Travelling light

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ISSUE As we explore the unlimited beauties of Nature, we need to leave smaller footprints behind

At jungle resorts, tourists are often loaded into SUVs and driven for hours so that they can see the big cats. After stops and starts and rushing about, the guides manage to nudge a tiger our way so that we can take photographs. Between the fuel consumption, emissions and noise, Nature holidays seem to follow an unnatural regimen.

Suppose we don’t want to join the braying tourists in a jeep pointing at one poor tiger. Suppose we don’t want to tick off the experience on a list and vroom to the next thing. Suppose we don’t want to be ‘consumers’ in this context. How do we holiday in an eco-friendly manner, whether to a forest, beach or heritage site?

Choosing a meaningful destination is the first step. Many of us book on an impulse after we spot an airline promotion or a resort’s offer of four nights for the price of three. That may explain why so many Indians have seen Angkor Wat but not the Brhadeeswara Temple. The heaviest impact of our holiday is the energy we spend getting there.

Most regions of our beautiful country have ancient temples, historical monuments, bird sanctuaries, beaches and hill stations. If we draw a circle around our home on a map, we will realise how many wonders we can explore within that circle. Our footprint on such a holiday remains small.

During a holiday out of town, when the whole point is to de-stress, it makes sense to spend less time driving and more time on foot. Hired drivers often try to increase the number of kilometres travelled and don’t care whether we are rushed through the sights. They understate the travel time to persuade us to go further and further, till the children are restless and it’s too dark to see the view. Hotels sometimes tweak their website maps to look more accessible, and we spend more time than planned driving to and from our accommodation.

Probably the most harmful, precisely because of their location, are the eco-resorts. Eco-tourism originally meant that operators would build a simple facility appropriate to a fragile environment without spoiling it. Visitors were supposed to enjoy it in the same spirit. The idea was to use local materials and labour to enrich a community and preserve its environment and way of life. Instead, we have individual Jacuzzis under concrete roofs covered with fake thatch.

Hype about luxury Nature holidays inevitably leads to more luxury and less Nature. When tourists demand swimming pools, air-conditioners and five-star meals inside a buffer zone, and profit-hungry operators cave in to them, we’ve jointly spoiled a pristine place that should have been left alone. When we go to hill stations, farms, lake fronts, beaches, wildlife sanctuaries and other sensitive areas, it makes sense to accept limited facilities and enjoy unlimited beauties. A forest is not the place for watching a cricket match, ordering room service and stepping outdoors only in search of better signal on the mobile phone. If that has become our idea of a Nature holiday, the best way for us to preserve the wild is to stay out of it.

(This is the tenth and final article in the series.)




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