An ex- academic, Niloufer Venkatraman, Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India, holds a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Temple University, Philadelphia. After spending time in the academic world Niloufer became a writer of all things travel, “It was a series of serendipitous events that led me into travel writing and editing,” says Niloufer.
“It was something that I liked doing, and it has now become my profession,” she adds. She has edited TimeOut’s India: Perfect Places to Stay, Eat & Explore and has also co-authored earlier editions of Frommer’s India Travel Guide.
So when ACK Media got the license to publish National Geographic Traveller’s, Indian edition, Ms. Niloufer Venkatraman seemed to be the obvious choice. “The Nat Geo Traveller US edition since 1984 has not been sold much in India, and it caters largely to an American audience.
For Indian audiences the US edition would not work, and so we have created a very different magazine that is specifically suited the Indian market.” On the magazine completing one anniversary, Niloufer says that “Starting a new magazine from scratch has been a hard, but very fulfilling journey. With a focus on storytelling and photography, we have a unique approach to travel and discovery. We don’t function as a guidebook, instead we work towards inspiring people to travel,” she continues.
Niloufer further adds, “The important challenge, when we started was to make an impact and find a distinctive voice in a market that already had several other travel magazines. We stuck to the core USP of National Geographic, with its emphasis on powerful storytelling and photography, authentic experiences and culturally interesting travel. This has stood us in good stead and we are now the most rapidly growing travel magazine in the country.”
Every month National Geographic Traveller India focuses on a cover theme, which includes several in-depth stories around that topic. The magazine isn’t really catering to those who are looking to tick off a bucket-list at a destination, though they may find it inspiring and useful as well. It is definitely for those who like a good read and are looking to experience a destination.
“For example, we have covered two stories on Benares, and both were very different from the usual Benares story. One story uncovered the musical traditions of the city and gave readers tips on where to find music in that city. The other was a way of looking at India’s holiest city, through the eyes of James Princep a 19th-century colonial administrator. We look towards finding a way to talk about a destination that suits our wide range of audiences. We have discovered that the younger audiences also are big readers. The magazine is for people who seek a different or unique experience from any destination, including a well-known or popular one,” says Niloufer.
Niloufer herself has changed as a traveller, “I have been travelling for many years now. When I was younger I would go on road trips with my parents, in my 20’s I was more of a traveller who felt the need to tick off a bucket-list, especially if I had only a few days at a destination. Over the years, this has changed further. While I still travel a lot, for me now it is not about seeing the different sites. Often I prefer to just walk around and explore local life at a destination or experience a lesser-known side of a place. For instance, even if I went to Agra, of course I will see the Taj Mahal, but I will explore much more beyond. I’d want to go to a market where the locals shop and venture to non-tourist locations beyond Agra. In a new place I like to get a feel of the place, walk the streets of the destination and experience it first-hand” adds Niloufer.
Over this one year that National Geographic Traveller India has been published, it has gained a readership that ranges from young to old. Just as the Indian travel scene and travellers are changing today, the magazine also recognises this change. “There is more access to money, among people in their 20s and 30s. Even those in their 40s and 50s with families want to try different things, have adventures, and are looking for new experiences in any destination. Additionally, there is the older traveller who has also evolved. People, who have retired, may now have the time and money at hand, and we see that they can be very adventurous when it comes to travelling. They want to try new things and even gain new experiences. We have this entire range of audiences who read our magazine” says Niloufer.
“In India multi-generational holidays are one of the most common types of vacations people take. When 3 generations including parents, grandparents and kids get together and travel, everyone may look for different things to do. So, with National Geographic Traveller India, we look to inspire people to try or do something different on their holiday. Even if they are with a larger family who may not all be able to try some adventurous pursuit such as snorkelling, or take long hikes, people can still use some holiday time to have a unique experience at their chosen destination” adds Niloufer.
If National Geographic Traveller ran a story on Hampi, their focus would be on something more than the ruins, it would be a personal experience that would talk about. It would be about exploring or discovery of the place from the point of view of the writer. When asked about bouldering, Niloufer said “bouldering is a very niche sport. Many outdoor adventure activities in India are very niche though interest in them is growing. As far as bouldering goes, while experienced rock climbers may know what they are doing, and have the right training and equipment, for my readers I would suggest they ensure safety first. We would suggest to readers that if they want to try something like bouldering in Hampi, they should not just try it on their own. They should look for a professional, with the right kind of experience, safety gear and equipment, and only then venture in that area” answers Niloufer.
Most Nat Geo Traveller India stories bring a personal, writer’s perspective to it, creating a story out of the chosen destination, and Niloufer hopes to create strong inspirational value with every article published in her magazine. Niloufer’s idea of unwinding is putting on her hiking shoes and exploring the wilderness with her daughter and husband. She hopes that with time she can inspire travellers to follow suit and take their kids outdoors as much as possible.
“Obviously you learn many different things from travel, but I guess one of the first things I learned from travelling in my youth is that the world is a very interesting place. And that there are so many different and unique cultures with different ways of seeing things, and yet there are many similarities as well. Travel has certainly taught me not to be ethnocentric, to keep my eyes and mind open, to be able to grasp that a place isn’t really at all like what I expected it to be. One of the significant things that travel has taught me is to explore my own backyard more thoroughly, to look for wonders right where I live,” adds Niloufer.
When we asked Niloufer what are the important things in her life she said, “Well I can’t really isolate different components of my life to say which one is important and which one is not. Everything really functions as a whole and one part feeds another. Family and friends are important and of course the well-being and happiness of my daughter and husband are primary. Work is essential and my magazine is important, as is being able to express creativity. Finding down time and “me” time is necessary, and so is exploring the world in which I live. Reading is crucial, learning new things, discovering new ideas and gaining knowledge too are high up on the list. Spirituality is important too and I don’t mean in it in a religious way at all, but that I consider it imperative to have a moral compass, a conscience, and be able to focus attention on things outside of one’s self and one’s narrow selfish needs. And then, there are many unscripted things that take place in everyday life that are important to me, as they all contribute to making up a meaningful life, and to my general sense of well-being as a person.”