Arriving in better shape

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Arriving in better shape

My destiny lead me to what maybe my real calling and I spent the last 18 months setting up a boutique retreat in Uttarakhand that brought sustainability into sharp focus. It goes without saying that the environment is a huge part of it but in the process I realised that the people, their culture, food habits, travel and life in general is what made up the ecosystem. So yes, it was back to people and sustaining their environment.

Now when I look back, I too am equally guilty of over travel. Randomly hopping onto a flight without a thought was so easy. I was very proud (and so was everyone from my inner circle) to actually count the number of days in a year that I travelled for work. Very cringeworthy! Sustainability, carbon footprints were all mere fashion statements. Isn’t it time that “Arriving in better shape” becomes a sustainable goal for us in the tourism and hospitality business!

I am now on a mission so I looked through the tourism goals of the Ministry of Tourism and the state tourism boards. As expected we do have goals that sound good, but on ground the delivery is extremely weak. Case in point is Uttarakhand’s Eco Tourism Policy Uttarakhand’s draft ecotourism policy could threaten biodiversity ( We have it from the highest authority in India who recently visited Uttarakhand and announced that the state would see more tourists in the next 10 years than it had received in the last 100 years. Am I the only one that’s scared at the prospect?

Successful tourism has always meant an increase in footfalls and numbers of tourists visiting. I recall attending a session with the erstwhile tourism minister of Seychelles where she presented an eye opener of a presentation on “Controlled Tourism” and this was in 2006 or 07.

While I’m on this topic let’s not forget pilgrim tourism. India has the highest numbers in definite need of being “controlled”. Let’s take for example some holy places like the Char Dham, Hemkund Sahib, Vaishno Mata Mandir or Tirupati to name a few. How can we control the numbers? Can we not strike a balance between the locals earning a livelihood and controlling the numbers? If over population is a bane, then over tourism is a greater bane.

We’re in dire need of a solution. Tourism is meant to create a more positive atmosphere for people to visit and live in. if the quality of life decreases for the locals, it also creates a negative impact on the tourists. I’m reminded of the “Go back tourists” slogans in many parts of Europe and climate disasters closer home. As much as the destinations need to follow responsible tourism practices, the traveller can help by eating local, travelling in off season, paying entrance fees, buying local products to help the local industry, not carrying plastic including packets of chips and demanding Maggi in sensitive eco zones.

Fortunately it’s not all bleak and we have some Hero stories as well. In our village Parvada where I have my retreat, the 328 hectares of lush Himalayan forest land is governed by a “Forest Panchayat” that is made up of a 20 persons group of which 15 are women. They are the main stakeholders and squarely responsible for the growth and development of the forest which was bare only 12 years ago. 

Workcations have also thrown up some interesting sustainable options. You don’t need to be in cities anymore if your work does not require you to. Live remote, get sensitized to a different way of living and possibly be prepared to change for ever. And this is exciting as a lot of the techies are young 20 somethings who are learning to live differently.  

In 2015, the UN has adopted in its session 17 Sustainable Development Goals of which India is also a part. It is a global call to action to end poverty, protect the earth’s environment and climate, and ensure that people everywhere can enjoy peace and prosperity. I’d like to see the walking of the talk in India.

I’d like to sign off with Henry Miller’s words, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of doing things.”

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