When travelers arrive on O.A.T.’s Heart of India adventure, Trip Experience Leader Sujay Lall quickly prepares them to expect the unexpected: “I always say, ‘Plan A is in your program. But Plan B is up my sleeve.’” Sometimes this means sending travelers on an impromptu scavenger hunt at a market in Jaipur. It could involve a walk through the Muslim quarter in Delhi. Or maybe it’s a tour of the crematorium in Varanasi, where he shares a moving personal story about his role in his late father’s ceremony.
Wherever Sujay’s “Plan B” might lead, his travelers readily follow. Since he first joined O.A.T. in 2005, his enthusiasm for new discoveries and adventures—especially those away from the tourist path—has permeated his groups, who sing his praises upon their return. The passion and pride with which he shares his homeland has earned Sujay this year’s Sumner-Thoren Award—which we created to recognize Trip Experience Leaders and Program Directors who go above and beyond to provide unforgettable experiences.
Sujay feels extremely grateful to have the opportunity to serve as an ambassador of India. “I’m just one of 1.25 billion people in India, and I get to do this,” he says. “For my travelers, my face is the face of India.” He doesn’t take the responsibility lightly, looking for unique ways to help travelers understand the complexities of Indian culture.
Oftentimes, the reality of India can make visitors uncomfortable—like, for example, a visit with a nonprofit organization that employs victims of acid attacks. “Even I was worried I would be too emotional, and initially didn’t want to do it,” Sujay admits. “But I pulled it together. And when I gave my first group of travelers the opportunity, all 16 of them went. There are always tears, but I promise them, ‘We will all leave with smiles.’ And that’s what happens.”
It’s the people who make India such a rewarding destination, and Sujay strives to give his travelers the richest possible experience of his country’s cultural mosaic. “Every sixth person walking on earth is Indian, and there are many different faiths,” he says. “Within miles, everything changes—clothes, food, religion, gods. There is unity in our diversity.”
All of O.A.T.’s Trip Experience Leaders—in India and beyond—are chosen for their ability to show travelers their real homeland, and not the typical tourist’s version. Hear more about India’s reality from Sujay in this video: