#NICEStories: Chalo Hoppo – Nurturing tourism in North-East India

Chalo Hoppo is a travel company curating trips to the north-eastern part of India. Officially started in 2016 by John, Devraj, Nishant and Chetan  – three of whom were from the north-eastern states – Chalo Hoppo offers itineraries that take you to the most raw and mesmerizing parts of the seven sisters. They were working in the advertising industry before deciding to start this company and none of them had any background in the tourism industry. This did not stop them; unlike generic travel agencies that provide packages to mainstream sites of the land, Chalo Hoppo provides a personalized experience with the help of local tour guides and home-stays. They provide customized trips as well as pre-set itineraries all of which are trips already taken by at least one of the members of the company themselves.

Currently, John Rapheal and Devraj are the co-founders after Nishant and Chetan had to leave due to personal commitments. John and Devraj aspire to attract people’s attention to the wonders of the north-eastern India and they do so by carefully executing each trip with the best experience possible. 

Follow our conversation with John as he talks about the inception of their company, its ups and downs and what differentiates their brand from every other travel agency based in this region.

Creating the itinerary – How it all began

Before we started out, in 2015, we noticed that there was a major lack of awareness in terms of tourism between the north-east and other parts of India. People did not even consider the diverse and beautiful experiences the north-eastern part of India has to offer. One of the previous co-founders talked a lot about his experiences in the north-east during multiple visits to places throughout his internship. This was even before the idea of a company started brewing. After multiple rounds of discussion, we decided to jump on board and start with a tourism company of our own.

An ideal mountainous vacation trip for most people was generally to the hills of Himachal, through the narrow passes of Ladakh or the breathtaking forts of Rajasthan but after personally exploring the north-east ourselves, we realized the potential of the raw beauty that the unexplored parts of the north-east held. Each state had its own charm that we wanted to bring to a tourist’s attention. Our first priority was to garner tourists keen on exploring the north-east and offer them the best experience with the help of carefully planned travel packages. When we started off in 2016, all the curated trips were identical to the ones that we had previously been on. Our experience with the people of the place – the helpfulness of the guides and the hospitality of the locals – reflected in each of the itineraries we offered to our customers. 

In all our travel offerings,  a deep connection is formed between the tourists and the locals, which helps the former understand and experience the culture of the area better. This is why all of our trips include fully trained guides that speak English and accompany tourists through each step of the holiday in order to give them a memorable and authentic experience of the place. 

Carving a niche for themselves – Why any Chalo Hoppo itinerary is far from mainstream

Most trips to the north-east take one to major waterfalls, museums or safaris. We tried to avoid that by having guides from the area who take our customers around their neighborhood where they are provided meals at the home-stay and get to participate in  activities with the locals. This way, they not only explore the major tourist attractions but also get a firsthand experience of the place from the residing locals themselves. Currently,  we have a trusted set of around 70-80 local guides spread all throughout the north-east. Each operates within a radius of about twenty kilometers and helps give the customer a hyperlocal experience. We currently organize trips in Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur, while we have partnered with freelancers in Tripura and Mizoram who help plan trips in these regions.

Leaving no stone unturned for a flawless adventure

Up until the lockdown was lifted in 2021, we stuck to previously ventured trips to prevent any disappointment throughout the adventure. Since none of us was from a tourism background, it was essential to set a few ground rules in order to create good tourist adventures. After we received a negative customer review, in 2016, for a tour to a place we had never been to we learned the hard way and decided to stick to pre-verified trips. Even now, almost 90-95% of the itineraries on our website are to places where at least one person from our team has been to. We now have reliable and efficient guides who we carefully choose for new itineraries to avoid repeating the same mistake.

One of the major challenges we faced and continue to do is the training of our guides and drivers. Roads in the north-east are hilly, uneven and call for immaculate driving skills for a smooth and safe journey. The bar for our guides is set high and is based on our personal experiences of taking these trips. All of the drivers employed are properly trained, keeping in mind the best etiquette required for a smooth customer experience. Our home-stay hosts are always effortlessly and naturally welcoming and hospitable. However, expanding the team of such trustworthy and flawless collaborators is a challenging task that we hope to overcome as we grow. 

Customizable trips catering to every age and group size

We do three kinds of trips – Bespoke Travel, Set Departures and Short Escapes. All the set departure trips have fixed dates and are curated for group sizes of 12-14. We stick to smaller group sizes for a much more fun experience. These trips generally require active movement and thus have a target audience aged 25-38 years old. With adventure and cultural activities, they are kept on their feet throughout the day. At night, we curate the perfect bonfire experience or a star gazing atmosphere, to enjoy the peace and quiet of the area. 

Most people choose personalized itineraries for their trips. An all-time favorite is the itinerary to Meghalaya. Tourism here has boomed in the last three to four years, which is why we try to cover nooks that are breathtaking and less treaded along with the populous sites. With golden sunny days perfect for a swim in freshwaters along with enjoyably cold evenings perfect for a bonfire, it has the perfect weather causing people to swarm during the holiday season. Since Meghalaya has hoards of tourists, the serenity of mainstream places is somehow lost. But our customers are taken to smaller villages to experience the landscapes and culture in its rawest form. 

One of the other states that customers often request a trip to is Arunachal Pradesh. From personal experience, I have observed that even a good ten days are only enough to cover a part of this gigantic state. We organize different trips for different corners of the state because of how unique they are. Trips to Nagaland and Manipur are more of an experience than mere sightseeing. Covering around eight villages, we offer the experience of home-stay meals that one can cook with the hosts themselves. Village walks to explore the landscape and wildlife are a part of this itinerary too. 

Every trip is open to people from all age groups. The pace of the trip can also be varied depending on the type of group requesting the itinerary. An excursion for a group of school children or a family is different compared to one that is offered to senior citizens. Customers can move leisurely along parts that they are most fond of through the trip. This sets us apart from other travel agencies that decide every item on the list that one needs to check off according to a pre-decided timing, which hinders the possibility of a patient and soul-filling outing.

There are a plethora of niche experiences that this part of the country has to offer which the Indian audience has no idea about. We want to offer these for everyone to come and experience, mainly because this region is as diverse as the whole country itself. People looking for a week-long vacation can definitely explore one of these trips and build  memories that will last for a lifetime. 

NICEorg wishes Chalo Hoppo the best of luck in their journey ahead!

If your cultural enterprise is in any of the five focus sectors and you would be interested in being featured, write to us at namaste@niceorg.in

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