Last week Savita, one of the girls that has a home-stay hosted her first guest from outside our little NGO. The guest was an Indian man from Kolkata coming to Naddi, in Dharamshala, to attend a Yoga seminar. He stayed 6 nights at Savita’s Eco Home-stays and enjoyed very much staying with a local family and waking up every morning with a beautiful view to the mountains.
At first, he was mostly interested about the low price of the room. He was passing in front of the Restore, recently reopen after the monsoon, and saw the advertisement sign I had put there. He asked to see the room and as we were going down the mountain, in the path that leads to the community we work with, I was explaining him the principles of the Eco home-stays. Principles that have a lot to do with the principles of Eco tourism.
I was also explaining these principles to Savita and Milan (another young woman that has a home-stay with us) this week in the first vocational training class in the brand new Education and Career Resource Centre (ECRC). The ECRC is a small house that now belongs to the local women to do different kind of educational courses such as English, IT, Vocational training and life skills development.
In one of our classes we discussed the principles of Eco Tourism such as:
Eco tourism involves travel to natural destinations; Naddi is a beautiful place that is being transformed by a unsustainable tourism. Big investors build “resorts” here without enough control from the government. “Resorts” here are big, gray and ugly buildings that most of the year stay almost empty. Many of those buildings start being built and then are abandoned. The Eco home-stays are an alternative for staying in Naddi without having to contribute to the change of the actual landscape from green to gray.
Eco tourism minimizes impact; by adopting the simple life-style of the locals a tourist reduces his waste. It means less packaging, since the tourist will eat local cucumbers, local milk, rice and lentils instead of consuming for example chocolate, water from plastic bottles and tea from paper cups.
Eco tourism builds environmental awareness; the classes in the ECRC will bring environmental awareness to the young women that are involved in the project. I hope they will continue spreading the word and also show guests how they separate and dispose waste. I’m getting feedback from them and seeing that this is happening already.
Eco tourism provides direct financial benefits for conservation; this is a next stage of the project. I expect that once the young women get enough revenue they will start investing in improvements for environmental conservation like for example buying trash bins for the rooms and toilets. I’m encouraging them to do this and I’m planning on making trash bins from bamboo to provide a way for the guests to separate trash by themselves.
Eco tourism provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people; by giving small loans to young women in this small community in Naddi we encourage the local people to compete with the big investors and big hotels. By doing so, they should get a more fair part of the tourism revenue available in this place in the Himalayas. This is all about a more fair distribution of revenues and giving locals the power of taking care of the environment they live in.
Eco tourism respects local culture; the Eco home-stays project not only respect local culture but wants to encourage locals to keep their culture strong and alive. I work so they are proud of it and sharing with the tourists their Gaddi culture, the culture from the people that live in the mountains.
Eco tourism supports human rights and democratic movements; the integration between our NGO’s projects allows the young women owners of home-stays to have classes at the ECRC about women rights and democracy. The fact of working only with local women is also meant to provide more independence and a stronger voice for the women in a country that is still very much male dominated.