivated and inspired amidst this lockdown?
I have been lucky to be at our upcoming homestay and be close to nature. Luckily, there has been enough work here, and otherwise, to keep me busy throughout the day. We must take one day at a time during these difficult days.
I’m somehow positive and would like to believe that this can’t go on forever. It can be a naive approach but it works for me.
How did you come around the idea of starting a homestay in the hills?
I’m born and brought up in Uttarakhand so living in the hills is a natural choice for me. Nowhere else feels like home. Doi Homestay is located in Nathuakhan, Uttarakhand. The basic idea was also to work from the hills and prove to myself that living in the hills can be a completely workable choice. Uttarakhand has been facing a lot of migration because of a lack of job opportunities and hardships in the mountains. Starting a homestay here is our way of developing an opportunity and benefiting as many locals as we can from it.
What are some challenges of being self-employed?
Not having a fixed income at the end of the month is a challenge. But ultimately you learn to manage your time better and try to be as productive as you can. Self-discipline has quite an important part to play and you must learn it.
What is the number one thing you’ve learned from solo travel? What are the primary challenges that you would want a woman to be aware of when considering a solo experience?
Solo travelling gives you the independence to go anywhere and talk to anyone, anytime. It’s really empowering when you have ownership over time and decisions. Solo travel has definitely taught me how to manage my life and decisions better.
The biggest challenge will be to engage with people who can help you explore, know the place better and ward off difficult situations intuitively. This can be a big challenge but most of us learn eventually. While you’re solo travelling, you meet a lot of people and end up talking to more people than you would on a stay-at-home day in your life.
Solo travel does not mean travelling alone.
Travel blogger and author, Shivya Nath, earlier shared with us that apart from living her life as a digital nomad, she is also ‘trying to challenge the notions of what’s acceptable, especially as a woman.’ Coming to you, how challenging has it been to make a career out of your passion and live out of a backpack?
The challenge is to be fully convinced yourself, that you can do it before you start convincing others about your work. You should love your passion enough to want to dedicate your maximum time to it, work on it full-time, and you don’t want to waste your energy doing other jobs that don’t really stimulate your mind. Someone I know once used this metaphor of a river to ascertain how you must make your way around the mountains and keep flowing the direction you want to.
What have you learned that you would like to share with other entrepreneurs in the tourism space?
Give more job opportunities to the locals. No one understands a place as a local does. Try to give opportunities to people in the villages. At Doi Host, we have curated trips around interesting locals who have significant knowledge about their place and it’s a learning experience for a city dweller.
Tourism can play a big role in preserving local culture and indigenous knowledge.
Photographs impact travel blogs to a huge extent. In your opinion, what are the elements that go into presenting these experiences on the frame for your followers?
Most of the times it’s important to capture movement in a picture so that the photo looks dynamic. The still photograph must show something that leaves the viewer thinking about the reality in the picture. Taking good photographs is also a job that requires immense patience and spontaneity.
Could you share a travelling experience that has been life-changing for you?
Around five years back, I travelled solo to Spiti for the first time and hitchhiked my way from Kaza to Shimla over a week. It was an extremely liberating experience. I met a lot of interesting people on the way and together we spent our days hiking, resting, waiting for a bus that never came and went hitchhiking eventually.
It has been life-changing because of the people I met, who made me aware of the simple fact that people are mostly good.
How do you see women taking leading roles in developing the travel industry in India?
We might not see women in offices but we do see a lot more women travel writers and influencers than men. It’s inspiring to see so many women taking unconventional paths and a lot of them have inspired me. It’s important to shatter the preconceived notions about things you can’t do as a woman from your mind.
Women are slowly taking up that outdoor space that was culturally forbidden until two-three decades back, especially in India.
Travel can be an empowering and transformative experience. What would you advise those considering travel adventures, as a first, so they don’t miss out on the thrill and discovery?
Keep your mind open and don’t make assumptions about people you haven’t met and places you haven’t seen. Try to talk to everyone, remember their names, and say thank you and sorry. You mostly don’t have epiphanies sitting inside a hotel room at a gorgeous destination. Go out and meet a lot of people for adventure.
Keep your mind open and don’t make assumptions about people you haven’t met and places you haven’t seen.
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