Electricity and Water
Let’s Go Easy on Them
In our city life, we are used to the temperature being controlled artificially around the year. We automatically expect an air conditioner in the room when we travel as well. Next time you travel, remove that from the list of must-haves. Enjoy the tangy breeze from the sea wafting in through the open window. Feel a shiver as you sit out on a full-moon night in the desert and the cold breeze sets in. Allow yourself to (ahem) sweat when it gets warm.
Gouthami, CEO and co-founder, Travel Another India
WWhen I started working in the field of responsible tourism in 2005, work had just begun on the Shaam-e-Sarhad Rural Resort in the village of Hodka in Kutch, Gujarat. This was funded by the ministry of tourism and UNDP and had started out as a homestay project. The hamlets of Hodka were very concerned about their privacy and suggested that we build a guest house separately rather than insist that they host complete strangers in their midst. This made sense to all of us and we called in a team of architects to design a ‘resort that would give guests a feeling of staying in one of the hamlets.
The architects, Hunnarshala, gave us a layout that imitated the layout of a typical hamlet in the area and mud houses or bhungas that were just like what the people there lived in. The difference was in the level of comfort provided inside. One discussion that came up was about the extreme temperatures in this desert region and how we would be able to handle it. Electricity was sporadic in this far-flung village. Even if we did provide air conditioners in summer and heaters in winter, there would be no electricity to run them. We took the bold decision to do away with these energy guzzlers.
The bhungas were built using mud for the wall and local grasses for the roofing. This is the way houses have been built in this region for centuries. Surely there is a logic as to why people continue with this style of construction.
As you travel across India, by train or road, you notice that houses are built differently in different parts of the country. In the West Coast, the roof has a steep incline and the overhang extends well beyond the house – to handle the heavy monsoons each year. The desert regions in Kutch and western Rajasthan have circular houses – to manage the extreme temperatures. In Tamil Nadu the houses have open courtyards – to maximize the ventilation to keep the houses cool. Everywhere the material used to build houses is what is available locally – mud, stone, wood, bamboo.
And that is what we capitalized on in Hodka as well. The round mud walls keep the temperature cooler in summer and warmer in winter. There is a perceptible difference when you go inside. In Pranpur, Madhya Pradesh, the better-off families build their houses with the local pink stone. Again, the temperature difference allows you to remove one layer of woollens in winter when you walk in.
In our city life, we are used to the temperature being controlled artificially around the year. We have borrowed an engineering style from countries that face a very different climate to ours. And we have not tried to adapt it to our situation. So we use huge amounts of energy in just keeping our buildings in ambient temperature. We cannot handle the variations this country is prone to. We automatically expect an air conditioner in the room when we travel as well. Next time you travel, remove that from the list of must-haves in the room. Experience how comfortable you feel and how much easier it is to travel when temperature is not a major irritant. Yes, it is humid and sticky in the coastal areas. But sit under the fan for ten minutes with the windows open before you reach for the AC remote. Relax – after all, isn’t that what a holiday is about?
Some years ago, when I would go on holiday, I would indulge myself completely. I would usually take a hotel room with a bath tub and soak in it with a book the first couple of days. And for the rest of my holiday stand under the shower endlessly just letting the water flow. This pattern changed once I started working with the village of Hodka. When we were setting up the Shaam-e-Sarhad, one major problem was that of getting water to that remote location. The village tourism committee would have heated arguments about how their families did not get clean drinking water and here we were bringing in truckloads of water for the construction, and then for the guests.
It is a common sight in the plains of India to see women walking with pots on their heads and hips. A hand-cart or a cycle-cart with several pots of water is becoming more common now, usually operated by men. Yes, water is a problem. However, we want to travel. We must travel if we want to broaden our minds and embrace cultures other than ours. A study on water consumption in India showed that the average urban Indian used five times more water than the average rural Indian.
Do we stop travelling to these beautiful places? To Rajasthan? Kutch? Or do we feel guilty the entire time? I suggest that we become ‘responsible’ in the way we use up water when we travel. I can still do that soak in the bath tub – but I need to wait to travel to a place with plenty of rainfall. Or find a resort that does rainwater harvesting to meet the needs of indulgent guests like me.
I have become particularly careful if the hotel has a swimming pool. Increasingly I find myself asking where the water comes from. And what the hotel does with the water when they clean the pool. India has several climatic zones – most are water-sufficient if the monsoons are good. Some parts of our country are obviously water-deficient – the desert region and the mountains. When I travel there, I will not pick a hotel with a swimming pool. I know that I can have a different kind of holiday without needing to laze by the pool.
Over time, I find that there is a tendency to take more holidays and spread them across the year. No longer do I take one big holiday each year. And I find many in my circle of friends doing that as well. So it is no longer a sacrifice to give up the swimming pool and the bath tub on some of these holidays. Of course, I also find that the chlorine used in pools does so many kinds of damage that I prefer to go swim in the open sea. No, I am no expert swimmer – I barely paddle around. But it is an essential part of some of my holidays now.
I have realized over time that while a holiday is a time for me to relax, it is no longer possible for me to indulge myself at the cost of the planet. In the interests of the future generation, I need to make different choices when I holiday. Fortunately, that is not difficult in India and there is a wide range of eco-friendly options to choose from. While there was a time when eco-friendly meant frugal and difficult, today you have all the luxuries you want while being eco-friendly. Check out any of the options given by the CGH Earth Group of resorts to see what I mean.
Most of the time we all spend time planning our holidays – let us add this additional factor of being gentle on Mother Earth when we do our planning.
Travel Another India works with rural communities to set up accessible destinations that make you, your hosts and the earth happy.
Here’s the website: www.travelanotherindia.com/