Ghumakkar Insights – Responsible Tourism

While strolling in the sprawling gardens of the Thai Buddhist Temple in Sarnath, I saw what seemed to be a rather amusing sign which read “धर्मचक्र पर चढ़ना बैठना मना है ” (Climbing or sitting on the Dharma Chakra is forbidden) and it made me involuntarily grin. A monk, who was keenly observing me, asked me what was so funny about it. I told him that I could not believe that anyone would climb onto the dharma chakra, let alone sit on it. He told me that he had to get it repaired on several occasions because of vandals climbing onto the chakra,  which is why he had this sign posted and instructed the watchmen to keep a close eye on visitors.

The replica of the Dharma Chakra at Sarnath. Inset: The warning sign

Where ever we go in our country, we come across signs exhorting us not to pluck flowers, litter, spit and so on. It is rather upsetting since implicit in these cautions is the assertion that we are a people singularly lacking in civic sense or pride in our glorious heritage. 

I am sure that all my fellow ghumakkars too must have come across such instances of ancient temples, national monuments and world heritage sites being vandalised by spitting, littering, etching graffiti on walls and mishandling of objects. Many have expressed their disgust at such uncouth and uncivilised behaviour in their blogs.

A sign in the Jaipur International airport (Pic courtesy Martin Vogel/Wikimedia)

The featured author of this month, the highly popular and respected Silent Soul, had written a post titled Jageshwar- A Horrible New Year describing how drunken youth had completely ruined his family’s vacation by their boorish and rowdy celebration of the New Year.
Then there is the problem of the generation of humongous amounts of plastic waste. Drinks and foodstuff are usually sold in non-biodegradable plastic containers; carry-bags, packing material etc., are all made of plastic. Not only is plastic degrading the environment, but is also ingested by cattle. This is happening everywhere, especially in remote tourist hotspots which rarely, if ever have facilities to handle solid waste.

Cows foraging for food at a rubbish dump littered with plastic (Pic courtesy Marcin Bialek/Wikimedia)

An NGO in my hometown, the Visakhapatnam Society for Protection and Care of Animals (VSPCA) has launched the Plastic Cow Project to conduct surgery to remove plastic from the abdomens of cows and has reportedly removed as much as 35 kilograms of plastic from a single cow! These animals would have died a slow and painful death but for the surgery.

Domestic tourists account for 80% of all tourists in India and there is a tourism boom in the country. While tourism is good for the local economy as it creates jobs for locals and infusion of money, there are a number of disadvantages, which need to be addressed such as:

  1. Environmental degradation
  2. Social degradation due to drugs, prostitution, violent crimes
  3. Economic benefits do not accrue to the local community

A view of the holy Ganga at Varanasi. We venerate her as a Goddess, yet we mindlessly pollute her.

While regulatory and legislative issues can only be addressed by Governments and statutory bodies, there are several things we can do as responsible tourists, which will go a long way in minimising the negatives and maximise the benefits that accrue to the local community, which will ensure the sustainability of tourism.

Some examples of  responsible behavior:

  • Minimising consumption of water in the hotels we stay in. Water is an increasingly scarce commodity. In hotels, we have availability of water at the turn of a tap but local people have to walk for kilometres to access a safe source of drinking water. By wasting water, we make the situation worse.
  • Prior to travel, getting rid of all inessential packing like toothpaste cartons, plastic, etc in order to minimise waste discarded at the destination. Remote areas usually do not have waste handling facilities and all the waste we produce degrades the local environment. It will be a good idea to retain items like empty cans, sachets, spent battery cells, etc., and dispose them in towns and cities which have such facilities.

Consumption of bottled drinks generates plastic waste and benefits only large corporations, not the locals (Pic courtesy Biswaroop Ganguly/Wikimedia)

Choosing locally grown produce like corn or coconuts over a pack of potato chips is an excellent idea (Pic courtesy Lokantha/Wikimedia )

  • Avoiding packaged food and drinks. For example, instead by buying soft drinks, one can drink fresh coconut water; which is not only good for health but the money spent remains there. Also, one can buy local agricultural products such as corn, fruits, etc instead of reaching out for junk food like fritters and potato chips, which are usually made by multinational corporations and are packed in non bio-degradable plastic sachets.

Coconut water is refreshing, healthy and comes in biodegradable packing (Pic courtesy Wikimedia/Arunakapilan)

  • Tip liberally. Avoid bargaining over petty amounts of cash. It does not burn a hole in your pocket but it ensures a better lifestyle for the poor and the underprivileged.
  • Discourage beggars. If possible, one can contribute to a local charity which works for the upliftment of the poor.
  • Showing respect to the locals and eschewing condescending behavior
  • Taking permission before photographing people. Some might see it as an intrusion into their privacy.
  • Minimising travel in petrol/diesel fuelled vehicles. They just pollute the environment. Walking is a good option as is hiring a bicycle, if available. If not, one can opt to travel on cycle-rickshaws or ride on ponies.

Cycling is an eco-friendly mode of travel (Pic courtesy Wikimedia/Jorge Royan)

  • Packing sufficient clothes for the trip so that the need to frequently wash them does not arise. Washing not only consumes water, but it also releases chemical detergents into the local groundwater. One can always get these clothes laundered on returning home.
  • Buying locally made handicrafts. Not only are they lovely mementos of the tour, they also are excellent gifts. More importantly, they give a boost to the local economy and ensure that traditional skills like toymaking or pottery do not become extinct.

Buying handicrafts keeps local traditions and skills alive (Pic courtesy Wikimedia/Arnab Dutta)

  • Observing rules and behaving in a responsible manner, even if nobody is watching. For example, if there is a signboard saying “Do not go beyond this point”, then one should not transgress the “Lakshman Rekha”. It is for our own safety.
  • Maintaining silence, especially in forests or wildlife sanctuaries. Even in other areas, one should speak in hushed tones on cellphones and avoid speaking loudly, which might disturb others. Even celebrations should be muted. Burning fireworks in the middle of the night or drunken brawls are examples of extremely offensive behaviour.
  • Reading about the place one is planning to visit so that one can appreciate the local culture better. One should always be respectful of local traditions.
  • Zero tolerance for vandalism. Many people, especially young lovers love inscribing their names on ancient monuments and trees, etc. Or they climb onto centuries old structures.

The walls of the million year old Borra Caves in Araku valley are defaced by graffiti inscribed by vandals

  • Staying in hotels and resorts where most of the employees are locals, especially women. Empowerment of women always has a positive impact on society.
  • Giving preference to establishments which follow green policies, such as effluent treatment, waste segregation and solar/wind energy, serve organic food, etc., even if those places are more expensive.
  • Smiling and behaving in an amiable manner. Smiling makes you happy and makes the other happy too. Rude behavior pollutes the social and emotional environment.

Responsible tourism ensures that it is a win-win situation for all concerned. For the locals, it means an improvement in the infrastructure, in the quality of their lives and ensuring the preservation of traditional skills like pottery and toymaking. The tourists go home with pleasant memories, enriching experiences and a sense of satisfaction from the fact that they have tried their best to preserve the environment and the beauty of the place

I request my fellow ghumakkars to come up with more ideas on how we can mitigate or minimise the negative impact of tourism by responsible behavior. I shall conclude with the thought-provoking words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore:

“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.”

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    • SilentSoul

      ?????? ?? ??? ???? ????… ???? ???? ???? ??? ?? ???? ???? ?????? ??????? ?? ??? ???? ???? ????? ?? ???? ?????????? ??? ???? ??.

    • D.L.Narayan

      ?? ????? ???? ?? ???? ???? ?? ??? ???????

      “????????? ????????? ?? ???? ??”
      ?????? ??? ??????? ????, ???? ???,????????? ????????? ?? ???? ???

      “??? ??? ??? ????? ?? ?? ??? ???????? ???? ???? ???”
      :-)

  • ???? ??? ?? ?? ………?? ?? ?? ??? ???? ?? ……..???? ?????? ????? ?? ??? ?? ????? ???? ?? ?? ???? ?? ?? ?????? ?? ????? ?? ????? ?????? ………?????????? ???? ???? ?? ?? ????? ??? ??? ?? ……..

    • D.L.Narayan

      ???????? ??? ???
      Thank you for being so kind.
      I feel that you too should write an “Insight” based on your experiences as a well-traveled person.

  • Dear DL,

    I salute to you for such a great piece of writing. It is encouraging to people like us who work for environmental protection in their locale but have to deal with indifference of people. You have raised valid points which call for attention but don’t get as much as they should.

    Your suggestion to use locally grown food as far as possible is adorable. I had a very small book which had food related rules – one on each page. Some of the rules were :

    1. “Only that food is a food that has different names in different languages.” (Coca Cola, Pepsi, Chocolate, burger, pizza are not foods).

    2. “Eat only that food that grows on plants and not made in plants.”

    3. ” That food is good for us that eventually decays within a short period.”

    and so on….

    Thanks a lot for the post.

    Sushant Singhal

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thanks, Sushant bhai, for your appreciation and your own persepctive.

      I have written this article to initiate a lively debate in this forum so that all of us can share our experiences and learn from one another,

      All three guidelines regarding food are very beautifully written and easy to recall. Thanks for sharing.

  • New generation receives learning in two ways – one is the long -term method and another is the short-term method. Long term method consists of good academic education imparted by able teachers who teach by example. Short term method is employed by strict discipline and quick, exemplary punishment for all miscreants. In our country, there is no concept of punishment and education also is the least priority item in govt. sponsored schools at least. We have teachers in schools which should never have been allowed to become a teacher.

    It is therefore herculean task to imbibe civic sense among our citizens. Most of us have personal character but no national character.

    • D.L.Narayan

      Sushant ji, learning is a continuous process and the first teacher for any child is its mother.School teachers come next and given the budgetary constraints, the quality of education in most schools,especially sarkari ones,is abysmal. We have focus more attention on female literacy and proper nutrition for infants. Our Government should focus on these core areas rather than run airlines and hotels.

      As you have correctly pointed out, we are not team players. We keep our homes clean yet our streets are dirty. Cricket is a team game but we worry more about individual records than the team performance. Sachin’s centuries mean more to us than the team’s performance. We are still a developing nation and it will take sometime for all our citizens to attain the level of maturity shown by a citizen of a developed nation.

  • Mahesh Semwal

    Very Informative post !

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thanks, Mahesh. Please share with us your own experiences,both positive and negative.

  • SilentSoul

    Thanks DL… you have selected a very important aspect of Ghumakkari… which is not simply loading one’s car with family and lot of eatables and clothes and go to some place….real ghumakkar has to be very responsible.

    I hope many would read your article and think what they are doing.

    I have felt that we people of Indian sub-continent have this inbuilt programming of mind to defy what is written by the government. People will always piss where it is written not to… people will surely engrave their names where it is forbidden. I think this habit is partially due to centuries of slavery of invaders, where a common man would show his discontent by not following the instructions of the government.

    The other factor is disrespect for our culture and country. I will not blame all youths for this.. I have seen people of all ages doing such mistakes.

    Most of the indecency is shown by the nouveau riche… they have lot of money they have luxury cars and most of them have a brain which is egoist and without any culture.

    Thank you very much for this insight… at least the Ghumakkars here can have an Insight and correct if anything is wrong with their ghumakkari.

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thanks, SS, for your insightful comments.

      In fact, the inspiration for writing this article came from you. It was after reading about your experiences at Jageshwar that I first thought of writing this article.

  • AUROJIT

    Hi DL,

    Compliments for such a thought provoking insight, relevant to every Ghumakkar. You have covered a wide spectrum of issues many of which never crossed my mind as a tourist (like getting rid of inessential packaging before travel, preference to institutions employing locals, etc).

    The narrative is honest, precise and inspiring.

    ‘Eschewing condescending behaviour (towards the locals)’ – couldn’t agree with you more.

    The post will surely help us all become more responsible tourists.

    One point I would like to bring out is that we as tourists are also responsible, at least to some extent, in creating inharmonious situations/ markets. For instance, there are number of hotels in hills which are installing AC s to lure customers . Now, why would anyone stay in an Air-conditioned room in an Himalayan town, where even fans are not needed by the locals in the worst of summer days? But unfortunately, there is a growing market for AC rooms out there. And the cause is not Global Warming, but frivolous desires of tourists who want to see a new place but are incapable of leaving behind the old place.

    Agree with Manu Prakash above, we would welcome such gems from you once every month :-)

    Thanks again for such a valuable contribution to Ghumakkar.

    Auro.

  • D.L.Narayan

    Thanks, Auro, for your kind words of appreciation. Coming from you, it is a huge, huge compliment and means a lot to me.

  • Surinder.sharma

    DL,
    Your writing so good, but we can start this from home town, then we will good at tourist places.
    Thanks and regards

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thanks, Surinder.

      You are absolutely right. One needs to be a responsible citizen before one can become a responsible tourist. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

  • Dear DL,

    You’ve made some valid points through your readable and thought-provoking article. There are some very unique points here, especially the one about not wasting water, carrying enough clothes, and buying local-made goods. Very well researched indeed!

    A couple of days back, I read an article in the Hindi Newspaper Navbharat Times about the improvements in the behaviour of tourists and the increase in awareness about cleanliness and hygiene in Nainital. It was heartening and it seemed like things are indeed getting better. But today I read http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Eve-teasers-in-India-team-raise-a-stink-in-China/articleshow/15097096.cms and was disgusted. I wonder what it is that makes us behave like animals at times.

    I think it is important to always remember that each one of us, while traveling or while staying put, is a representative of our family, community, country and we should behave in a way that does not put everyone around us to shame. And, more importantly, rowdy behaviour and blatant disregard for rules, should not go unpunished. Sometimes it is very important to set an example.

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thanks, Vibha, for liking this article. The credit for readability should go to Nandan since he made be rewrite the entire post to meet that particular criterion.

      I read the TOI news report mentioned by you when I surfed the net for my daily dose of Indian news. This kind of behavior is totally unacceptable and these hooligans should be arrested on arrival on non-bailable warrants. The names of offenders should be made public. We, as taxpayers, have the right to know on what basis these people were selected to represent India, as their junket is being bankrolled by us. I will not be surprised if these lowlife turn out to be spoiled brats of politicians, whose parents failed to impart a sense of ethics in them.

  • Thank you DL. The story has come out very well and has very practical, actionable suggestions. I am going to try very hard to stop having drinks packaged in plastic bottles. For regular soda-pop, getting a glass bottle or a tin is not that tough so let me try that.

    The other thing I am going to do is to have a good waste-management-system at the places where I frequent most. Small towns, hill towns all the more, do not enjoy the benefits of an advanced waste-managment and hence it becomes all the more necessary to be aware of this.

    Guess if all of us can begin to do our bit, thing are gonna improve manifold.

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thank you, Nandan for your inputs which had a huge influence on the final shape of this story.

      Your idea regarding setting up waste management facilities is a good idea. Maybe we need a Bindeshwar Pathak or a M.B.Nirmal to educate the lay public at large and civic authorities in particular regarding the need for solid waste management. Segregating wastes makes recycling feasible. In Scandinavian countries, people travel several kilometres to dispose spent battery cells to the designated areas. Maybe we need a separate “insight” article on this important topic.

  • Mukesh Bhalse

    DL,

    Very thoughtful and useful write up. Everyone from us should take a pledge to always remember and comply with the valuable tips suggest by you while on tour.

    Thanks.

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thanks a ton, Mukesh.

      I think that taking a pledge is a brilliant idea. November 7th is being celebrated this year as the Responsible Tourism Day and maybe Nandan and Vibha can take the initiative for drafting and posting a pledge and all of us can reaffirm our commitment to the pledge. It is our collective responsibility to do our best for making this world a better place for us and for future generations.

  • Thanks DL for such a insightful article.

    There are number of points in your article which I need to take care, so that I can become a responsible traveler. Now that writing on the walls of historical monuments and sites will not be repeated.

    Some more points are there where I am going wrong, I will take care all of these during my future trips.

    Thanks

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thanks, Gerry, you have made my day.

  • D.L. Ji…
    Your post is Very Nicely written up & full of information….
    Thanks for Good Article.

    • D.L.Narayan

      ????? ??, ????, ???? ???? ?? ??????????? ?? ??? ??? ?? ?? ????? ???

  • jaishree

    Dear DL

    Thanks for a thought provoking article.

    This summer, while traveling in Kinnaur, we tried to reduce the use of water bottles. We refilled our bottles with filtered water, invariably provided by all hotels and resorts.

    Himachal has put a blanket ban on poly bags and the positive effect was omnipresent. And it never caused even slightest of inconvenience. We bought mixture of nariyal,mishri and chhuhare for kids and it was lovingly given in paper cones. All the succulent, fresh from the farm-fruits were being sold in paper cartons and paper bags. In fact, my elder kid liked this idea very much.

    We also managed a trade off between need for washing of clothes and pain of carrying too much luggage by packing( I had to buy but it is a good buy for all frequent travelers) mostly sports-wear kind of clothes which are light and do not look dirty.

    (All this is not to boast but to share tips which might be useful for all ghumakkars.)

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thank you, Jaishree ji for your valuable feedback. It is important to teach children to be responsible tourists, too. Aishu,my granddaughter, always looks for a trash can to dispose her ice cream cups and if she can’t find one, she always gives it to me.

      It is essential that everyone should bring their experiences to the table so that we can learn from each other. Great to know that you and Manish have always been responsible tourists and we expect no less from you.

  • Harish Bhatt

    DL Ji,

    I absolutely believe that this article is must read for all ghumakkars; not only those who are on ghumakkar.com but every individual who has a ghumakkar inside him/her. A couple of years ago on my way to Valley of flowers I felt such pain in my heart by looking at the piles and piles of plastic, polythene and other non-biodegradable wastes lying every here and there. The vendors or dhabhawalas are local but they do not care about the consequences of littering wrappers of Maggie, chips and what not as they are never questioned by any one and even more it would cost them time and a lot of money to bring down the waste from such a height. There should an awareness amongst the travellers themselves; as well as the authorities should organize programmes to remove the waste from places like those.

    Respecting the signs and obeying them is a must. You are absolutely right by saying that it is for our own safety I have seen fatal accidents happening in Rishikesh during rafting which occurred due to young enthusiasts not obeying the instructions and doing things that should be forbidden.

    Sir I congratulate you for writing such a brilliant awareness article.

  • D.L.Narayan

    Thanks, Bhattsaab, for your words of appreciation.

    I think that growing awareness will ensure that we will be more respectful of our environment. Your children eating from leaves (The Kids’ Day Out-Silla Chowk) is a good example of living in sync with the environment. You have set an excellent precedent which is worthy of emulation by other parents.

  • 1. There are few things in this post which we know and follow.
    2. There are few things in this post which we neither know nor follow.
    3. There are few things in this post which we know but don’t follow.

    I will try to keep in mind all above points while traveling in future. Thanks DL for this wonderful post.

    • D.L.Narayan

      Thank you, Deependra, for your wonderful comment.
      Since you have leadership qualities and have lead large tourist groups, I am sure that you will lead by example and ensure that all members of your group will be responsible tourists.