The Jamaican political activist, publisher and journalist, Marcus Garvey had said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like a tree without roots.” Conquests, wars, battles in history have been witness to the merging of cultures and mixing of colours. The ever-growing populous world of ours witnesses trans-nationalism and interracial marriages. As such we have lost track of our ancestry. The popular travel trend in recent times is “connecting with your roots”. The advancement of genetic heritage technology enables people who are interested in knowing about their family history via DNA testing. These examinations then provide clarity about their ancestors and help unearth a conclusive genetic make-up.
Travel has become intrinsically connected to one’s identity. Market research indicates that DNA Tourism or Ancestry Tourism is on the rise. Where did your family originally come from? Where are your roots? – These are the questions that underlie the purpose of DNA tourism. In the USA, DNA ancestry services like 23andme, MyHeritage and Ancestry.com help people globally to find more about their roots.
India follows the traditional system of handwritten books that are passed down from one generation to the next. “Pandas” are professional Hindu Pandits in Haridwar. For generations, the Pandas have kept detailed family genealogies at this pious city of the Hindus. Whenever there is a birth, marriage or death in a family the records are updated. The registers are handwritten and are classified according to original districts and villages of one’s ancestors. A few Pandas specifically are designated to maintain records of families from ancestral districts and villages that were left behind when Hindus had to migrate from Pakistan to India after the Partition of India.
At one of the family reunions, Dad learnt that we are the descendants of Rajput origin from the Shah dynasty in Nepal and he was a far distant cousin of the King of Nepal. Sam, my husband is a Kukhrain and his ancestors are from the Bhera town in Punjab. On my last visit to Kathmandu, I browsed through history books and met up with a couple of our Nepali friends to learn more. A few months before Dad passed away, I sat one summer afternoon in our living room and asked him about our family. He kept narrating all he remembered and I continued scribbling on my pad. I am glad I did that. It is a brilliant memory of the last time that we actually spoke for hours without interruption. Today his childhood stories and those of his parents, grand parents and great-grandparents lie chronicled with me. I want to travel to all the cities and keep learning more about our family’s journey from Rajasthan to Nepal to Delhi.
Authentic travel experiences help one establish a connection with local cultures and people. It fosters a sense of belonging anywhere in the world. DNA Tourism strengthens this further by helping you to travel to your roots.
Airbnb partnered with the genomics and biotech firm – 23andMe in 2019 to give heritage travel recommendations to their customers. Once 23andme finds your unique genetic code, it sends you the report along with with recommendations for Airbnb rentals and local, cultural and artistic experiences in the countries your ancestors are from. Geneology-themed guided tours are chalked out. By the end of the holiday, you’re a step closer to knowing who you truly are.
And for most of us, that is what truly matters.