We are the world...

Travel, today, comes with an eco-friendly twist. Conservation and sustainability are as important as the perfect itinerary.

We donned the khaki-coloured garb and a blue bandana of a coffee plucker at a resort in the coffee country: Coorg. Soon we were plucking the ripe coffee berries and throwing them into a sack. We did this for a while, revelling in the blend of spice and coffee aromas that wafted around us. Interspersed among the coffee bushes were tall silver oaks around whose sturdy trunks pepper vines grew and twisted upward, giving the landscape a wild, forested feel. At another resort in Kerala, we were shown how to sow paddy, getting our feet dirty and revelling in the feel of the good earth. After those two immersive vacations, we felt a deep connection with the spirit of the land and those who till, nurture and respect it.

Today, responsible, sustainable tourism are the buzzwords in the hospitality and travel industry. For, a hotel to be ecologically sensitive is considered as important as having fine dining restaurants; plastic-free, solar energy, organic vegetable gardens and waste treatment plants and being low impact have become the mantras of five-star and boutique hotels where luxury comes with an eco-friendly twist.

While some resorts make token eco-friendly gestures, there are others that abide by their stated commitment to Planet Earth and embrace the idea of conservation on a holistic scale. Many have started to invest in alternative forms of energy by harnessing the power of the sun and wind by setting up large solar panel units in their grounds and windmills on wind farms. One resort in South India takes pride in the fact that it has zero reliance on the state’s power grid.

Right steps

Water in glass bottles have started to replace plastic bottles; garbage bins are colour-coded to help segregate organic waste that is then treated and converted into fertilisers for use in the gardens. 

A few resorts have taken their conservation efforts beyond the hardware. There are two in Kerala where grazing Vechoor cows — a rare local breed believed to be the smallest cattle breed in the world — have been assigned the important task of mowing the lawns. A wildlife resort located on the fringe of Kabini National Park in Karnataka and another in the Andamans have adopted ageing forest department elephants and encourage their guests to interact with these gentle giants.

The owner of a tree house resort in Wayanad, Kerala, went the extra mile. He refused to use pesticides to get rid of leeches on his property. These blood-sucking insects, he maintained, had equal claims to the land and he was not going to deny them the right!

Most lodges, more so the ones located near wildlife parks across the country, have activities like birdwatching and nature trail hikes to encourage their guests to engage with the diverse nature. On one occasion, we came across a green vine snake draped across a bush waiting for the sun to warm its dew-speckled body and later learnt strange facts like the one about butterflies; that they love feasting on animal droppings as much as they do on the nectar of flowers.

Then there is the flip side. We had returned from a safari when the manager of a lodge at Tadoba National Park in Maharashtra asked a guest who had shared our vehicle if it had been a good outing. “Nothing. We saw nothing,” he replied tossing his heavy-duty camera on a sofa in disgust. Nothing? What about the spotted deer; the sambar stag with a set of impressive antlers; the serpent eagle; the brilliantly plumed birds; the herd of Indian bison; the spider web; the magic of the forest with sunlight filtering through the trees? It all meant ‘nothing’ to our fellow guest because he had not seen a tiger. Sad, but true: the tiger is an all-consuming obsession which often makes people forget that there is more to the forest than the striped feline. Responsible tourism is eventually about travelling with the right attitude. It’s about embracing new experiences; appreciating and respecting different cultures; recognising similarities in diversity; making dreams come true by doing and seeing things on one’s bucket list; getting away from the routine of everyday life... The underlying and unstated rule of travel is to ensure that it has minimum impact on the environment.

And then there are instances when responsible tourism has had a positive impact and turned around the lives of local residents and revived dying arts and crafts. The houseboats that ply the backwaters of Kerala have been a much-needed shot in the arm for the once dying boat-building industry in the state. Sari looms resonate once more in the little town of Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh, thanks to the grassroots efforts of a former royal of Indore who converted an abandoned riverfront fort into a plush resort.

In Satoli, Uttarakhand, we met an elderly carpenter, the last of his breed of likhai woodcarvers, who made carved windows and door frames for local homes. Thanks to a sudden spurt in demand from tourists who were wowed by his creations, the carpenter has started training a youngster from a neighbouring village to ensure that the craft does not die with him.

Responsible tourism does not mean curtailing one’s holiday experience. More often than not, it adds value to the vacation and leaves one with the satisfaction of knowing that one’s visit has had a positive impact on the destination and the people living there. The tagline of a diving school in Lakshadweep, where we learned how to scuba-dive, sums it up succinctly. “The only things you take from these waters are memories and the only things you leave behind are bubbles.”

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