I try to travel in ways that benefit local communities and help them to develop in a sustainable way. The places that I prefer travelling to include villages, forest reserves, national parks, heritage towns and biodiversity hot spots. 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 travelled. Here are some of my amazing experiences over the last two years:
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. When they aren’t working they relax and roam or create intricate art work with mirrors and coloured 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 jewellery for myself! And you know what, it looks awesome on me.
Camping to support local communities and demanding less while travelling
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 spend 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 heart full 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. I could experience nature first hand. I wanted to fly and touch every star to twinkle like it. 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!
Living in local homestays thus encouraging local businesses
In Hampi, a UNESCO heritage town in India, I lived in this colourful 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 travellers are happy and smiling in his warm hut! He says, the only wish he makes to God is to keep his travellers happy. 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 travellers 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.
Going veggie and eating simple local food
Treating myself to a 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. If everyone cut down how much meat they eat it could make a big difference.
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!).
This is my favourite way of travelling. By volunteering and helping different organisations, I have made my way to the breath-taking countryside of Nepal and lived with the farmers in Karnataka. 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. However it is important to do your research before you volunteer to make sure that your contribution is definitely making a positive impact. You can find lots of useful volunteering advice here.
Here’s a photograph of me helping farmers sow their first paddy crops.
When you travel minimising 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 we can do to make our only habitable planet a much more liveable place is indeed amazing. Not to mention- the locals will appreciate you much more than they would snobbish high-maintenance luxury travellers!
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 traveller. I love using public transport, exploring the rural India, landing somewhere away from the touristy overhyped towns and experiencing nature up close! This is my way of travelling.
How do you travel? Do you prefer luxury resorts or nature and local culture?