14 Hands-on Travel Experiences in South Asia You Need to Know About

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The Travel Tester takes you on a creative travel journey through South Asia!

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Are you looking for an inspirational list of hands-on travel experiences in South Asia? Then you’ve come to the right place! 

Over the past years, there has been a big trend in tourism where travellers no longer want to participate in just the standard sightseeing tours and attend so-called ‘cultural shows’, but really feel the need to get involved in experiences that are characteristic to the destination that they are visiting. This is called Creative Travel.

In this article, you can find some of the best creative travel experiences in South Asia. Keep coming back, because this list will keep growing!  

HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN SOUTH ASIA

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Creative Travel Definition

According to the Creative Tourism Network, creative travel is considered “a new generation of tourism”, that offers visitors the opportunity to “develop their creative potential through active participation in courses and learning experiences, which are characteristic of the holiday destination where they are taken”.

From volunteer travel programs and language immersion programs to cultural immersion travel experiences and real community immersion, Creative Tourism is a way of travel that really is for everyone.

Whether you travel alone, as a couple or with a family or group of friends, there are many activities around the world where that offer educational courses and workshops, creative experiences where you get to learn different art forms or even adventure activities where you interact with the local nature and people in a fun, yet authentic way.

 

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Complete Hands-on Travel in South Asia List

 

HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN INDIA

Learn to cook on a spice farm in Goa

If you’re looking for a unique cultural experience while in the South of India, I can recommend a visit to a spice plantation in Goa. It also features a cooking class, so you can really get hands-on!


TIP BY: Me! Read more about visiting a spice plantation on the blog >>

“Our guide Gauri, who lives and works at the Tanshikar’s Spice farm (located in the Netravali village in the rain forest of the Western Ghats), took us on a short walking tour along all of the spices and told us all about their history and uses. Gauri then shows us her pet-bees (it’s a thing!), followed by a tour of her house, where she got assistance of her cute little daughter.

Afterwards, she took us to her kitchen, where we got a cooking class and learned all about making vegetarian Goan dhal, sprouted moong bean gravy and the best way to make and bake a chapatti. At the end of the tour, we got to enjoy our food and pay a short visit to the shop, where I scored some authentic spices to take home, most of them not even 50p per bag!”

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Learn woodblock printing in Jaipur

A great travel experience to have in Rajasthan, India is to learn how to print using wood blocks. Hand-printed fabrics make a wonderful gift, but learning how to print your own is even better.


TIP BY: James Ian, travelcollecting.com (< read all about woodblock printing on his blog!)

“I took a workshop in Sanganer, a suburb of Jaipur that I booked online. The class was in an actual workshop. Two incredibly long tables were set up in a tiny room with long blots of fabric. The workers removed one of the prices of fabric so that we could set up our workshop. This was the real deal!

The master printer didn’t speak much English, but managed to communicate what to do by demonstrating each step. It was well scaffolded and you certainly didn’t need to have any artistic talent or experience. The workshop is for anyone with a sense of adventure and a love of having new cultural experiences.

We started with one color on newspaper, until we were good enough to try a second color. This required us to line the blocks up perfectly, so that the color filled in paces made by the first blocks. When we were ready, we moved on to actual fabric. Again starting with one color and building to a second color. The whole process was fascinating and the workshop was lots of fun.

Half a day was enough though – you need to hit the block with the ball of your hand and after doing this hundreds of time, my hand was starting to hurt. It gave me a real appreciation of the artistry and effort that goes into making the fabrics I saw for sale throughout Rajasthan.”

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Photo Credit: Canva (left and top right) and travelcollecting.com (bottom right)

 

Experience a Ayurveda treatment in Goa

Ayurveda in Sanskrit means “The Science of Life”. Knowledge for this healing science dates back to over 5000 years ago and great emphasis is placed on prevention and maintenance of health through close attention to balance in one’s life.


TIP BY: Me! (read all about my Ayurveda experience on the blog >>)

“It’s hard to travel to India and not come back with new insights about the world, yourself, your health and your lifestyle. During my time in Goa, I got to speak to two doctors specialized in Ayurveda and they both make their message very clear to me: Modern day illnesses are more a result of an unbalanced lifestyle than anything else.

Ayurvedic treatment centers are run by trained therapists and usually require admittance for a minimum of 7-14 days in order to get a consult and according treatment. In Ayurveda, there are three basic types of energy (dosha) present in everyone and everything: VATA (movement, air, ether), PITTA (digestion, fire, water) and KAPHA (structure, earth, water). The cause of disease in this healing science is viewed as the lack of proper cellular function due to an excess or deficiency of one of these dosha.

By creating a balance of body, mind and consciousness (according to your own constitution), you can start by making lifestyle changes that will keep this balance the long-term. Make sure to read my blog (and check out the video I made) to see my experience of a Ayurveda treatment.”

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Learn about Kalamkari in Srikalahasti

Kalamkari is the name given to the fascinating art of hand painting on textiles whose roots go back more than 3,000 years ago, when .


TIP BY: Sandy and Vyjay, imvoyager.com (< read all about Kalamkari on their blog!)

“groups of musicians and painters cum storytellers called Chitrakars moved around villages, narrating stories from the ancient Hindu mythologies of India called Puranas. While the musicians brought alive the stories with their music, the Chitrakars added the visual element by hand painting scenes with the use of natural dyes obtained from plants and flowers on cloth. Slowly, this art form evolved into the esoteric art of Kalamkari. The art survives in its authentic form in the narrow streets of a small temple town called Srikalahasti in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

We visited one of the many ‘factories’ where authentic Kalamkari painting was done on various textiles including Sarees, and other apparel. We were visiting the place along with an organization called Grass Routes which works with the artisans on sustainable tourism.

The entire process involves 23 steps. A Kalam or pen is used to sketch the outline of the design on the textile after which it is hand painted using natural dyes. It takes about 3 to 4 days to complete one saree. We learned the process and also did some sketching and hand painting to get hands on experience of the process.

We recommend anyone interested in the arts, especially the ancient arts to experience this. It is a great way to learn about the exquisite art of Kalamkari. The experience can be done at anytime of the year, those with deeper interest can also do a complete course”

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Photo Credit: imvoyager.com

 

Go on a hot-air balloon ride (Goa / Jaipur)

If there is one thing that you can find on people’s travel bucket lists, I’m sure it’s the hot air balloon ride. Being the first ever method of flight created by man (in 1783, can you believe that?), it never ceases to impress, right? Well, India has one of the best views from the skies, so let’s go for a ride!


TIP BY: Me! (read all about my experience and see photos of my hot-air balloon ride in Goa >>)

“We arrived at 4AM at the balloon site and were literally standing in the pitch black in the middle of a freezing cold open field with a dozen of men pulling on a massive piece of plastic. Everyone in my group scratched their heads and was wondering if we should really do this, but then the sun started to rise and the massive balloon went up. This was going to be awesome!

Rita Yadav is, together with her sister, the only female balloonrider (driver? sailor? – pilot, probably pilot) in all of India. Kick Ass! As soon as I saw her work the massive balloon, my worries started to fade away. She clearly knew what she was doing (well, she has been for the past 16 years, if you can believe that!).

With three people in each corner of the basket (it’s much bigger than you would think), we go into the air and right away we start taking hundreds of photos. The ride is so smooth, the sunrise perfect, people wave to us from their houses and even our landing was super soft, we barely even noticed it. I can highly recommend this experience and can’t wait to try it again soon.”

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Learn all about Kathakalī make-up and dance at Fort Kochi in Kerala

Kathakalī is a major form of classical Hindu “story play” Indian dance, known for its elaborately colorful make-up, costumes and face masks that the traditionally male actor-dancers wear. This type of art is typical for the  Malayalam-speaking southwestern region of India (Kerala).


TIP BY: Sapna Kapoor, mysimplesojourn.com (< read all about the best places to visit in Fort Kochi)

“There are so many interesting things to learn from the diverse culture of Kerala. One of the things I learned is about the make-up of Kathakalī dancers. They put elaborate makeup for the performance and paint the whole face in a very dramatic way. During my Fort Kochi stay, I visited a theater to watch the performance and there I also learned about the make- up.

The colors used for the make-up are made with natural colors of plants and rice powder is an important component. The colors used for make-up also have significance, as the audience can identify if a character is good or evil by looking at the face. If a character’s face is painted in green with lips in brilliant coral red color then it is a noble character or a warrior. An evil character’s face is painted with red and has streaks of black. Forest dwellers and hunters have their faces painted in black. The face-painted mainly with yellow represent woman, noble characters and monks.

The make-up is very elaborate so it takes around 4 to 5 hours for artists to apply make-up for the performance. During the make-up session, I learned which part of the plants are used for their different colors.”

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Photo Credit: mysimplesojourn.com

 

Visit a tea garden in Northeast India

In North East India, there are a lot of creative experience to have, apart from the breathtaking views of the mighty Himalayan ranges. A visit to a tea garden is definitely on the list of suggestions. 


TIP BY: Somnath, travelcrusade.org (<< read all about his travels on the blog)

“The magnificent scenery and the awesome natural beauty took my breath away at times and we enjoyed every moment of it with friends and family. The monasteries and the narrow gauge railway lines were something to watch out for in this part of the country. 

While visiting the tea gardens of this region, we learned a lot from the local farmers and growers. Pruning and mulching are practiced in these gardens every year with the help of skilled certified specialists. We learned a lot about the process and the initiatives adopted to inculcate these practices in the gardens.

Pruning is performed annually to get rid of shoot issues and eliminate reproductive phases of growth. This allows the plants to prosper only in the vegetative phases of growth. It was a rewarding experience for us to enjoy the benefits and learn the plantation techniques.”

Hands-on Travel Experiences in South Asia You Need to Know About || The Travel Tester
Photo Credit: Canva (left) and travelcrusade.org (right)

 

Volunteer in India 

Leave UR Mark is a social enterprise that serves volunteers, interns, and travelers from around the world that want to come to India and work on career development as well as positive community growth through local initiatives. Each experience is a unique look into India’s fascinating culture and growth.


TIP BY: Me! (< read all about my school visit in India on the blog!)

“One of Leave UR Mark’s main projects is to volunteer at the Don Bosco School. Here, under-privileged children get the chance to be themselves and be creative. We spend a morning playing and creating art with the kids. If you’re looking to contribute something to the local community during your visit to Goa, I can recommend working with Leave UR Mark & Don Bosco, because it is definitely an experience you won’t easily forget. And the kids will for sure remember it forever!!

What makes the experience great, is that Leave UR Mark is not a travel agent that provides programs in several countries. This allows them to focus more on serving small, local projects. When working with local organizations, they don’t force volunteers or interns upon them (as is the case with many programs that serve orphanages around the world), but rather work in conjunction with them to see if the individual participant is a good match for their initiative.”

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Experience a home stay in Goa

Is there a better way to get to know a destination then to stay with the locals? We don’t think so! Let’s escape to the Goa region of India and discover a home away from home. 


TIP BY: Me! (< read all about my homestay in India on the blog!)

Casa Menezes is a heritage homestay in Goa that you won’t forget, run by David Menezes and other members of his family. The villa is perched in the valley and overlooks paddy fields bordered with tall coconut palm trees. This 300 year old ancestral home of the family, replete with teak, oak and rosewood carved antique furniture, original art and virtuoso regal interiors combined with all the modern amenities will make sure that this will become one of your most cherished holiday experiences ever!

The dinners of the house turned out to be some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten and David made sure we were always entertained by throwing a spontaneous barbecue or organising bike ride of the surrounding village. After a few days, it felt like we lived here.

If you are looking for a unique experience in Goa, where you get to meet the local people, learn about their culture & history… and have a ton of fun at the same time, then Casa Menezes is the place for you!”

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Practice yoga in India

What better place to practice yoga then in India? Whether you’re an Eat, Prey, Love fan or not, sign up for a lesson or two and see what you think for yourself!


TIP BY: Me! (Read all about my yoga experience in Goa >>)

“Practicing yoga was one of my favourite activities in Goa to do. While I usually do yoga as an exercise for my lower back, during a couple sessions I realised that there is much more to it than just the physical aspect. I LOVED the lesson we got by Devi & Sujit Guha Chowdhury, a couple teaching yoga at their school in Porvorim in Goa.

At the swimming pool of our Casa Menezes heritage stay in Panaji (also mentioned in this post as a creative experience you must have in India!), they not only showed us some positions, but also talked a bit about the history of yoga and the benefits it can give you. While I’m probably never able to lift myself off the ground with one arm, or bend in two like a stick, I was happy to find out that you can do yoga at any level and get out of it what you need, no matter how ‘good’ you are in doing the positions.

In India, there are many opportunities for classes or entire retreats, for example at the stunning looking Ashiyana Yoga Retreat Village in Mandrem, where we had a morning session as well. Here, you can go on a real ‘yoga holiday’ with drop-in and one-to-one yoga classes, as well as teacher training courses and complete retreats. The accommodation ranges from luxury suites to palm groves and beach huts, and while you’re there you almost feel like there exists no other world around you! So amazing! I can guarantee you this is going to be one of the most unforgettable things to do in central Goa!”

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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN NEPAL

Learn about Newari wood carving in Bhaktapur

The Newari caste in Nepal is known for its famous artistic abilities. The caste made a huge impact during the Golden Age of Kathmandu in the 1300’s when the Malla Dynasty ruled. The three sons of the King were each given a piece of the valley and they constantly fought to make their city the most beautiful. To this day, you can see the intricate Newari wood work on the buildings.


TIP BY: Michelle Della Giovanna, fulltimeexplorer.com (<< read all about things to do in Bhaktapur)

Bhaktapur is arguably the best place in the Kathmandu Valley to learn this art form. The city is often referred to as a “living museum” or the “cultural capital.” There’s no shortage of things to do in Bhaktapur, but taking a wood carving class is at the top of my list.

A Newari wood carving class is a great way to see just how much work one of these intricate carvings takes. You’ll be given a small piece of wood and will be guided through the carving process. It’s a great activity for everyone, but it does require a lot of patience. The class takes a couple of hours and at the end, you have a wonderful handmade souvenir to take home with you.”

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Photo Credit: Canva (left) and fulltimeexplorer.com (top and bottom right)

 

Take a multiple-day hike in the Annapurna Region

The Annapurna range is one of the majestic mountain massif in the Himalayas. The 10-11 days Annapurna Base Camp trek (also know as the Sanctuary or Teahouse Trek) is the best route for cultural insight, moderate adventure and some of the best Himalayan views.


TIP BY: Me! (Read all about hiking in Nepal on our blog >>)

“The Annapurna trek is one of the most popular and diverse trekking routes in Nepal, where you pass by hot springs, waterfalls, glacial rivers, and visit small communities along the way. Base Camp itself is at 4130 meters and getting there is something you will remember for the rest of your life, trust me!

You start from Pokhara and visit Ghorepani, Poon Hill, Tadapani, Chhomroong, Deurali and Annapurna Base Camp. Then it’s mostly doing dowmhill from there, toward Nayapul and eventually Pokhara.

While the hike was intense and memorable, meeting the Nepali people along the way enhanced our trip in ways no mountain range alone could ever do. EPIC Experience. Would highly recommend doing this at least once in your life if you have the chance.”

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Take a cooking class in Nepal

Nepal has a distinguished cuisine that is full of flavor. One of the best ways to discover the secrets of traditional Nepali and Newari dishes, such as Dal Bhat, Momos and Bara, is to do a cooking class!


TIP BY: Me! (Read all about Nepal on our blog >>)

“Roam a local market to buy ingredients for your dish and then learn how to cook under supervision of an expert cook. With the cooking classes that I found below, you can choose to make a traditional Dal Bhat or Nepalese Momos and try your hand at Samebaji, Chatamari, Bara or a Nepali curry. Sounds yummy, right?!

You will actively participate in the full preparation and cooking, and during the preparation you will learn more about authentic spice use in Nepali and Newari kitchens. After you have finished cooking, sit down at the table with your newfound cookery friends and try what you have just prepared.”

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Photo Credit: Canva

 

 

HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN SRI LANKA

Go on a wildlife safari at Yala National Park

When in Sri Lanka, one of the bucket-list experiences is definitely to go on a jeep safari to one of the national parks (there are 21 of them!) Yala National Park in the South is one of the most popular to spot Elephants, but also leopards! 


TIP BY: Me! (Read all about my Yala National Park Safari >>)

“What you should know about Yala, is that it’s divided into 5 blocks and also consists of adjoining sanctuaries and national parks. Not every block and sanctuary is accessible for visitors (only Block 1 and 5 are open at the moment, the others are more used for research and documentary filming) and not every block gives you an equal chance of actually seeing wildlife. Blocks 1 and 2 will be closed for 6 weeks in September and October.

Block 1 is the most popular area of the park (in the South) and because it’s one of the oldest, the animals are somewhat ‘used’ to people being around, so you have the best chance of spotting wildlife. This block is almost exclusively used for safaris, so expect quite a bit of traffic going around. 

We did our Safari with Cinnamon Nature Trails, which is related to the Cinnamon Wild Yala nature resort and is one of Sri Lanka’s leading eco-companies. There is a maximum of 6 people per Yala safari jeep and no matter where you are seated, you will have a window spot. Well, more a ‘viewing spot’, since there are no windows in the jeep, haha. Yala has the world’s biggest concentration of leopards, and to see them best, head over to Block 1!”

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The Travel Tester - The Verdict

Do You Travel to Discover Hands-On Experiences?

Let us know in the comments below what your favourite activity in this list is – and if you have any great additions to share with us. We are always adding to this page, so keep your suggestions coming! Look below for more information about creative travel and where else in the world you can have great hands-on experiences:

 

The Travel Tester - Practical Information

Creative Tourism Network

If you are looking for more creative tourism examples, then make sure to head over to the website of the Creative Tourism Network, as they are a fantastic source of information and inspiration for your upcoming travels. 

The Creative Tourism Network is the international organization for the Creative Tourism development worldwide. They offer consulting and training to tourism professionals and also host the Creative Tourism Awards to reward projects, companies and destinations that foster the new generation of tourism with the active participation of tourists in creative activities.

www.creativetourismnetwork.org

 

Map of South Asia Creative Travel and Tours

 

The Travel Tester - Further Reading

Creative Traveller’s Handbook

My travel blogger friend Elena wrote a wonderful book about creative travel that I can highly recommend reading. In this inspiring handbook, she answers not only the question who creative travel is for, but she gives practical tips on how to be creative on your own travels and how to plan your next creative trip down to all the details.

Read my full review of the Creative Traveller’s Handbook >>

The Creative Traveler's Handbook Review: How and Why You Travel is as Important as Where | Book Review by The Travel Tester

 

Creative Travel Around the World

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