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Rich, immersive and beautiful: Community based tourism on the rise

Experiencing the actual local culture, gaining knowledge of local rituals and beliefs – Community based tourism refers to tourists living life like natives, sharing their lives by living in homestays, farm stays and indulging in activities like cooking and crafting together, storytelling, and village tours.

“Community tourism focuses on the interaction between local communities and travellers. Since people are inseparable from the places they live in, it kind of forms a web of life along with ecology and landscapes of a region. It is in the interest of travellers, especially those who are looking for a meaningful, insightful and educational travel experience, to have a first hand interaction with communities that live in the places they travel to,” says Vaivhav Todi, Director at Greener Pastures, who organises community tourism tours to Nagaland, Assam and Meghalaya.

By engaging with the community, the traveler gets a rare opportunity to truly connect with the landscape through the people, in terms of cultural elements such as dances, folklore, songs, costume and cuisine that have developed in direct correlation with the natural environment and that which exposes this delicate and secretive web of life.

“This type of travel not only gives you a real insight into local lives, but also ensures your travel experience makes a genuine difference to local people,” says Sumit Kapoor, an HR executive who just visited the Warli tribe in Walvanda, Maharashtra.

The beauty of community based tourism is the fact that it allows local communities to have full ownership and management of the tourism experience, which in turn ensures that the economic benefits of tourism stay within their community.

“The idea behind our model of community tourism is to have local communities take control and charge of tourism activities themselves, and showcase their own culture and heritage in the process. In our experiences, we generally offer direct interaction between guests and local experts from the community through walks, biodiversity trails, treks, art workshops. We also include a local home-cooked meal prepared with local flavours,” says Mohit Bagadia from Swadesee Experiences who organise tours by partnering with local experts.

Through community based tourism, locals get a chance to showcase and share their culture with the world and also learn about other cultures thus lending a sense of pride among the native population. “The beautiful Nilgiris are home to many tribes like the Todas, Kotas, Badagas and Kurumbas. We organise a visit to the Toda tribe in Orissa that is truly an unforgettable experience. Their culture has an irresistible appeal for the travellers, who are charmed by the simple life that the Todas lead. They are also fascinated by their symmetrical and beautiful houses, known as ‘dogles’, which are made up of bamboo and stones,” says Miguel Munoz, Chief Resorts Officer, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Limited.

Renest Bandhavgarh Meadows located near the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh organises tours of the Baiga Tribals,”On clear full moon nights there is the local Baiga dance called Karma, along with a bonfire where the tourists are encouraged to join the locals in the dance ritual followed by a hearty dinner under the Jamun tree canopy. The Baiga tribals are farmers who tend small tracts of land all around the tiger reserve growing local varieties of rice, maize and mainly wheat,” says Vishal Lonkar, General Manager, Brand Development, Renest Hotels and Resorts.

Meals generally depend on local agriculture, and communities keep in mind not to exceed limits as they can’t put unnecessary strain on their own resources.

Such tours help them earn a better livelihood and thus lead to an enrichment of their lives.

Shruti Khandare, model and influencer who visited Bishnoi village says, “Located not far from Jodhpur, Bishnoi village provides an authentic experience of rural Rajasthan. The notable Bishnoi tribe reveres nature and lives in harmony with it, so much so that they bury their dead to preserve trees as wood is used in cremation. We took the Bishnoi Village Safari from Jodhpur and visited artisans such as weavers, potters and block printers, and learnt about their culture.”

As far as the costs of such travel goes, it fluctuates wildly. For tours in Maharashtra, prices could be as low as 1,000 per day while for immersive tours in far flung remote areas of North East, the price bracket could range from 5,000 to 9,000

It’s a great way to gain insights into new cultures, traditions, meet local people and learn from them which would not be possible in a conventional fleeting tour and what’s more, you get to forge life long relationships with these communities.

Benefits of Community Based Travel

Provides stimulant to the economy

Community based travel provides employment opportunities to natives who can act as guides, provide meals, procure goods, and perform other tourism-related jobs “This type of tourism helps create new spaces for women to take on leadership positions especially when it comes to organising the homestay components of a tourism program,” says Khandare.

Preserving culture

By providing employment opportunities for youngsters locally, community based tourism prevents them from leaving for larger cities. “By creating a dialogue and exchange between urban folk or travellers and local communities from rural India we are trying to spread information, reduce barriers and eventually try to reduce the urban rural divide that is causing a lot of problems such as urban migration, water imbalance, unsustainable lifestyles and so on,” says Bagadia

A lesson in sustainability

Traditional communities often have far more to teach us about our sustainable practices than our urban counterparts. It aims at the protection of community resources and conservation of wildlife. It also encourages pride within the community.

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