Like vacations, families are never alike. In 2021, when journalists Asher and Lyric Fergusson concluded their independent research that ranked the most and least homophobic countries of the 150 they studied, they found India in the 82nd spot and Nigeria in the 1st. This middle-of-the-pack position reflects the nation&rsquos own journey of acceptance, where many outdated laws have been challenged and revisited. Robindro Saikhom, the founder of Serene Journeys&mdashan LGBTQ travel company curating luxurious bespoke experiences, says that, of late, the travel industry has begun to embrace this diversity. &ldquoWith the decriminalisation of section 377, things are changing. Hotels are becoming more welcoming of the LGBTQ community and are trying to sensitise their staff,&rdquo said Saikhom. &ldquoEarlier, when we used to travel, we did get stared at and were asked intrusive questions, but we&rsquove always been upfront about who we are and what we are, even while booking hotel rooms. That was how we started our company&mdashso people can travel smoothly without being judged.&rdquo At Serene Journeys, Saikhom and his partner in life and business, Mark, have guided many LGBTQ families, couples, and individuals on their travels across India and South East Asia.
Travel for the couple is as much about being together as it is about discovering themselves. &ldquoWe love travelling together, but we also love travelling alone. It is also a good way to give each other space.&rdquo Having travelled far and wide, Saikhom continues to be smitten by India. &ldquoWhen you travel to different places across the country, you realise that India is accepting and tolerating. I have never really had any untoward experience travelling across India. Everyone has been on my side.&rdquo
A Trip With The Daughters
The sense of freedom queer folks feel with their chosen family echoes in their travel experiences&mdashit&rsquos never just a getaway from the routine of daily life. It&rsquos an escape from the anxieties of traversing through the uneven terrains of societal acceptance. &ldquoYou learn and hear so much about the different places where you want to go, but then there are so few where you feel accepted,&rdquo said Rudrani Chhetri, a transgender rights activist and model. For queer folks, acceptance is another addition to the long list of things to consider on vacation, like dates, a destination, pit-stops, and bookings. &ldquoBefore I decide on a destination, I need to understand if people from my community and my &lsquodaughters&rsquo would be safe and accepted,&rdquo said Chhetri. In the trans community, traditional or natal family units barely find a mention in their personal stories.
The chosen family&mdash predominantly matriarchal&mdashis what matters. Chhetri tells me about her own. &ldquoIn the context of the transgender community, the idea of the family is different from a conventional one. Usually, we do not stay with our biological family but with our chosen family. A system exists where a senior&mdashespecially a trans woman&mdash adopts a transgender person (mostly trans women regarded as daughters). And within this family unit, we have our celebrations, vacations, and other important life events. My family consists of my &lsquoguru&rsquo and my daughters.&rdquo Chhetri finds it challenging to plan a vacation with her chosen family, but a hastily&ndashplanned trip to Mount Abu stands out in her memory. &ldquoA few years ago, we thought of travelling somewhere. Haridwar was the first choice because it&rsquos convenient, and we&rsquod been there before, but we wanted to try out a new place. So, we booked our tickets and travelled to Abu together by train.&rdquo
It was a memorable experience not only because it had been a while since they all travelled as a family but because her experience in Rajasthan&rsquos only &ldquohill&rdquo station was without stress and incident. &ldquoI usually feel uneasy about going to a new place. But here, everybody was very friendly, and the people were nice. We shopped a lot and went boating and trekking,&rdquo said Chhetri. The trip to Mount Abu was also their way to refill a void. &ldquoWe rarely get invited to family celebrations or vacations with our biological parents and relatives this was one of those few vacations where I spent time with my matriarchal family.&rdquo
Honeymoon In Turkey
In July 2022, when Cheitan Sharma and Abhishek Ray posted photos from their wedding celebrations on Instagram, netizens couldn&rsquot help but gush. A scroll through their profile tells you a lot about them, especially their love for travel&ndashthe dreamy pictures from their Turkish honeymoon are a testament. &ldquoInitially, we were planning a trip across Europe, but it didn&rsquot work out for many reasons. After that, it was a choice between Cambodia, Vietnam, and Turkey,&rdquo admitted Ray. The trip was planned so that both of them got to experience things they love&ndash for Ray, it meant food, and for Sharma, everything else, because he&rsquos a vegetarian. &ldquoTurkey stood out to us because it had so many diverse experiences&ndashfrom historical sites and cities with happening nightlife to mountains.
Photo Credit Cheitan Sharma
Abhishek and Cheitan in Turkey
They also have amazing food, (Cheitan may beg to differ),&rdquo said Ray. &ldquoWe started at Antalya, followed by Kusadasi, Pamukkale, Cappadocia, and Istanbul. We didn&rsquot want to waste time at the airport, so we thought we&rsquod travel to all these places by road,&rdquo said Cheitan. Even though Turkey is an Islamic country and is largely governed by traditional moral values, homosexuality has been legal since 1923. However, legalisation does not come without its loopholes&ndashthe criminal code has been subjected to vague interpretations to call out offences against public morality. Despite the complexity, Sharma and Ray were lucky to collect many heartwarming instances. &ldquoMany travellers from India recognised us.
A lot of them were also senior citizens who were visiting Turkey. They were very interested in our story and asked questions about how we met and our marriage. A lady even spoke to us about her friend&rsquos daughter, who came out as lesbian, and how, after looking at our wedding pictures, conversations around the topic became easier,&rdquo said Sharma.
The Two Families Come Together
Family vacations for Trupti, a psychologist who identifies as lesbian, and her partner, Rupa, are rambunctious affairs. It&rsquos a big group, where Trupti&rsquos natal family and her partner Rupa&rsquos chosen family, including her ex-partner and other dependents, come together over a shared love of food and road trips. Every year, during Onam and Christmas, their family plans a journey&mdasha no-hassle, simple vacation where all that matters is being together. &ldquoOur Christmas road trip of 2020 was most memorable. My side of the family loves drives, picnics, and the outdoors, while Rupa&rsquos side is into food&mdashall of that came together on this trip.&rdquo Trupti lights up as she speaks about a family vacation to her mother&rsquos home, about 200 km from Mumbai. &ldquoWe drove from Mumbai and stayed in an amazing Airbnb that my brother and mother had booked.
Photo Credit Rupa
Trupti and Rupa's family picnic
They had also planned elaborate menus, and there was a lot of food. We played word games and dumb charades some days, we drove to nearby picnic spots, where we carried wine and food. One day, Rupa made mulled wine because it was Christmas. It was the first time we were on an outstation holiday.&rdquo For Trupti and Rupa, these vacations where the two families, chosen and natal, come together, symbolise the understanding of values. &ldquoWe come together because the person we are with is important, and the persons they are with are important.
But unlike other families, which are natal, we don&rsquot have memories of growing up together. This trip was our attempt to create some precious remembrances,&rdquo said Trupti. After that vacation in 2020, Trupti and Rupa&rsquos families have had many more such trips however, because of their unusual dynamic, they are often met with curious stares. &ldquoPeople cannot tell how we may be related to each other. When we travel with Rupa&rsquos chosen family, people wonder who is related to whom. It&rsquos odd for them, but not for us.&rdquo