Villages, farming, people and indigenous ways of living were online highlights during a recent webinar hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.
The webinar, hosted under the Dekho Apna Desh series, undertook the virtual journey through the beautiful countryside, witnessing a paradigm shift in the space of tourism.
Titled “Rural Tourism: From Previous Niche to Future Norm’, the webinar focussed on the culture and the idea of sustainability, responsibility and community living among other aspects of rural life.
Rural tourism can actually benefit the planet and people. It is like a mirror image of community tourism. From a macro perspective, India has around 6,47,000 villages whose tourism prospects can be developed.
The webinar was presented by Roopesh Rai, Founder, Green People, The Goat Village & Bakri Chhap who shared his experience that happened three months post the Kedarnath catastrophe — changing his life forever.
Some of Roopesh’’s initiatives include The Goat Village (rural and sustainable tourism), Bakri Swayamwar (gene pool improvisation of livestock by social engineering), and Bakri Chhap (a brand representing marginalised Himalayan farmers).
The catastrophe changed the entire look of the State of Uttarakhand, with a major part of the State submerged in water.
The presenter, while highlighting the first project, added that as many as 1,800 villagers had vacated their spaces, with a few of them moving for better opportunities, in the aftermath of the floods.
While millions of ‘White Collar’ workers lost their jobs or took a steep cut in salaries due to near-total collapse of urban industries thanks to the pandemic, another few million ‘Blue Collar’ workers who built our cities and urban industries are back to their villages after their arduous journeys, with the real possibility of most of them creating an alternative ecosystem for income generation in rural India.
The city-slicker who is tired of consumerism, is now looking for a traditional grandpa’s village to fix his ‘nature and emotional deficit’, while some are looking for a hip and cool ‘glocal’ village to unwind.
This new and upcoming genre of tourism is catching the fancy of the elderly, for nostalgic reasons, and the millennials, for exotic reasons.
Tourism plays the role of catalyst to culture, agriculture, art, nature, food etc. Till the 1990s, only two forms of tourism existed — pilgrimage and rural tourism.
During vacations, children used to visit their grandparents in the villages. Slowly, we became victims of commodities.
Covid-19 has, however, changed the views of many people. The elderly are looking to derive nostalgic benefits and the young and looking for novelty in experience — and this is where community tourism steps in.
The most essential component of rural tourism is story telling which is the building block of destinations.
As a traveller, one gets to experience local peoples, cultures, food, customs et cetera.
While presenting the example of Jim Corbett National Park, which sees the maximum visits on weekends, the presenter stated that if the footfall is distributed properly around the villages in Jim Corbett, then rural tourism can also be promoted well and responsibly.
The second presenter, Mani Mahesh Aurora, 23, setting off on a ‘self-actualisation’ sabbatical in the Himalayas, began his journey with Green People as a trekker, followed by boarding in as a resident volunteer, and eventually transforming into the role of a co-founder of Bakri Chhap & The Hideouts.
While appreciating the simplicity and minimalism of village life, he also spoke about the choking life in cities.
He further stated that we need to integrate the indigenous and traditional ways of living and earning into our daily ways, as an alternative to the fast, soulless life many people are just living out.
A paradigm shift has to come with a good amount of environmentally sustainable activity that gives the villagers recurring incomes.
When the team from Green People visited a village, most of the local people were breaking their houses and labourers were engaged to rebuild them.
Only 20 per cent of people were engaged in farming and mono cropping.
An agro-tourism initiative with the aim of promoting sustainable development by reviving old traditions such as goat rearing, bee farming, harvesting exotic vegetables, and traditional architectural techniques has been set up.
Now 80 per cent of the population is back to traditional farming.
Green People’s “Happier Himalayan Villages” not just aims to give city-slickers and international tourists a taste of life on the other side of the farm hedge; they are creating sustainable ecosystems, which provide alternative sources of income for village dwellers without straining their existing resources.
The ‘Bakri Swayamvar’ is a zero-waste event. Several villages in Uttarakhand are in areas that are infertile or unirrigated, making livestock the most viable option to keep local economies running.
Goats far outnumber sheep, with most owners being marginalised farmers who let the animals graze and roam free.
There’s not much systematic growth here in terms of broadening gene pools and not enough awareness of healthy breeding practices.
Green People holds ‘Bakri Swayamvar’, their signature event, which helps boost genetic diversity for goat populations in the area and educates farmers about a higher grade of livestock rearing.
The Bakri Swayamvar is a simple, scientifically-backed idea dedicated to local patterns of production, and Green People’s efforts to elevate local Indians won them the Indian Responsible Tourism Awards (IRTA) in 2019.
The third presenter was Sunita Kudle, a hospitality professional with a total of 23 years of hoteliering experience.
Sunita is currently the Secretary of KEEN, an NGO which is at the forefront of waste management in the town of Mussoorie and Landour, taking care of door-to-door garbage collection, segregation and disposal for the entire town.
Sunita is also the spokesperson of Madhouse-to-Mudhouse Community, an urban community in the making, with a rural mindset and a vision to create India’s next growth story, straight from its villages.
Kudle spoke about India’s repeated efforts to showcase the Golden Triangle and Kerala, which creates enormous pressure on the destinations.
A person travels basically to get out of his/her comfort zone.
Apart from forts and palaces, India has colourful festivals like latmar holi, and Diwali among others, and exotic flower destinations featuring rhododendron in Uttarakhand and Sikkim, which lie unexplored.
Some sporting events can be promoted like rural Olympics at Qila Raipur, Jallikattu festival et cetera, she suggested.
Harvest festivals are celebrated in India in different ways whether it is Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat or Assam.
We have to create experiences that touch the heart of the provider and the consumer.
Travellers visiting villages help in improving the self esteem of the locals, and therefore, boosting rural tourism is equivalent to boosting rural India.
Summing up the webinar, Rupinder Brar, Additional Director-General of Tourism Ministry, encouraged following the current protocol, which involves respecting the environment so that people experience nature, while at the same time preserving India’s beauty.
The Dekho Apna Desh Webinar Series is an effort to showcase India’s rich diversity under Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat.
It is presented in technical partnership with National e-Governance Department, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
The webinars are now available here and also on all social media handles of the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.