Authenticity – The A of Responsible Tourism
To explain the principles of Responsible Tourism, The Blue Yonder has come up with the A to Z of Responsible Tourism (www.atozofrt.com). I was inspired by this to write a series of article for Consumer Voice Magazine in Delhi - http://consumer-voice.org/ShowMagazines.aspx.
As urbanites travel more and more looking for newer experiences, a slew of “village experiences” are coming up right outside the cities. These are run by hotel chains that excel in the hospitality business. You come away having had fun and being fed a variety of food that could be new for you. To you it doesn’t make a difference whether it was authentic or not, you went to relax and have fun and you achieved that.
The purist in me is a little disgruntled at these experiences. As long as guests have fun, I should be satisfied. However, when they start talking of “village life” and how they know all about it based on that visit, then I feel the need to intervene. Travelling around India, what is fabulous is that the experience you are likely to have changes almost every 100 kms. To standardise these myriad experiences into a uniform one outside every big city is doing an injustice to the peoples of India.
What is the solution?
Avoid the short cut. If you want to know how a Mewari village is, (not even Rajasthani), you need to travel to Udaipur and go on beyond to stay with a family or in a local guest house. It is then that you get the smell of mud and that of burning cow dung that is very unique to Mewar. However much you try, this uniqueness cannot be made available outside Delhi. I think it has to do with the water, the air and the hospitality of the people there which cannot be transferred as is anywhere else.
To give an example, however many photographs of the Taj Mahal you may have seen, going to Agra and seeing it live at different times of the day and night is very special. Keep that in mind the next time you see a piece of craft or stay in a “local style” hut.
I knew little of architecture when I started out in the field of tourism about seven years ago. As I travelled I realised that housing styles in rural India are suitable for the climate as well as make use of natural resources available in the surrounding areas. This would mean that as you go along the West Coast, the houses are built using the laterite rock with tiled roofs having a high slope and big overhang to handle the heavy South West Monsoons. As you go up the Western Ghats, the rock is replaced by mud, which is protected by thatching on all four sides during the monsoons. In the Himalayas, it is the stone that is favoured for both roof and walls – with those areas affected by earthquakes moving to corrugated sheet roofs. In Kutch the cottages are perfectly circular and made of mud with tiny windows to keep out the heat and dust. Where ever you travel, the house construction ensures that the temperature within remains ambient regardless of the temperature without.
People, world over, have made the effort to live comfortably using the resources available to them. And then over the last half century this has been turned topsy turvy with concrete taking over the world. It has its uses and I am not asking for a ban, but when a Kutchi farmer builds a house of concrete and then adds a layer of mud on top, I would like to register my protest. Probably from having stayed in the all-mud huts, I can actually feel the difference. Yes, mud construction needs regular maintenance, but it doesn’t need an air-conditioner in summer or a heater in summer. What you say on electricity bills makes up for what you put into maintenance.
The smell of wet earth after the first rains – I wait a whole year for it. If it were bottled and available online, would it still be as special?
What is an authentic experience without local cuisines? What I enjoy most about travelling is the variety of food in India. If I enjoy a kothu parota on the streets of Madurai, can it really be replicated on the streets of Panjim? Why not enjoy the poee-bhaji in Panjim instead? Yes, I yearn for a good fafda-jalebi sometimes – but I know that if I have it anywhere outside Gujarat, I am just not going to be satisfied. And that gives me something to look forward to. When I travel, I stick to the local food as much as possible – those flavours just cannot be had elsewhere.
Next time you travel try to appreciate what is unique to where you are going – enjoy the special flavour of authenticity. Hold out for the real thing.