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Responsible Tourism-Himalayas

The Himalayas Need You to Travel
The Himalayas Need You to Travel

Thanks to our television channels we have been able to see the power of our much-needed monsoons. All of us have been moved by the unfolding scenes in Uttarakhand and we want to do something. Many of you will be giving directly – money or things or time. I would like to suggest another way to contribute – by helping to support livelihoods in the region.

Gouthami, CEO and co-founder, Travel Another India 

‘Give a family a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish and you feed them a lifetime.’
Every time there is a disaster, there is a lot of attention to the immediate losses that people face – to life, to property. The images that come out of the region are always heartrending. Whether it was the Kutch earthquake in 2001, the tsunami that devastated the Coramandel Coast in 2004, or whether it comes to the annual floods in Assam, the cyclones that ravage our coast annually, or the droughts that affect royal Rajasthan – the focus is on the immediate. Very little attention and effort goes into dealing with what happens in the long term; how do people come out of their tragedy; how do they revive the work that they were doing before the disaster struck. 

In Rajasthan, a large part of livelihoods in the desert villages is from cattle. I have been invited into homes and offered milk while water was scarce. The cattle to human ratio in those villages is 3:1. So when there is a drought, it is not enough to help people survive – they need their cattle to survive as well. The bond between the people and their cattle is best brought out in their daily struggle for water. Women will go long distance to fetch water for their families as well as their cattle. Any effort to help these families during a drought cannot exclude the cattle. 

Even As the Floods Come 
India is a disaster-prone country. The disaster map of India is quite scary to look at. Yet, life continues because it must. We are a resilient people and over the centuries we have become better at mitigating the risks that these disasters pose. Look close at the livelihoods pattern in any part of our country and it is always varied. 

A poor or lower middle-class rural family in India does not depend on one income source. They will move from one to the other through the year so as to make ends meet. In urban parlance, they are spreading their risk. The more the options they have, the better they are likely to make their ends meet. And tourism is one such important and well-paying option in much of India. It is very seasonal and influenced by the most far-fetched scenarios. So it is very high-risk for those who are involved in it. A bomb blast in Mumbai is enough to halve foreign visitors to Goa. The plague in Surat was enough to affect tourism all over India. 

Yet, for many people involved at the lower end of it, there is no option. Think of the guides, taxi drivers, porters, boatsmen, craftspeople, small business owners, mule owners, etc. 

The Himalayan range that stretches from Kashmir and Ladakh in the north of India to the easternmost tip of the country, across 12 states, is one of the hubs of tourism in India. The impact of the ‘Himalayan tsunami’ has been in about four districts in Uttarakhand, but the impact on livelihoods is being felt in about five states! The losses have been huge and the debates around whether they could have been prevented will go on. However, we can make sure that the rest of the Himalayas do not suffer because of this.

The entire state of Uttarakhand is NOT underwater or swept away. The flash flood has affected a few areas – Badrinath, Kedarnath region, parts of Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh. It is mostly the remote rural areas that have been affected. Popular tourist destinations like Mussoorie, Dhanaulti, Nainital and Ranikhet are fine. 
There are two distinct regions in Uttarakhand: Kumaon and Garhwal. It is pockets of Garhwal (Badrinath, Kedarnath and Uttarkashi) that have been ravaged by the floods, with small rural pockets in Pithoragarh in Kumaon being affected too. Use Google Earth to check out where the affected regions are. The capital city Dehradun is about 200 kilometres away from the disaster area.

It is perfectly safe to travel to tourist destinations – there is just no need to unnecessarily cancel vacations planned there. Livelihoods there are at stake. Your hotel/guesthouse in Kumaon will give you all the information you need. 

You need to take the usual normal precautions that you always take while travelling in the mountains – check weather forecasts, check routes and check local conditions with your hotel. 

While there has been some damage in the Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh, the higher plateaus of Spiti and Ladakh are fine. Again, don’t cancel your vacations there – you will hurt livelihoods badly.

‘Business here has suffered immensely as the entire state has been labelled as a disaster zone. The truth is that roads are functional and schools are open. Life is as normal as it gets. Small businesses and service providers are the ones who have taken a major hit in this unaffected area. Please spread the message that to travel to our parts is completely safe. All of us need some tourists coming our way!’ pleads Ashish Arora of The Himalayan Village, Sonapani.
The Himalayas are a tourist haven during the summer months and usually in the monsoons as well. Uttarakhand is the most accessible state from Delhi – so tourism does provide a large chunk of income to this state. You will extend help for a much longer term and with dignity to the affected people by supporting their livelihoods when you do not cancel your travel to the region. For each job supported in the tourism sector, more than three jobs get supported in other allied sectors.

Finally, none of us wants the tragedy of one region to become a tragedy for a larger region.

Travel Another India works with rural communities to set up accessible destinations that make you, your hosts and the earth happy.

You need to take the usual normal precautions that you always take while travelling in the mountains – check weather forecasts, check routes and check local conditions with your hotel.

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