The Joy of Being With Nature
Nothing quite comes close to the sense of peace and refreshment you get when you are close to nature. The sweeping landscapes, fresh breeze, lush greenery and chirping birds lift our spirits and energise us. One of the popular ways to experience this feeling of joy that comes with spending time with nature is to go camping.
Camping, as opposed to staying in a hotel, provides the opportunity to really cut out distractions and get back to basics. It is indeed an excellent way to disconnect from our stressed schedules for a few days and step away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Staying in a tent surrounded by woods or mountains, gives a feeling of freedom and helps us reconnect with ourselves.
Camping in India: Yet to Catch On in a Big Way
India offers an incredible array of destinations for camping. From the snow-capped mountains of Himachal Pradesh, the remarkable vistas of Leh, the soulful deserts of Rajasthan to the verdant forests of Maharashtra - the choice is exhilarating. However, camping culture is still in its infancy in India. It is only the adventurous type of travellers who consider a camping trip.
While hardcore campers might like the full DIY experience, the rest of us would like to add a little convenience to our camping! Glamping (or glamorous camping) has been a response to this expectation where conveniences are combined with the back-to-nature experience. This is also a great way to get more people interested in camping.
In India, reliable camping facilities are still far and few between. There are of course campsites are available at major destinations, but the experience is still somewhat unorganised. Improving the overall experience can surely attract more people to the wonders of a night of camping.
Big Red Tent: Giving a Boost to Camping in India
Big Red Tent was born when founder Rahil Mehta felt that India was lacking options in organised camping. He along with his co-founder wife Janaki decided to take the plunge and start a company focused on camping.
Big Red Tent aims to provide its customers with a "serviced camping experience" which ensures travellers enjoy a camping trip that is comfortable and personalised.
BRT offers currently a selection of campsites in and around Maharashtra - Kolad, Vasind, Khopoli, Karnala. Each campsite has its own host who is on hand to provide guidance and create tailor-made experiences. Whether the guests want an adventure-filled trip with kayaking or biking or they want a quiet time walking the forest trails, the hosts help create the perfect camping experience.
- Q. What led you to create the Big Red Tent.
- Someone once told me, the entrepreneur is born at the end of your comfort zone. This really attracted me about the idea of a “passion venture”. In some opportunities I had to travel abroad with work assignments, I was introduced to campgrounds, camping gear, camping communities, and this no-nonsense excursion that injects the outdoors into our day to day life. Every time I went camping, I felt that we have so much natural bounty to explore, why not bring the touch with nature to families, couples and seekers of solitude? Why not this becomes an integral of the growing up of kids where parents and kids spend time together, distraction free in the outdoors? I could see myself camping, and I was sure that there are many like me that sought this “quietude” this gave birth to the idea of Big Red Tent. A big impetus to start Big Red Tent was though that I had Janki Shah, the co-founder and partner – also my wife whose ability to imagine the project allowed us to take the plunge together.
- Q. How did you go about setting it up and what were some of the big hurdles you faced?
- Big Red Tent started with tremendous support from partners, campers, friends, family each one pitched in to realize the pilot project. The first challenges were to understand the regulations, to conceptualize a working model and to bring it to a reality. But the biggest challenge of all was that this was a first, we didn’t have a prototype to follow. To bring an idea into reality requires imagination. While there were challenges of working in rural areas, building the first blocks and elements for our campgrounds. The biggest challenge was “where” and “how” do we place our feet? Make the first campground? There were some upheavals and challenges in the first years of the operations, including having to shut down a campground and move. But today I can see that they were "kind" challenges and mistakes that make us more mature and resilient today. The visual and aesthetic of a campground in India, it's design and subtle elements were all guided by Janki while I have a great interest in DIY which helped to address the day to day operational challenges with innovative solutions.
A Personalised Camping Experience!
- Q. How does a holiday with BRT work? Please run us through the process.
- The booking process necessarily entails speaking with a Big Red Tent representative to set expectations and ensure you are prepared for the trip. To provide a serviced camping experience –goes hand in hand with some customization for each guest, whether its warm milk for kids or a meal preference, but more than all – those that want to DIY – pitch tents, build campfires, do their own BBQ etc. We get asked a lot of questions about what activities we have at the campground or what we should do after we reach there. Our answer to this is simple, a weekend at BRT is a weekend close to nature. Our hosts welcome you to their campgrounds to spend some time doing outdoorsy things like reading a book on a hammock, going for a hike, swimming & kayaking in the lake, stargazing in the night or roasting marshmallows by the campfire. It is everything camping at BRT. People typically check-in by 4:00 pm closer to sunset and check-out the next morning post breakfast. But campers who really want to take a break from city life, prefer spending multiple nights, just chilling under the trees, enjoying simple pleasures of life!
- Q. Are the BRT campsites your own or do you work with partners? How are they picked?
- We started with our own campgrounds back in 2009. And slowly moved to partnering with like-minded people who own or have access to land somewhere close to nature and love hosting campers. There are various factors while picking a new location, like accessibility by road or public transport, distance from the city, safety and security of the place, the natural aesthetics of the place and above all willingness of the host to patiently share their love for the outdoors with our campers.
- Q. What kind of experience are you trying to create? How is it different from other camping/outdoor holiday services?
- Camping with BRT has always been about nature and outdoors. Doing nothing yet doing everything related to camping. We’ve had moments where we saw people returning as couples, or as parents, we even saw some kids grow up. It gives us utmost pleasure when parents prefer BRT as their partner to introduce outdoors, nature and camping to their kids. We enjoy when a young couple calls to tell us that they prefer seclusion and privacy at our campgrounds. We love listening to family stories where three generations are bonding and spending time together doing adventure activities like kayaking & rafting. Our stories are our experiences. And that is what we’re doing differently. We are welcoming people to come stay with us, get to know the outdoors and become nature enthusiasts, if they aren’t already one! And the key to all of this beautiful experience is our hosts at each of our campgrounds, they really make sure the campers feel at home. I want to say that camping really is a DIY experience, you have the chance to mold the trip to your interest. The differentiator with Big Red Tent are our hosts who will help you do this.
- Q. How has the pandemic affected your operations?
- The pandemic has been challenging for all. A combination of fear, uncertainty, confusion characterize this time. Operations have really been off and on, and we have been doubly cautious to make sure we don’t add to the above. There has been a severe impact on operations, with occupancy dropping to few percent of what we had before – while for much of the time it has not been possible to operate. Yet, for Big Red Tent momentum and passion are the biggest drivers and our hosts are keeping this spirit alive spend time and stay at the campgrounds for extended time to make sure the connect with the outdoors is not lost. As an antidote to the times, we are happy to service even a single camper who may take solace in the quiet of the outdoors and help him or her tide through this difficult time. I am confident of our resilience to revive the spirit of camping when the opportunity presents itself.
- Q. What are your own interests and how did you spend time during the lockdown?
- Personally, a vocation that I developed almost simultaneous to Big Red Tent has been to volunteer with New Acropolis – a school for Philosophy. I have been a part of the organization for over 10 years and through the lockdown, my volunteer work with New Acropolis was a strong anchor that helped me and others keep the positive spirit alive. I took up cycling to take advantage of empty streets and fresh air and the opportunity to exercise.
Recommended BRT Campgrounds
Set against the lush backdrop of the Sahayadris, Kolad is a popular destination for adventure seekers as it famed for white water rafting. Enjoy the picturesque surroundings with the BRT Kolad campground that is located within the forest close to the Kundalika river. At the campsite you can enjoy trekking, night walks and plan rafting trips. Welcoming and helpful, Shyam & Sarita are the hosts in this campground.
BRT SH-92 Khopoli
Located at the base of the Sahyadri mountains, Khopoli is a great option for families seeking a nature break. At BRT SH-92, Khopoli, you can enjoy nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding valley, mountains and even seasonal waterfalls. The activities you can explore here include trekking in Lonavala hills, kayaking, swimming, exploring the many trail paths available on the camping grounds.
Host Nitish is a travel lover and will provide all the support for creating a wonderful camping trip
Surrounded by palm trees the BRT Karnala campground makes for an excellent base to enjoy all that Karnala offers. You can explore the trails around the property, go hiking up to the Karnala Fort or explore Karnala Bird Sanctuary or perhaps hike Lake Ransai or kayak in it. This campsite is particularly ideal for families as it has a large lawn suitable for kids to play in.
Avid biker and traveller Zaid hosts this campground and with his family extends warm hospitality to all guests.
- Q. Which campsite or experience are you partial to and what would you recommend to a new client?
- Each of our locations has a unique feature and experience. If someone wants to introduce camping to their child then we recommend visiting BRT Karnala because we have a huge green lawn and kids can freely run around, plus it's closest to the city. If we have a couple looking for a private space, we recommend visiting BRT Vasind or BRT Khopoli, it's a favorite amongst the couples. And well, BRT Kolad is an ideal campground for everyone looking for a nice road trip, some adventure activities and of course nature. So you see we cannot really be partial to any but definitely basis interest we can recommend campgrounds to our campers.
- Q. Please give some tips for first time campers and how they can come prepared.
- There are two types of first time campers at BRT. One who have camped with others and two who are camping for the very first time. For both these campers we have the same answer. BRT campgrounds are all about you, your personal space with nature and your family. At BRT privacy is luxury and we follow this thoroughly by providing private campsites to every group. And now even private washrooms, spaced out dining areas. So when you come camping with BRT, come with an open mind to chill in the outdoors. Be spontaneous and explore your surroundings.
- Q. What’s next for BRT?
- With the blossoming of many campgrounds all over the country and camping becoming a more serious vertical within the impulse travel space, I do think there is a need to preserve the spirit of an experience of solitude in the outdoors. Just as we quickly learn that video conference is a far cry from human contact, there is an integral role of a connect with nature. The Big Red Tent team will innovate, adapt and continue to strive to allow such a connection to be accessible and available to those that want. I also think that this is a time for collaboration of those with a similar ethos, so that the essential ideas are preserved and we have the ability to revive when the opportunity presents itself.
BRT as a brand has evolved into a family-friendly brand, a brand that cares about their campers holiday. So in extension to camping we’re introducing a new service called BRT Experiences where we plan to deliver interest based pan-india holiday packages. We want to take away the stress of planning & booking a holiday with friends & family. Simply put together, BRT Experiences are live-in-the-moment holidays.