I usually travel in ways that help local communities while getting them to develop in a sustainable way (this, by the way, is the very definition of sustainable ecotourism!). The places that I prefer travelling to include- villages, forest reserves, national parks, heritage towns and biodiversity hotspots. Why? Because usually tourists leave these places alone, enabling the locals to offer their own version of ecotourism, without corporate influences getting in the way!
I have tried to embrace all principles of sustainable tourism wherever I have traveled. Here are some of my experiences over the last two years:
Experience 1: Chilling with the Banjaras, otherwise known as the lost tribes of India.
They are locally called “Lambadi” or “Lambani”, counted among the fast disappearing tribes of the world. Karnataka, in India hosts one of the richest and the most vibrant cultures of Lambanis. They now work in farms or any other daily wage jobs possible around their village. All the other time they chill and roam or create intricate art work with mirrors and colored thread. Some have turned their artisan skills into small scale businesses. They aren’t hesitant to tell you that their ancestors are Gypsies/Romans of Europe. When you travel local, you get to learn about and see the heritage of any place that you are travelling to. When you interact with the people, you might get to know how exactly to boost their economy and help them. After this happy meeting, I ended up buying some cheap, local, banjara jewelry for myself! And you know what, it looks awesome on me.
Experience 2: Camping to support local communities and demand less while traveling
Sleeping under the stars with a local family in Chatru (3100 meters above the sea level) was an experience of a lifetime. The family of four that I stayed with, lived here for six months and spends the rest of the year roaming in the villages at a lower elevation. How difficult their life is, I thought! Although I was equally pleased to see them welcome us with a heartful of smiles!
That night when I looked up in the cold breeze at the clear sky, I saw the whole galaxy stretch out over my head. Holy Christ! I could experience nature first hand. I wanted to fly and touch every star to twinkle like it. I just smiled and realized, one twinkling smile can make a whole lot of difference. I was here because I had decided to ditch all the hotels and guesthouses. Had I been in a hotel, I am sure I would have missed out on the starry galaxy and a whole lot of joyous thoughts!
Experience 3: Living in local homestays thus encouraging local businesses
In Hampi, a UNESCO heritage town in India, I lived in this colorful homestay run by Rambo and admired the beauty of this quaint little hamlet. The nearby frogs were my friends during my stay. You might like to read- Frogs of Hampi. Rambo taught me a way of life- he tells me that the biggest happiness for him is when his travelers are happy and smiling in his warm hut! He says, the only wish he makes to God is to keep his travelers happy. What a simple and beautiful way of life, I thought, as I chilled in my hut overlooking the paddy-fields! Seeing happiness in others is something not many people master. But the ones who do, are enlightened in their lives. Most of Rambo’s daily earning depends upon travelers like you and me! The money he makes out of this homestay goes towards his children’s education, maintenance of his farm and his home.
You might also like to know of another wonderful example of me staying local- The Organic Bamboo shacks in India’s best kept secret beaches of Gokarna. Read- Snippets from Gokarna: India’s Best Kept Secret Beach?
Experience 4: Going veg and eating simple local food
Treating myself to a whole fat veggie meal in Gujarat prepared with much love by a local restaurant owner. I turned vegetarian five months ago from being a voracious meat eater and this I think is a big step in contributing towards sustainable living. The global number of people eating veg is about 4-5% in the Canada and US and about 30% in India. Just livestock adds about 15% of all the global greenhouse gases which is far more than the world’s planes, ships and automobiles put together. Jaws dropped- who’s going vegan?
Experience 5: Explore a destination on foot
I went trekking through the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park in Nepal to spend time with birds and local tribes there. Trekking is a great way to explore the outdoors. It is healthy and reduces your carbon footprint. It is much better than exploring the same area with jeeps/cars. Also, believe it or not, being close to nature has several health benefits. Walking on natural non-cemented paths is great for your joints and muscles. It reduces the ground reaction force exerted on your joints (The physiotherapist in me is talking here!).
Here’s another picture that I clicked while exploring the gorgeous rain forests of India on foot with several leeches, snakes and other little crawlies.
Experience 6: Volunteer Travel
This is my favorite way of travelling. By volunteering and helping different organisations, I have made my way to the breathtaking countryside of Nepal, lived with the farmers in Karnataka and have taught children an eco-friendly/sustainable way of living almost everywhere I have gone! Even today, at most times I end up volunteering with local NGOs and working for them while I get to explore the town/village locally.
When you travel minimizing your demands, encouraging local communities and getting close to nature- you are appreciating the wonders of mother nature and giving back to where it all belongs. This is the need of the hour, to develop a feeling of compassion towards nature and the environment we live in. Climate change is real and doing whatever little that we can do to make our only habitable planet a much more livable place is indeed amazing. Not to mention- the locals will appreciate you much more than they would snobbish high-maintenance luxury travelers!
Recently, I wrote an elaborate article on how to become an eco-tourist and do your bit while you travel. My nine step guide to traveling more responsibly might really help you! I am not a luxury traveler. I love using public transport, exploring the rural India, landing somewhere away from the touristy over-hyped towns and experiencing nature up close! This is my way of travel.
What’s your way of travel- Do you prefer luxury resorts over nature and local culture?
Tell me in the comments or mail me your views on firstname.lastname@example.org and the best responses shall be published as a follow up to this article! 😉
PS: This article was featured at www.thestreetedit.com. Read it here. Street Edit is a fashion, travel and lifestyle blog run by my dear friend Monica. Don’t forget to check it out! 🙂
It was also featured on Backpacker Bible- your go to place if you love backpacking the globe while benefiting the community.
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