One of my most insightful travels so far has been to the numerous villages of Spiti in the Trans Himalayan Regions – very close to the border of Tibet. The landscape there is rugged and desolate. The weather is cold and harsh but the people are warm and welcoming. “Julley”, they would greet me, whenever I passed by, asking me where I was from and what had got me to this far away place.
I never had an answer. I guess I was just curious to know how life blossomed in such a rigid environment that was cut away from the rest of the world. Gurgling rivers, barren mountains, treacherous roads, patches of green only in and around villages that had a population of less than 30. Yet I met people who not only happily sustained themselves with meagre resources but discussed politics and demonetization with as much fervour as any city-monger would. They knew all about us, but we knew nothing about them.
This is perhaps because their undocumented cultures, jagged terrains, socio-political cross-border tensions and an almost enigmatic aloofness have always made them seem alien – out of bounds. However, a new travel company, UFO (named rather aptly), is changing that, by making treks to borderlands more accessible, holistic and mutually beneficial.
‘Ultimate Frontier Outlands’ (UFO), a responsible-adventure travel company based out of Dehradun takes people to the most isolated and unexplored places and border territories in the Himalayas. They strongly believe in the mantra of ‘ #findingthefeather’ that for centuries has been considered a sign for travel across different cultures and regions – the spirit of which is an integral part of their journeys. They organise customized treks to places shrouded in mysteries and spiritual adventures while introducing you to the new cultures and respecting local traditions. Their idea of ‘Adventure by day, (Affordable) Luxury by night’ is what differentiates them from the crowd.
“We try and stay away from tourist circuits. We do not create a holiday, but an experience,” says Aatir Ansari, the Chief Explorer who co-founded UFO with his brother Shariq Ansari, a year ago – with an aim to promote cross-cultural exchange and give tourists a unique and an intimate insight into cultures people residing in the remote parts of the Himalayas. Apart from treks they also organize outdoor photography tours with renowned photographers, customized journeys anywhere in the world, immersive rural travel experiences and yoga retreats.
Their operations are pretty simple. Individual/Group is required to go to their website, select the destination, the experience and the price range and a number of treks would pop-up. Though there is a basic structure to each trek, the itinerary can be customized/created from scratch as per the traveller’s choice. They also have something called the ‘Explore By Theme’ where you can choose your preferences or the ‘Bucket List’ that lists the treks, that all trekkers must do once-in-a-lifetime.
Some of their popular treks include the Kashmir Great Lake Treks, The Goech La Sikkim Trek, twin peaks Stok Kangri and Golep Kangri etc. UFO has also begun its operations in Nepal through the Everest Base Camp Trek. However, this travel company does not just limit themselves to the Himalayas but want to take tourists to frontiers across the world. They have already begun their operations in Tanzania through Wildlife Safaris and treks up Mt. Kilimanjaro. They also organise a few hikes in Jordan. In the future, the team plans to expand their operations to the Great Rann Of Kutch and find more interesting routes in the North East of India for treks and Outdoor Photography opportunities.
While travelling to unexplored and isolated regions is certainly exciting, it calls for utmost responsibility on the part of the traveller and the tour operator. Cultural commodification, mass commercial tourism, littering, wasting resources are just some of the typical traits of an Indian traveller. UFO understands this and takes responsible tourism very seriously.
“We ensure that all our tour guides are locals – for no one knows that place better. This way they not only get employment, but even our tourists watch the place through a local’s eyes,” Aatir states. Alongside organising stays, meals at homestays and local mid-range hotels, they also conduct extensive cleanup drives under the banner of ‘Team Up for Change.’
Every year they choose to focus on a particular environmental issue in a specific area. Having already organised a cleanup drive in Ladakh last year, they are now planning another one. “We will clean up the route to the base camp bring attention to the need to travel responsibly wherever we go. We will then attempt to summit the twin peaks that are Golep Kangri (5900m) and Stok Kangri (6150m) back to back to bring focus on the effects of climate change,” Aatir says. Another clean-up drive on the agenda is one in Nagaland, ahead of the Hornbill Festival.
‘Ultimate Frontier Outlands’ with their unique, sustainable approach to tourism is committed to allowing travellers to take journeys that venture beyond the immediately visible.
To plan your treks and participate in their cleanup drive, click here.
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