The allure of nature

The allure of nature

Be it the charming beaches of Mangaluru or the wild forests of Nagarahole, Karnataka has a lot to offer in terms of travel destinations.

But have we ever been down the responsible path while travelling? Yes, responsibility and holiday don’t seem to fit into one box. Thanks to the constant threats to environment and thus, to life on earth, travel is now manifesting itself in new forms, ecotourism being one of them.

Essentially described as a form of responsible tourism, wherein one visits natural, relatively undisturbed areas — to experience the local environment, study the flora and fauna, and leave lesser carbon footprints — it could be anything from being mindful of the local culture to being prudent about one’s actions.

The Karnataka government, through the Karnataka Ecotourism Development Board (KEDB), has initiated some efforts to achieve this green goal.

“The concept of ecotourism has multiple aspects. It includes educating local youth on the biodiversity of the area, need for its conservation and training them as tourist guides; advocating good practices to be followed by tourism operators, standardising and operating certification of ecotourism operators; and sensitising and educating tourists,” explains V R Naik, general manager, KEDB.

The Board has developed the concept of Karnataka Ecotrails that are basically trekking trails across ecotourism areas in the State’s forests. Presently five trekking trails are functioning in the State — the Bhagavati, Castle Rock, Anshi, Kulgi and Hemmadaga Nature Camps.

To stick with the basic idea of being in sync with nature, these camps do not involve construction of any permanent structures in the forests. Along with the already established forest guesthouses, tents are used as base camps to host travellers.

What is heartening to note is that these trails are also very strict on the no-plastic, no-liquor and no-smoking policy. Trekkers are guided by a local guide (who is trained by the Board), and are made aware of the intricacies of nature.

A couple of years ago, the Forest Department had organised a trekking series called the Mystery Trails in MM Hills, Bandipur forests, BR Hills and so on. B V Prakash, an avid traveller, who was a part of one such trek in MM hills, feels that such treks make for an exhilarating experience.

“Our trek involved the guide telling us about the many wonders of the area. I would definitely recommend such ecotours for people who want to experience nature in its pure form. Such tours do make us more eco-conscious. But I would appeal for greater publicity of such tours. If the concerned authorities organise such programmes in a better manner, the impact will be more.”

For Chirag Jain, the co-founder of Nirvana Nomads, an alternate travel outfit based in Bengaluru, ecotourism is beyond being eco-friendly only. “It’s a larger ideology that permeates through the usual touristy itineraries and reaches the local population of a particular place.

Apart from ensuring people don’t litter the place or disturb the ecology in any manner during our treks, we also join hands to clean up areas when necessary. It’s all about being emphatic.”

Perhaps, this is why they choose to limit the number of people for every trip. “We consciously restrict the number to 20 for every trip, which is win-win for both the environment and the group. People can also connect better with each other that way,” Chirag says.

In fact, many ecotourism programmes majorly focus on promoting indigenous culture and economy. Unlike the general opinion, such eco-friendly programmes don’t involve presentations on environment or lectures on how to save our planet.

It’s all about making the travellers aware of the world we are living in and subtly pushing in the concept of conservation in their minds. For instance, Nirvana Nomads, in collaboration with the Kalinga Centre for Rainforest and Ecology, had organised a trip to Agumbe, one of the most eco-sensitive regions in Western Ghats and a hotbed of cobras.

“During the course of our programme, Gowri Shankar, renowned snake expert, took our travellers in and around and place, enlightening them on various aspects, including conservation,” says Chirag.

Ecotourism is slowly gaining popularity amidst the urban population. Many homestays, in fact, are offering eco-friendly experiences with their homely food, green structures and sustainable programmes.

For instance, the residents of Hulgol village, with the financial support from Village Ways, a private travel operator, has developed a unique form of ethical and responsible tourism. Mostly reliant on forestry, agriculture and horticulture, the community of Hulgol has also built a guest house on the fringes of Kelagin Keri hamlet.

There are many such examples in the State, like the Kaan Mane in Gokarna and Ajji Mane in Sagara.

But there is a dark side too. Sometimes, in the name of ecotourism, concrete structures mushroom in eco-sensitive areas. In order to satisfy people’s need for comfort, many try to replicate the city comforts deep inside the forests, which is very harming.

“Ecotourism, in a sense, is a bad word. There is no proper planning involved. You can’t just barge into ecological areas and establish conventional ways of travel there,” rues Sunita Rao, a researcher.

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