Happy journey!

Vinaya Patil
Sunday, 24 September 2017

The mountains are calling’ has become the new catchphrase. One finds hashtags of ‘wanderlust’, ‘traveller’ and ‘backpacking’ alongwith pictures clicked at beautiful locations and posted all over social media. But are a backpack, camera and some cool hashtags all that it takes to call yourself a traveller? Certainly not! That way you are more of a trouble to the place of visit than a polite guest.

The mountains are calling’ has become the new catchphrase. One finds hashtags of ‘wanderlust’, ‘traveller’ and ‘backpacking’ alongwith pictures clicked at beautiful locations and posted all over social media. But are a backpack, camera and some cool hashtags all that it takes to call yourself a traveller? Certainly not! That way you are more of a trouble to the place of visit than a polite guest.

How many of us undertake real travel, which is responsible and in sync with our surroundings and harmless to the places we visit? Very few.
But all’s not lost yet. As opposed to the selfie-clicking tourists, there is also a breed of the responsible youth who, through their start-ups, individual trips, and by volunteering with NGOs, are trying to make a difference.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) recently adopted 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, so that tourism can contribute to all three dimensions of sustainable development — economic, social and environmental — and each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Tourism spearheads growth, and improves the quality of people’s lives, the UNGA believes. World Tourism Day 2017, September 27, thus presents a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the contribution of sustainable tourism to development.

With travel and tourism industry spreading its wings in India, we would need many more organisations stressing on responsible tourism. As travelling broadens your mind and thinking, travellers must be alert about the permanent carbon footprint they leave behind through wrappers, water bottles and other garbage.

We speak to some catalysts for a positive change.

Need more dustbins
I want to adopt positivity from people around the world and become a part of different cultures and traditions. Travelling sparks creativity in me, makes me adaptable, and helps me face my fears. I’ve stayed in five-star hotels in Mumbai and on platforms in Kerala. I’ve travelled by flight to save a few hours and walked for miles to spend time with myself.

My family and I use public transport so that our vehicle doesn’t contribute to pollution and traffic. I also use my backpack as a mobile dustbin. Last year, I travelled to Meghalaya’s Mawlyyong village which is famous as Asia’s cleanest village. They have installed dustbins every 100-200 meters. But sadly in other parts of our ‘Incredible India’, there are very few clean places.

Thus, I’ve started a petition called ‘Make India Garbage Free’ as part of the Swachh Bharat campaign. There are not enough dustbins installed on our streets and the ones existing are either damaged or overfilled with trash. Very few shops, street hawkers and vendors in our cities and villages have dustbin facilities. Therefore, people are forced to throw their garbage in public places. The government should make dustbins mandatory for all shops and civic bodies must install more dustbins in cities and villages.

Then there wouldn’t be any need of extra cleaning of streets every October 2. It’s our India and only we can make it clean.


Choose eco-stays
Travel is love, life and learning. I specially love nature travel as it answers all your questions and provides immense peace. I always prefer eco-friendly travelling and choose eco-stays instead of concrete hotels.
In April 2016, when I was researching for my trip to Malaysia and was searching for eco-stays, I realised there was no single website that gave you a comprehensive list of eco-stays. This was a big disappointment. While travelling in India, I did not pay so much attention as I used to figure out an eco-stay some way or the other, but when at an international level, there was none. I felt sad.

So during my Malaysia trip, I came up with the idea of my venture ‘ECOPLORE’. I have been working to promote eco-stays ever since, hunting for eco-friendly accommodations and bringing them to people. Through eco-friendly accommodation, we motivate people to make houses of mud, stone, wood, bamboo or any other local material instead of concrete that completely destroys the environment.

I chose to work for protection of environment by promoting sustainable tourism. Whenever you travel, remember to select an eco-friendly accommodation as whatever nature we have destroyed cannot be recovered but whatever is left can be conserved by not constructing concrete buildings and by not felling of the trees.


Go local
Travelling to me is knowing the unknown, exploring new regions, meeting new people, interacting with their culture, making new friends and spreading awareness about nature conservation. Born and brought up in the Dooars region at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, my childhood was spent in the lap of nature.

To ensure that my travelling makes a low impact on environment, I always take public transportation and carry my own metal water bottle so that I don’t have to buy packaged water. I always prefer local restaurants rather than eating in multi-chain ones. I carry all the wrappers in my bag, even collecting the ones thrown by others on the way.

To promote responsible tourism and make “leisure trips” more environment-friendly, I came up with an idea. After every trip our guest completes with our tour company, we plant trees, donate books or take initiatives to help people in the mountain villages of this region.

We also engage local people in our operations to empower them through tourism and promote local cultures. We support organic farming activities, encouraging locally grown vegetables in kitchen gardens. The rest we purchase directly from local farmers.

Nowadays, due to systematic propaganda, I have noticed that the rural people (especially the youth) feel shy to talk about their own roots, because it is “primitive”. But with guests staying with the locals, the youth are finding the sweetness of their own culture again. It is a slow and long process but I believe that these regional village cultures will stay alive with our efforts.


Encourage organic food
Travel to me is something I do to explore, free my mind and soul, understand various cultures better so that stereotypes are broken. It helps me mature, know my inner-self, appreciate people and humanity as a whole and respect the forces of nature.

Belonging to a small town in the Eastern Himalayan region, I was automatically attracted to pine forests that dot our landscapes, the pristine rivers, small log cabins, etc. I moved to the city for my further studies and job, but longed to be home and one with nature. Therefore, I packed up and headed to Sikkim which is my second home, and India’s only organic state, with an intention to open an eco-friendly farm-stay with minimal use of plastic and other such eco-friendly features.

I never carry plastic bags while travelling and prefer home-stays to hotels. This way I am contributing to the locals. I prefer walking short distances and take public transportation when needed. I turn down the air conditioner wherever possible and carry my own water bottle. I grow all the vegetables and fruits in my farm organically and am in the process of getting solar panels for lighting our farm cottages.


Clean as you trek
Travelling for me is being one with nature and realising that we are a part of every element of our beautiful surroundings. It also means witnessing astonishing and declining traditions and cultures cradled in the lap of the mountains and somewhere in the narrow lanes of the bustling city where people are too busy to even look at the beautiful sunset or the changing colours of the sky.

I started trekking with Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI) that mainly promotes adventure activities to expose youth to untouched mountain trails and spread awareness about keeping the nature plastic-free. I volunteered to be the environmental leader, keeping a check on littering done by group members. The team also works to pick up plastic wrappers thrown by other tourists, locals or trekkers. I purposely travel around in buses and trains where I can connect with the local people.

When I travel to cities like Mumbai or Mysuru, I travel with a rented cycle or by public transport. I feel, such acts by a few people can motivate many others to follow the same. It might take several years, but India is changing gradually.

An NGO named Healing Himalayas Foundation has adopted a few villages in the state that have become dump-yards because of heavy tourist influx. We conducted regular cleaning drives there along with the villagers who have been made aware of the harmful effects of burning plastic. The volunteers also help in upcycling glass and plastic bottles as there are no nearby recycling plants for the same.

We conducted a cleaning campaign in the trekking trails of Kheerganga, Shrikhand Mahadev and Chandrataal lake from where around 250-300 kg of garbage was brought down.

The villages of Mansari, Karjan, Soyal and Dhamsu have now completely stopped plastic burning and look more beautiful with lanes flanked by plum, apricots and apple trees.



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