Everyone needs a vacation. Sometimes from the question, “Does this contain dairy or meat?” For most vegan travellers, curating their own detailed itineraries is the only way to have a hassle-free vacation. Thankfully the world of tourism is increasingly adapting to vegan needs of travellers, despite challenges posed by the pandemic.
The vegan community has long championed India as an ideal travel destination, what with it being home to Gandhi, Jainism, jackfruit, and the largest number of vegetarians. But vegetarianism and veganism are not synonymous and this nation of 1.3 billion consumes and produces more dairy than any country in the world, leading to the question—how vegan friendly is India?
Escaping meat in India is as easy as escaping dairy is difficult. While we are not suggesting you would be surviving on crackers and fruits, travellers lacking knowledge of local languages and food substitutes, can find India confusing and difficult to navigate.
This is a guide for everyone that wishes to experience plant-based living and explore new regions and lifestyles, without having to triple check food ingredients and ‘about us’ sections of tour operators. From journeys to the Taj Mahal and hidden mountain spaces, these tours compress sustainability, vegan lifestyle and India’s foodscapes in the best ways possible.
Bengaluru and Puducherry
Escape To…, a Bengaluru-based company creates travel and volunteering experiences that care for the environment and local communities. Each year they offer personalised group tours that explore heritage, cuisines and culture across different regions in the country. From vegan yoga retreats to conscious wildlife tourism, Escape To… is known for their minimal impact itineraries.
Owing to the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions, the company would be hosting only one vegan tour in December— ‘A Vegan Adventure In South India (Digital Detox)’. Their 11-day itinerary covers offbeat experiences in Bengaluru and Puducherry with workshops on animal rehabilitation, ethical fashion and cooking classes at one of India’s first plant-based restaurants being the highlights. Explore local food, spirituality and the city’s quaint French alleyways with your phones switched off and minds at peace. (www.escapeto.in, the tour is fixed for December 4–14, 2021, prices start from ₹16,300, cost includes assistance with visa application, pre-departure support, meals, accommodation and transport.)
Delhi, Jaipur and Agra
Australian company, Intrepid Travel, has been carbon-neutral since 2010 and offers dynamic tours all across the globe. Travellers can choose public itineraries ranging from cycling, adventure, food, retreat tours or craft their own itineraries with their local travel agents. Their 8-day ‘Indian Vegan Food Adventure’ offers sightseeing while sampling Punjabi, Rajasthani, and Gujarati cuisines, cooking classes that veganise Mughlai dishes. Apart from luxury stays at heritage havelis of Jaipur, you make a stop at the Taj Mahal, followed by a cafe retreat at a social-women enterprise. (www.intrepidtravel.com, priced at ₹90,000, the tour covers local transport, accommodation and meals, Trip dates are available on request)
Bharatpur, Udaipur, Kishangarh
Identifying as an ‘activist travel company’, Responsible Travel believes in preserving nature and giving back to communities. Their tours are carefully made by locals to offer hidden experiences to all travellers.
‘Vegan Holiday in India’ is a 12-day tour that takes travellers to Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur, the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri and all across Rajasthan from Udaipur to Kishangarh. The tour is very extensive with veganised cooking classes, language lessons, yoga classes, beer and papad tasting, art and architecture workshops and even gully cricket. (www.responsibletravel.com, bookings have opened for September–November 2021, prices average between ₹1,77,000–₹1,88,000)
If your ideal holiday includes lush waterfalls and forests, and the lingering taste of aromatic spices in the air, consider Responsible Travel’s, ‘Vegan Activity Holiday’ in Kerala, a 9-day sojourn in the Western Ghats. The trip is a breath of fresh air with a visit to the tea town of Valparai and lowland forests at Thattekkad. Travellers can bike down 44 hairpin folds and spot the Malabar giant squirrel, grey tufted langurs or the lion-tailed macaques in their natural habitat. (www.responsibletravel.com, this trip can be tailored through the year, prices available on request)
Across the Nilgiris
Green Earth Travel, founded for vegetarian and vegan travellers, stresses on compassionate travel. The company’s 13-day ‘South India Serenade’ is a hearty tour between the Eastern and Western Ghats of South India. Kicking off from Chennai, the itinerary moves to the Coromandel Coast where you dive into the history and architecture of ancient temples. From Puducherry to Neduncherry, the entire trip is laced with views of palm trees, open countryside, balmy air, folk music and good food.
Moving up to the blue mountains of Coonoor, travellers will get to experience the lives of traditional tribes in the forest hills and tea plantations. Accompanied by cooking and language lessons, heritage walks, jungle safari and shopping sprees, the tour is nothing but a serene escapade. (www.greenearthtravel.com, priced at ₹2,06,000 per person, the tour is fixed for February 1–13, 2021, package includes meals, local accommodations, transport and guide fees)
Texas-based VegVoyages focuses on cultural immersion, local experiences and vegan travelling. Their ‘Desert Kingdoms of Rajputana’ tour is the perfect trip for history and architecture buffs. The 16-day itinerary is spread across Delhi, Roopangarh, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Udaipur, among other cities. The experience offers history and language lessons, accompanied with culinary tours in heritage hotels, havelis and fortresses.
Travellers will get to feast in the local bazaars, cook vegan, skim through souvenirs, stay with the royal family of Ghanerao, and meet the locals. Ranakpur Jain temple, Kumbhalgarh and Mehrangarh Fort are some of the glorious locations tourists would visit before reaching the City of Lakes, Udaipur. After temple and village visits, traditional dance and music nights, the trip ends with a visit to the Bharatpur bird sanctuary and Taj Mahal on the way back to Delhi.
Another similar tour is the 12-day ‘Vegin’ Out in the Land of Rajputs’ programme, which is more food-oriented and covers less history. (vegvoyages.com, Desert Kingdoms of Rajputana priced at ₹2,13,000 per person and ₹45,000 without accommodation, the tour is scheduled for November 20, 2021, Vegin Out in the Land of Rajputs priced at ₹1,77,000 and ₹32,000 without accommodation, tour fixed for September 7, 2021)