'Experience village-life': How eco-tourism is helping picturesque rural areas

Steena Joy
·Contributor
·8-min read

Do your travel choices have the power to change the world? Definitely!

Every time you visit a village, share their soups and songs, their stories and laughter, not only do you help them earn a little extra for their families, but you also give them access to better education and healthcare.

In a post-COVID world, tourism will continue to play a unique dual role of providing livelihood opportunities outside of big cities, at the same time preserving the cultural and natural heritage of Rural India. Here are two remote community-based tourism enterprises that are best examples of what companies can do to brighten people’s lives in a year that has cast darkness upon so many.

1.Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE)

The only Indian company to be recognised as the winner of the 2020 UN Global Climate Action Awards, Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) has been commended for its efforts to combat climate change and create resilient mountain communities through its development interventions, involving tourism and technology.

GHE conducts “Impact Expeditions” to remote Himalayan villages and uses a portion of the expedition fee to fund the capital cost of the hardware, transportation, installation and training of village-scale solar micro-grids. The micro-grid infrastructure set up by GHE is owned and operated by the community. A fine example of climate friendly financing.

The solar impact

To date, GHE has solar electrified more than 131 villages in 3 regions of India, directly impacting the lives of more than 60,000 villagers through its Impact Expeditions. More than 3,200 households are now CO2-free as kerosene oil has been replaced with solar energy.

GHE has solar electrified more than 131 villages in 3 regions of India, directly impacting the lives of more than 60,000 villagers
GHE has solar electrified more than 131 villages in 3 regions of India, directly impacting the lives of more than 60,000 villagers

A total solar capacity of 360 kw has been set up in some of the most remote villages of India. This has cut an aggregate of 35,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from these communities by eliminating the need for kerosene. To ensure sustainable development of these villages, GHE has created livelihood opportunities in the local indigenous communities through tourism and local handicrafts.

Mountain Homestays is a livelihood Initiative of Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) designed to empower remote off grid communities through community run homestays.

At home with the stars

Interestingly, Mountain Homestays has created Astrostays in various villages of Ladakh by installing high-end sophisticated telescopes. The local women running these homestays are not just trained in hospitality but also in operating the telescopes and reading the night sky.

Mountain Homestays has created Astrostays in various villages of Ladakh by installing high-end sophisticated telescopes
Mountain Homestays has created Astrostays in various villages of Ladakh by installing high-end sophisticated telescopes

The village communities have shown a lot of enthusiasm for this new development and have already started attracting tourists with their knowledge of the stellar objects and constellations.

Speaking about his pet project, Paras Loomba, Founder, GHE says, “Tourism plays a vital role in bringing in development to the remote rural communities of India. Technology, especially through social media, has created an environment where people want to develop their own personal travel experiences and have conversations with local communities to understand the world in a new way.”

Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) is empowering remote off grid communities through community run homestays
Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) is empowering remote off grid communities through community run homestays

Paras, who is an electrical engineer by profession, believes that the villages of India have an immense untapped potential with a rich culture and heritage to share. He says, “By investing in capacity development of the communities and setting up homestay based tourism, we can enable travellers to have immersive and sustainable experiences while providing them the opportunity to live with the communities, and directly contribute to the income generation of the villagers.”

If done correctly, this approach could exponentially increase the numbers of tourists visiting the villages, while at the same time incentivise villagers to stay in their villages rather than add to the growing migration away from rural areas to the cities.

Building resilience

How has Covid-19 impacted the communities that GHE works with? Paras informs that the tourism business contributed Zero revenue for the villagers in FY 2020-21. All the trips and Homestay tours for 2020 were cancelled with no clarity on the resumption of operations.

GHE is using the lockdown period to invest in infrastructure and training of the local women homestay owners
GHE is using the lockdown period to invest in infrastructure and training of the local women homestay owners

He says, “We could see the adverse impact on the local communities who thrive on tourism for their income generation. However, we are using this period to invest into building the resilience of the communities and empowering them to welcome travellers in 2021 through setup of infrastructure and training of the local women homestay owners. We have invested in bolstering the communities to safely go back to hosting and using tourism as a livelihood option in the post Covid world. The work ranges from setting the most basic hygiene practices in place to installing a local health monitoring system to ensure that travel is operational in the safest manner.”

Key highlights of the work GHE is doing with the local communities:

  • Setting up of Solar Water Heaters and Green Houses

  • Training of local communities on Covid-19

  • Developing a digital health care diagnostic system called DEMETRA

  • Strengthening the Primary Health Centres with Solar Power and medical devices.

2.The Goat Villages

The Goat Villages, a bouquet of farm retreats and home stays managed by Green People, is an initiative having multiple social dimensions. Green People has partnered with locales across Uttarakhand, reviving abandoned villages and managing them to create rustic lifestyle experiences for visitors.

Green People, which uses the tag, Happier Himalayan Villages, strives to work towards holistic rural development and reverse-migration of marginalised Himalayan farmers by providing them ecologically sustainable and long-term engagements through rural tourism, agriculture and related pursuits.

The Goat Villages, a bouquet of farm retreats and home stays managed by Green People, is an initiative having multiple social dimensions
The Goat Villages, a bouquet of farm retreats and home stays managed by Green People, is an initiative having multiple social dimensions

The company has won many awards, including the ‘Indian Responsible Tourism Award 2019’, in just three years of its existence. The portfolio consists of 6 farm-retreats and home stays across Uttarakhand.

Roopesh Rai, Founder, says, “We offer long-term alternate living and livelihood opportunities in rural India, with a strong socio-economic vision to create India’s next growth story straight from its villages, with sustainability being our religion, minimalism our governing philosophy, and reduce, reuse, and recycling being our holy trinity.”

Roopesh also owns 'Bakri Chhap’, an organic brand that provides market linkages to indigenous farm produce from the local community.

Why use the Goat to symbolise his brands?

Roopesh explains, “The vision is to protect the heritage, culture, agriculture, & horticulture of Small, Micro and Marginalised Farmers (SMMF) of rural India, Himalayas to begin with. The livestock which is the goat and sheep is an intrinsic part of their lives. Also, while there is a lot of activism related to the top of the food chain for mammals like elephants and tigers, we seldom realise that unless the bottom of the pyramid of Biodiversity is protected, we will not be able to accomplish the goal of biodiversity and cultural diversity protection.”

Green People has partnered with locales across Uttarakhand, reviving abandoned villages and managing them to create rustic lifestyle experiences for visitors
Green People has partnered with locales across Uttarakhand, reviving abandoned villages and managing them to create rustic lifestyle experiences for visitors

The company has seen an increase in footfalls to lesser known Himalayan treks in under 4 years, providing income to more than 100 community run home stays and 300 mule owners foreclosing their loans, getting free insurance & vaccination to 5000 goats and providing free computer education to village kids in Jaunpur region of District Tehri Garhwal.

The Goat Villages (http://www.thegoatvillage.com) has been winner of numerous hospitality, tourism and sustainability awards including World Responsible Tourism award, World Tourism Mart London 2020 for its path breaking efforts working with the community.

We have to tell our kids that food is not grown by big e-commerce companies

Bakri Chhap works with nearly 80 farmers directly & over 700 farmers indirectly and the brand has strived to provide fair trade prices to them by eliminating middlemen while providing quality produce to leading hotel chains, superstores and e-commerce platforms.

'Bakri Chhap’, an organic brand that provides market linkages to indigenous farm produce from the local community
'Bakri Chhap’, an organic brand that provides market linkages to indigenous farm produce from the local community

The quality and traceability is maintained through regular and consistent skill-development and training of villagers, largely women, running and operating the collection and processing units of Bakri Chhap.

Roopesh points out, “Our home stay units under the brands The Goat Villages & The Hideouts double up as collection, processing, packaging and retail centres for Bakri Chhap. The supply chain consists of using public transportation and courier services.”

Roopesh observes that before Covid-19, sustainability was a niche but post-Covid-19 it is bound to become a norm. “We also believe that fair trade is the key to sustainability in terms of agriculture. We have to tell our kids that food is not grown by big e-commerce companies. It can’t be grown by a few clicks or a tap on the smartphone. It has to be grown through sustainable agriculture practices with the right intentions,” he sums up.

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