Madhya PradeshResponsible Tourismresponsible traveller

Five ways you can support Responsible Tourism in Madhya Pradesh

During a recent trip to Madhya Pradesh, I was listening to a presentation made by Dr Harold Goodwin, Founder and Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism  where he said that ” Tourism is a polluting industry.” And that made me realize that from chip packets to carbon footprints, we leave behind unwanted souvenirs of our visit at every destination. In the quest to explore different places, we forget to be a responsible traveller. Dr Goodwin asked us a pertinent question, ” Is tourism going to use you, or are you going to use tourism? ” It is the onus of every stakeholder to therefore take responsibility to achieve sustainable development through tourism. He added that the responsibility for doing so cannot be outsourced. He summed up that “Responsibility drives Sustainability.

The community is at the core of all the responsible tourism initiatives of Madhya Pradesh Tourism and be it promoting women empowerment,  developing local arts and crafts, protecting eco-sensitive regions, or focussing on rural tourism, it is all about enabling social entrepreneurs and NGOS to support and train local communities. And one of the tenets of their policies to develop sustainable travel in MP includes bringing the travellers into the fore and sensitising them to contribute to the livelihoods of the local community, be they artisans or guides. Madhya Pradesh Tourism has spearheaded several responsible tourism projects at the grassroots and as responsible travellers, there are many ways we can support these initiatives and help in promoting sustainability by making simple choices when we travel.

Stay in a homestay in rustic Madhya Pradesh

Get a flavour of authentic, traditional rural life by staying in one of the homestays developed by the tourism board with the help of local communities. A hundred villages across six cultural zones located near tourist circuits have been adopted to promote rural tourism, which also includes setting up homestays, and tented camps,  promoting local cuisine, developing arts and crafts, preserving forgotten cultural traditions and celebrating festivals and conservation of eco-sensitive regions. The focus is on providing employment to local communities and also training and developing skills as well.

Next time you visit Orchha, stay in one of the six homestays in Ladpura Khas in the Bundelkhand region or if you are in Khajuraho, then choose to stay in Madla near Panna National Park.  Set in idyllic locations with picturesque views, you can lose yourself in verdant landscapes and adopt a slow, mindful life. Erickshaws driven by women will take you around tourist destinations like Orchha while you can experience the local cuisine and traditional hospitality. You can also enjoy picnics and excursions and explore hidden sunset spots like we did or visit local temples and markets and lose yourself in conversations or meditate on the songs of birds.

The homestays have been designed by architects based on the personal taste of the hosts under the guidance of the tourism board and their team on the ground. Simple, sustainable and comfortable, the homestays are also provided with modern amenities, including clean bathrooms. In addition to developing rural tourism, the focus is also on safety and public health, infrastructure, and waste management while there are projects that focus on accessibility as well.  As responsible travellers, by choosing to stay in homestays,  we can get immersive cultural experiences and soak in the rural setting, while also exploring tourist destinations and finding a way to contribute to the rural communities as well.

Support local communities through social enterprises.

The local communities are at the core of every project promoting sustainable travel in MP and they are also led by the communities. Social enterprises and NGOs are working at the grassroots,  initiating and supporting local communities and discovering their latent skills and developing them and also training and equipping them with self-defence skills as well. While most of these initiatives support women’s empowerment, it was indeed community alt heartening to know that women are leading from the front as social entrepreneurs. As responsible travellers,  we can support local communities by working with them.

Hiring local guides, going on walking tours with the forest communities, attending workshops from artisans and buying directly from them and working with social entrepreneurs – these are some simple ways how we can become responsible travellers as well. We went for picnics arranged by women to see sunsets on a hillock near Orchha, walked with the Pardhis, a forest community along Panna National Park,  bought responsible souvenirs from young artisans and took erickshaws driven by women to explore Orchha. We even explored Gwalior Fort with young Shikha Dhakad who has been trained by the team at India City Walks and has lived all her life in Gwalior.

While you plan your itinerary, also make a list of the social entrepreneurs who focus on community tourism and work with them. Personally, for me, these are the most cherished experiences. Some of the inspiring social entrepreneurs I met during the trip are Savini Sonavaria who runs PashooPakshee,  Manisha Pande from Village Ways, Deepa Dixit who runs Ragini Foundation, Mehrun Siddiqui from Adhar India, Vidya Venkatesh from The Last Wilderness among many others. You can read the stories of Vidya, Manisha and Savini in my newsletter too.

Buy responsible souvenirs and local arts and crafts 

Souvenirs are a part and parcel of every trip, but it adds value when you can buy them straight from an artisan or even learn from them.Madhya Pradesh Tourism is also focussed on developing and promoting local handicrafts, training artisans, and designing and developing souvenirs, As mentioned earlier, Savini’s PashooPakshee is one of the initiatives supported by Madhya Pradesh and she trains local artisans in skills like pottery, block printing and other techniques to create responsible souvenirs.

From T-Shirts to figurines, earrings to bags, stuffed toys to backpacks, you can buy them directly at any MPT hotel or even visit the centre at Madla and Dhamma located near Panna and Chattarpur, where you can interact with the artisans.

Savini says that workshops will soon be made available for travellers who can even learn from the artisans and take home their own personalised souvenirs. I have recently written a detailed story on Savini and PashooPakshee in my newsletter, Journeys and Jottings. You can read it here in my newsletter on Substack. 

Besides PashooPakshee, Madhya Pradesh tourism is also working on reviving many arts and crafts, like Mandana, a folk art created by Meena, one of the oldest tribal communities and paintings. Social enterprises like Ragini Foundation have been training women as a part of women empowerment projects besides also working on other initiatives. From pots and pans to paintings, there are many more arts and crafts that make for great souvenirs.

Destinations are not a dumping ground

When I was in Japan, I was on a walking tour where we tried some sweets and savouries in a quaint neighbourhood in Tokyo. I was surprised to find that there was no dustbin but my hosts immediately took out a bag and collected all the junk and said that they would dispose of the waste in a more sustainable way. As travellers, we leave behind all forms of junk, not to mention the fact that we think every scenic landscape is an open dustbin for us. Please do not litter. The destinations are not your trash cans. Having said that one of the responsible tourism initiatives of MPT has been focussed on solid and liquid waste management and they have been working with Saahas mainly in and around Panna National Park. 30 villages have been selected while the project is at Madla. Creating awareness with the locals has been the key focus, however, as responsible travellers the onus is on us to not litter the landscapes.

Respect local cultures and traditions

I often fail to understand why travellers have a sense of entitlement when they explore destinations. When I travel, I am flooded with waves of gratitude and realize that I am privileged to be on this journey. Every trip makes me realize that I am a little microcosm in the vast universe as I open my heart to new cultures, traditions, people and stories. This trip to Madhya Pradesh has been one of the most inspiring and educational for me. If there is one way we can all learn to be responsible traveller, then we must learn to respect local cultures and be sensitised to the lives of different communities.

While trying to learn about new traditions, we must understand that the living traditions of people are not museum exhibits. We can’t just poke a camera at their faces without permission or just barge into their homes.  I am reminded again of Dr Harold Goodwin’s presentation when he quoted this line with reference to Cultural Tourism, ” “Your everyday life is someone else’s adventure” We need to learn to be culturally sensitive and respect boundaries.

These are just some of the ways to be a responsible traveller and support the initiatives on the ground. Little changes can go a long way in making a difference. But it’s also important to understand that every traveller has a responsibility toward tourism,

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