I am big on travel. I enjoy every aspect of it.
The research, the planning, the anticipation, the promise and finally the travel itself; and once you reach your destination, then there is the exploring, the experiencing and enjoying the local flavors. Be it the culture, the food, all other new things surrounding you or of just “being”! I love it all.
It was during one such scheduled trip, a few years ago that I met Santosh, the brains behind a company catering to busy professionals with customized holidays. Ladakh was on our minds. All details were fixed by email exchanges and phone calls and I soon found out that Ladakh held a special place in his heart. He invigorated me even more when I did get to meet him the first time for our tour agenda.
We met for a cup of cappuccino at a popular coffee shop.It was an interesting meeting. After he told me what he had planned for us including a little bit of gyan (knowledge) on the acclimatizing bit, the do’s and don’ts and a map with our route from Manali to Leh; Santosh proceeded to tell me about Ladakh. The man draws you in with his feel for the land and his passion for what he does.
I realize on hindsight that it was here that the seeds of ethical travel were sown within me.
So what is this ethical travel anyway?
Simply put ethical travel is responsible travel. This is the kind of travel where you as a tourist respect the cultures and communities (including their laws and traditions) you are visiting. It is also a way of travel where in you are sensitive to the limited resources of the land like water, fuel and electricity. Wasting water or food, littering and leaving your wastes behind, etc. is just not on. Cleaning up after yourself and minimizing impact, most definitely is. The ways are many if you want to see them.
I know that I love traveling to unknown places, exotic places. But am I doing the right kind of travel? Am I a good tourist? How much damage am I creating when I visit that private unpolluted beach or the undisturbed hillside? What about the wilderness where certain species are under threat? These thoughts and more crowd my head.
It helps having an open mind and a little understanding of the local customs and etiquette of the places you are traveling. Reading up about the place is a good idea to achieve this.
Buying locally, be it food – you want to experiment anyways so this is a no brainer!
Staying in a locally owned accommodation or hiring the services of a guide, supporting local communities by buying their wares as souvenirs and the like helps the local economy. This may also revive a dying art. I remember buying a very nice toy for my niece just because it was her favorite color and later on I came to realize that the particular art of making toys was slowly dying!
I have read in many of the travel books that haggling is an art that is alive and in kicking form. I think that bargaining is fine, but not all the time. I wouldn’t like to bargain like my life depended on it every time. Someone once made me realize that it may be a few rupees to me, but worth a lot more to someone else who really needed it. This thought stems from the fact that most of these out-of-the-way and exotic places are really fragile eco systems and the inhabitants there need the business.
But yes, bargain away in those big stores in big cities if you have to… 🙂 Its much more fun!
Every place that we travel holds a special place in our hearts. It’s that happy place we find to go back to time and again, even if just in our memories. When we gain so much from our travels, it is also upto us to give back something and keep the balance intact, isn’t it?
In my own small way, I have tried to do what I can. I have not totally achieved “the place” but I’m getting there, learning as I’m going along my travels. Each one teaches me a new lesson. The more I learn, the more I realize on how ignorant I was.
We are all responsible, one way or another (whether we accept it / like it, or not).
And the sooner we do something about it, the sooner we can avoid today’s heaven turn into tomorrow’s hell.
Note: Here is “Wherever I may roam” by Metallica. Love the composition of stringed instruments – guitars and basses and esp. the sitar at the beginning. Juxtapose that with James Hetfield’s vocals. Incredible!
(A re-post from my other blog. The site where it is hosted will soon be archived and since this is a subject close to my heart I wanted to share it here.)