- Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Dilemma of Supporting Local Community While Traveling Responsibly

A colourfully dressed Bishnoi woman– a very popular photo subject for those visiting Khejarli village, Jodhpur
(Photo: Owen Young)

I have always been a staunch supporter of traveling responsibly. I am not an expert in this field but in my own personal capacity, I do my bit. I try to keep the environment clean, carry my own refillable water bottle, use public transport, support local community and propagate the idea through my blog and social media.

But, there are times when traveling responsibly is not about these little challenges. Instead it's about choices and decision making. 

Last month, I was traveling through Rajasthan. I stayed in Jodhpur for a week and planned to visit the Bishnoi tribe in one of those days. Those who have spent time in Jodhpur would know how popular these “Bishnoi Village Safaris” are. These are 4-5 hour guided tour through the Khejarli village– at a short distance from Jodhpur, to meet the local Bishnoi people. Bishnois are well known for their crusade in preserving trees and wildlife. A typical safari also includes meeting some local artisans, food in a local home and may be even a chance to buy some local handicraft. On one hand, I wanted to support the rural tourism, while on the other, I did not want to commodify Bishnoi community by making such a superficial visit, taking photos and adding them to my ‘Done-That’ list. I decided to not visit.


After a camel safari in the sand-dunes near Jaisalmer (Photo: Tawheed Manzoor)
I faced a similar situation again when I went to Jaisalmer. I wanted to go into the desert, sleep overnight on the dunes, but not ride a camel– which is very much a part of Jaisalmer's customary Desert Safari. Not riding an animal was a personal decision I made couple of years ago. After noticing how camels' legs are tied up when they are (apparently) set free in off-duty hours, I did not regret my decision. But here again, it was a choice I had to make between not riding an animal– therefore, discouraging use of animals for commercial purposes, and supporting the local community– for whom this is a major source of income.

I am also not a huge fan of wildlife safaris. I just feel, we humans need to leave the wildlife be. Of course, with the exception of forest rangers, conservationists, researchers and locals. Having said that, I am well aware that around every wildlife preserve open to tourists, there is a local community dependent on income generated by tourism.


So yes, these were few instances when I found myself stuck in between two similar yet opposing directions. Perhaps there is no right or wrong in either of these. At the end of the day, it's a matter of choice. As for me, I really have no qualms about missing out on the must-sees and must-dos, as long as I stand by what I believe in. I would rather spend my time whiling away in a local food joint getting a whiff of local life, than be bogged down by the pressure of ticking-off a checklist. But those who are choosing to go for these guided village-tours or wildlife safaris (responsibly, without creating a ruckus in the local habitat!) are doing their bit as well.

Have you ever faced such a dilemma? How did you go about it? I would love to hear your experiences.

Note: This post has also been published on The Huffington Post, India.

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10 comments:

  1. I've had similar dilemmas, I refused to ride an elephant in the Amber Fort (in 08) which was included in my day 'tour' because I hated seeing them do such mundane unnecessary work – I didn't know at the time the full reasons why no-one should ride an elephant. I did ride one a month later on a rhino safari in north east India, something which I deeply regret now. There were no jeeps or tourist safari vehicles in this reserve and the only way to venture in was on the back of a elephant, it silently moved through the bush in the most undisturbing way possible.
    The safari issue is a difficult one, I'm kind of with you that the animals should be left to be, however if tourism can protect these environments then that can be a good thing. The tourists come to see the wildlife, spending money (hopefully) in the local area, giving the local people reason to protect the wildlife.
    I've also refused to ride a camel – in Mongolia – for the same reasons as the elephants at the Amber Fort, why should it have to work for me to 'experience' that tourist ride? I really wasn't comfortable participating. It meant I was left out, the rest of my friends did it. I had a lovely walk alone however, which ended up being a wonderfully profound moment: me alone in a great expanse of desert.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Rachel! Yes, this whole wildlife based tourism is kind of confusing to me. I have heard such strange stories about Tiger Temple of Thailand and private game parks in Africa that I have decided to stay away from these areas all together.

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  2. We faced this dilema whern we went on an atlas mountain tour in Morocco. We went from Marrakech and the tour included visiting a Berber village. We did do it as the reviews had said you have an afetrnoon tea with a family, lot of interactions, how it helps them etc etc but we personally found the whole experience quite unpleasant, particularly when we just 'trampled' through someone's house (that's how it felt like to me) and they were just put on display for show. Never want to do it again. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about responsible tourism. It's something I am planning to focus on 100% in 2016, changing the whole ethos of my blog, funnily, I just wrote a post about this last night. Happy to find other travel bloggers sharing the same values, but being open to different ways one can approach this..and at the end of the day, making mindful choices.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your views! :) I would love to read the post you've written on a similar topic. I agree, these guided tours through tribal villages feel so intrusive. It's like violating their privacy. I would rather go privately, after figuring out my own ways to reach the locals and mingle with them in a true sense. This is only possible, if we are able to shed our inhibitions, live with them and be ready to adapt to their culture. These guided tours might be good for immediate economic gain, but in long-term, I feel they damage and erode the local culture.

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  3. The more I've gotten into both traveling and blogging the more I've become aware of things along these lines. I try and do my best to support local businesses while I travel, and agree that you have to be really careful with animal tourism in general. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your views Megan!

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  4. Totally agree. I took the Bishnoi tour and regretted it. (Blog coming soon). It was touristy and superficial. I wanted immersive involvement. At the end, I said no to a lunch which came with a terrifying welcome Aarti etc. Though I did buy some eatables and handicrafts when I visited a revari house, only to support local economy. I didn't want them (I never shop on travel), still I bought those. Though some part of that trip was interesting and satisfying. But on a whole, I was upset for a day.
    Then I never ride animals. Except two times when there was no option. The elephant I rode in Dudhwa had to cross some really rough patches and my heart sank everytime he did. I felt sorry and that was the first and last time I did it. In Rajgir you can hire only horse driven tonga for sightseeing. I searched for alternative but there was none. The one I hired handled the horse well. I even enquired before hiring about horse's upkeep. The one I took in nalanda treated the horse badly and I hated myself about hiring a tonga. At the end it's all about the choices.
    Very well written blog.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your views and experiences Abhinav. Glad you enjoyed this article. Do share your blogpost with me, once its out! :)

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  5. Yes, Responsible Tourism takes much more work at ground level than just putting up local people as pieces of art. Unfortunately, many companies do not understand that. Hopefully, soon they will. I appreciate your balanced view that nothing is right or wrong but a personal choice.

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    1. Hi Gaurav, thanks for stopping by and reading this story. I am glad you liked it and that you could relate to it!

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