The A of Re­spon­si­ble Tourism

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To ex­plain the prin­ci­ples of ‘re­spon­si­ble tourism’, The Blue Yon­der has come up with a ‘A to Z’ in­dex (www.ato­ I will be in­spired by this over the next few ar­ti­cles. As ur­ban­ites travel more and more look­ing for newer ex­pe­ri­ences, a slew of ‘vil­lage ex­pe­ri­ences’ are com­ing up right out­side the cities. Th­ese are run by ho­tel chains that ex­cel in the hospi­tal­ity busi­ness. You come away having had fun and be­ing fed a va­ri­ety of food that could be new for you. To you it doesn’t make a dif­fer­ence whether it was au­then­tic or not; you went to re­lax and have fun, and you achieved that.

Gouthami, CEO and co-founder, Travel An­other In­dia

The purist in me is a lit­tle dis­grun­tled at th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences. As long as guests have fun, I should be sat­is­fied. How­ever, when they start talk­ing of ‘vil­lage life’ and how they know all about it based on that visit, then I feel the need to in­ter­vene. Trav­el­ling around In­dia, what is fab­u­lous is that the ex­pe­ri­ence you are likely to have changes al­most ev­ery 100 km. To stan­dard­ize th­ese myr­iad ex­pe­ri­ences into a uni­form one out­side ev­ery big city is do­ing in­jus­tice to the peo­ples of In­dia.

What is the so­lu­tion?

The Unique­ness Is Non-Ne­go­tiable

Avoid the short cut. If you want to know how a Me­wari vil­lage is (not even Ra­jasthani), you need to travel to Udaipur and go on be­yond to stay with a fam­ily or in a lo­cal guest house. It is then that you

get the smell of mud and that of burn­ing cow dung that is very unique to Me­war. How­ever much you try, this unique­ness can­not be made avail­able out­side Delhi. I think it has to do with the wa­ter, the air and the hospi­tal­ity of the peo­ple there which can­not be trans­ferred as is any­where else.

To give an ex­am­ple: how­ever many pho­to­graphs of the Taj Ma­hal you may have seen, go­ing to Agra and see­ing it live at dif­fer­ent times of the day and night is very spe­cial. Keep that in mind the next time you see a piece of craft or stay in a ‘lo­cal style’ hut.

I knew lit­tle of ar­chi­tec­ture when I started out in the field of tourism about seven years ago. As I trav­elled, I re­al­ized that hous­ing styles in ru­ral In­dia are suit­able for the cli­mate as well as make use of nat­u­ral re­sources avail­able in the sur­round­ing ar­eas. This means that as you go along the West Coast, the houses are built us­ing la­t­erite rock with tiled roofs having a high slope and a big over­hang to han­dle the heavy South-West Mon­soon. As you go up the Western Ghats, the rock is re­placed by mud, which is pro­tected by thatch­ing on all four sides dur­ing the mon­soons. In the Hi­malayas, it is the stone that is favoured for both roof and walls – ar­eas af­fected by earth­quakes move to cor­ru­gated sheet roofs. In Kutch the cot­tages are per­fectly cir­cu­lar and made of mud with tiny win­dows to keep out the heat and dust. Wher­ever you travel, the house con­struc­tion en­sures that the tem­per­a­ture within re­mains am­bi­ent re­gard­less of the tem­per­a­ture with­out.

Peo­ple world over have made the ef­fort to live com­fort­ably us­ing the re­sources avail­able to them. And then, over the last half cen­tury, this has been turned topsy-turvy with con­crete tak­ing over the world. It has its uses and I am not ask­ing for a ban, but when a Kutchi farmer builds a house of con­crete and then adds a layer of mud on top, I would like to reg­is­ter my protest. Prob­a­bly from having stayed in all-mud huts, I can ac­tu­ally feel the dif­fer­ence. Yes, mud con­struc­tion needs reg­u­lar main­te­nance, but it doesn’t need an air con­di­tioner in sum­mer or a heater in win­ter. What you save on elec­tric­ity bills makes up for what you put into main­te­nance.

The smell of wet earth af­ter the first rains – I wait a whole year for it. If it were bot­tled and avail­able on­line, would it still be as spe­cial?

What is an au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence with­out lo­cal cuisines? What I en­joy most about trav­el­ling is the va­ri­ety of food in In­dia. If I en­joy a kothu parota on the streets of Madu­rai, can it re­ally be repli­cated on the streets of Pan­jim? Why not en­joy the poee-bhaji in­stead in Pan­jim? Yes, I yearn for a good fafda-jalebi some­times – but I know that if I have it any­where out­side Gujarat, I am just not go­ing to be sat­is­fied. And that gives me some­thing to look for­ward to. When I travel, I stick to the lo­cal food as much as pos­si­ble – those flavours just can­not be had else­where.

Next time you travel, try to ap­pre­ci­ate what is unique to where you are go­ing – en­joy the spe­cial flavour of au­then­tic­ity. Hold out for the real thing.

Travel An­other In­dia part­ners with ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to set up in­clu­sive des­ti­na­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences that keep the hosts, guests and mother Earth smil­ing. Here’s the web­site url: www.trav­e­lan­oth­

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