The ordinary women from Pothanikkad had never even dreamed of flying in an aircraft. Yet 17 members of a women's self-help group flew from Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram with their own money last week.
The Kudumbasree unit is a success story like the rest of the self-help movement in Kerala. The thrifty and enterprising women managed to save enough money to take them on a picnic once every month. Their first travel was to the nearest city- Kochi.
Then they went to popular tourist destinations such as the Malampuzha dam, the Peechi dam and the Thekkadi lake. They even ventured outside Kerala and went to as far as Odisha. They made it a point to travel once every month.
“We returned from each trip energized. We would plunge into the Kudumbasree activities with extra vigor,” said Mallika Haridas, chairperson of the Preethi Kudumbasree unit.
“Ours is a collective of ordinary women. Most of us have not traveled outside our district. There were people who had never boarded a train,” she added.
As traveling opened up a new world before the women, some of them were reminded of a forgotten childhood fantasy - flying!
“We did it. We flew from Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram and took a train back. We got a good deal because we had booked earlier. It worked out to be Rs 1,750 per person,” Haridas said.
“Some of us were a bit nervous. How to wear a seat belt? What to speak to the air hostess? And things like that. But everything went just fine.”
The eldest in the group was 64-year-old Ammini and 55-year-old Kamalakshi. The initial fright gave way to excitement soon after the takeoff.
The Preethi unit has inspired the other Kudumbasree units at Pothanikkad to travel for pleasure. “We have a good investment and revenue. We want to travel happily when work becomes too tiring,” Haridas said.
The share of independent women travelers is on the rise, said Indira Devi, who founded a firm to plan travels for women.
“Women were afraid to go out after dark in Kerala. The situation has changed with heightened security arrangements. Nowadays women travel alone. They also prefer going abroad on their own.”
Ace Global Destinations is dedicated to woman-only tour groups. As many as 30 women had joined the seven-day trip the firm organized to Malaysia and Singapore in 2012. In 2015, the firm organized a trip to Bali for 15 women. Most of them were from Kochi.
“Women from Kerala lag behind women from other states when it comes to solitary travel,” Indira Devi said. Her firm has been organizing small trips for women to Andaman and Sri Lanka.
Indira Devi, a former state badminton champion, quit her job with the public sector Food Corporation of India to start the venture.
Women in Kerala still have several hurdles to pass before they hit the road. The most difficult part is perhaps obtaining permission from the family. The woman traveler faces too many irritating questions on the way. They have to explain their decision to travel alone to any random souls. They have to ward off anti-social elements in search of easy prey.
Traveling solo has its problems, like the obvious problem of guarding your stuff when you go to a washroom.
They also have to take care of the common hassles like finding out a cheap mode of transport and a safe and comfortable place to stay.