If you want to take home something more from a vacation than just a suitcase full of souvenirs and a tan, a learning holiday might just be the thing you are looking for. A great way of combining travel with the acquisition of a new skill, learning holidays have become increasingly popular in recent years.
A learning holiday may seem like work away from work – but there are big benefits to be gleaned. One is guaranteed to return home with not just memories, but a new experience and skill that he/she can enjoy for the rest of their life. Also, it is a fantastic way to meet like-minded people with shared interests and passions.
Here’s a selection of some of the best short breaks in India where you can learn a new skill as well as get to explore the beautiful countryside. So utilise that precious “me time” by seeking new experiences that will benefit you long after you get home!
1. Cheese Making
India has a growing community of artisanal cheesemakers, many of whom conduct workshops to teach people to make their own cheese at home. Since making cheese is an addictive hobby and one you could seriously get used to, delving into the culinary arts with holiday at Acres Wild in Coonoor or Cinnabar Farms in Kodaikanal is a great idea. A 22-acre cheese-making farm, Acres Wild is a self-sustaining farm that organically grows all its ingredients to craft a selection of delectable natural-rind cheeses, moulded over the perfect period of aging, with glorious textures and shapes. Cinnabar Farms also offers short courses in baking bread along with cheese making and tasting.
Have you ever stared enviously at surfers riding the ocean swells and imagined yourself doing the same? If the answer is yes we have some good news for you! This sport is not very difficult to learn and thanks to its vast coastline, India has plenty of surf destinations to choose from. In addition to accommodation and training, many of these surf schools also offer yoga and beach barbeques. Some of India’s most popular surf schools are Kovalam Surf Club in Kerala’s Kovalam, Shaka Surf Club in Kodi Bengre, Karnataka, Mantra Surf Club in Mulki in Karnataka, Kallialay Surf School in Pondicherry and Surf Wala in Goa.
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3. Nature Sketching
Art is a fun way to learn anything, but when you’re on the road, it can become a fabulous way to look at your travels through different perspectives. So if you’re a dab hand with the paint brush and are keen to develop your art skills on a nature sketching holiday, the workshops of Hemlata Pradhan in Kalimpong, Mahesh Jangam in Bandhavgarh, Meenakshi Subramaniam in Periyar and Murlidhar Parashar in Ranthambhore are where you should be.
A hobby for both old and young people, learning pottery is a great way to have an instructive, relaxing and fun holiday. Though private potters form a small community, it is a thriving group consisting of people who passionately enjoy the process of slowly moulding beautiful artifacts from clay. Andretta, an artists’ colony nestled in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, offers day-long workshops as well as intensive three-month courses for those who want to learn the craft seriously. Kalaachakra in Hyderabad is another great place for people looking to learn pottery. In addition, this nature-infused centre for art and culture also provides classes in cookery, bottle gardening, organic farming and percussion music.
5. Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
Learning scuba diving and snorkeling on a holiday is the perfect opportunity to indulge the thrill seeker in you. After all, few experiences are as exhilarating as swimming alongside stately turtles, curious schools of colourful fish and the occasional wary shark as you enjoy a stunning visual of India’s rich marine life. Agatti and Bangaram Islands in Lakshadweep, North Bay, Cinque and Havelock Islands in the Andamans, Tarkarli in Maharashtra, Netrani Island in Karnataka and Dwarka in Gujarat have some great institutes that offer lessons in scuba diving and snorkelling.
Here are a few of them:
- IISDA (Indian Institute of Scuba Diving and Aquatic Sports), Tarkarli
- Barefoot Scuba, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
- Lacadives, Lakshadweep Islands
- Murudeswar Scuba Diving, Netrani Islands
Whether you go for a full timetable of classes or just an afternoon, a cookery holiday is a brilliant way to get the inside track on an area, meet the locals (they sure have some fascinating tales to tell) and come away feeling crammed with new information and inspiration. Goa’s Siolim Cooking School and Rita’s Gourmet Goa lets you get the lowdown on the dishes that you’d have tried during the trip. If you’re looking for a fully fledged culinary holiday, Haritha Farms in Kadalikad in Kerala offers several specialized courses and should be high on your list. Cooking Masala in Rishikesh, Jaipur Cooking Classes and Aakriti Eco Homestay in Coonoor are some other great options.
7. Skiing, Snowboarding and Sledging
With India’s winter sports season kicking off in mid-December (and snow blanketing the Himalayas), one doesn’t have to travel out of the country to experience snow or take part in snow sports. Also, tourism authorities have been progressively making winter sports more accessible, and it’s now easier than ever to plan a vacation that involves playing in snow. While skiing, snowboarding and sledging require a reasonable level of training, instructors and equipment are easily available at ski spots in Himachal Pradesh (Kullu, Hatu, Manali, Narkanda), Uttarakhand (Auli, Mundali, Dayra Bugyal) and Jammu & Kashmir (Gulmarg). The powder snow in Gulmarg is by far the best, but the gentle slopes of Auli and Narkanda are better suited for beginners.
8. Wildlife Volunteering
By volunteering at the wildlife rescue/conservation organisation, you will make a major contribution to the welfare of India’s rich biodiversity. Additionally, you will also learn on the job about the tiger and its habitat, the ecology and local communities, and consequently, about the conservation not just of a single species but of an ecosystem. However, note that these organisations do serious wildlife work, so applications will be vetted thoroughly and you will have to work on what they need, not on what you’d like to do for them.
Here are some of India’s best wildlife volunteering programmes.
- The Primate Trust provides long term care to orphaned, abused and injured monkeys
- A Bengaluru NGO, Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), practices science-based conservation, with special emphasis on ecology and conservation of the tiger and other large mammals.
- Fancy being a Crocodile Wrangler? For a small daily fee, the Madras Crocodile Bank offers volunteering programs for Indians and foreigners alike to get hands-on experience working in the field of reptile conservation.
- During the nesting season (between December and April) of Olive Ridley turtles, Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network conduct walks along the beach in Chennai (from Neelankarai to Besant Nagar) looking for turtle eggs and relocating them to a safe place.
9. Horse Riding
If you are looking for an active holiday that includes quality time with animals, a vacation at Japalouppe Equestrian farm near Pune is perfect for you. Founded by mother-son duo, Lorraine and Rohan More, Japalouppe offers lessons for adults through the year as well as camps for kids during school vacations. Other than learning the ropes of horse riding, guests are also encouraged to bond with the horses by feeding and grooming them. Another great choice is Adagio Riding Stables at Baliyawas near Gurgaon, the first of its kind horse riding club in India where pupils, young and old, are paired with horses adequate to their own heights and sizes.
10. Organic Farming
When did you last reach into scraggly branches and tug fruits free off a fragrant fruit-laden tree? Or tuck into a delicious feast prepared with farm-fresh organic vegetables you have harvested yourself ? If you’re itching to go on an organic farming holiday in India, you’ll be surprised to know you have plenty of choices. One such enterprise is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). This non-profit organisation works with tourists and organic farms to facilitate the barter of a few hours of daily volunteer work in exchange for accommodation, delicious food and a chance to learn organic farming techniques.