An open letter to Responsible Travelers

Subject: An open letter to Responsible Travelers
From: A resident of Nanda Devi National Park, India
Date: 24 Dec 2018
Community Led Interpretative Trek to Nanda Devi National Park in India

Dear Responsible Travelers,

I am writing from a remote Himalayan destination.The reason for approaching the global responsible traveler community is to make them aware of their power in developing sustainable tourism initiatives at the natural and cultural resource rich but economically poor regions all around the globe.

I hope all of you will agree with the definition of Responsible Tourism as summarized by Dr. Harold Goodwin with reference to the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism (2002).

Well, as a bonafide resident of one of the UNESCO's designated World Heritage Site of Nanda Devi National Park in India and thereby a legitimate primary stakeholder in the tourism debate, I am raising few questions. Before doing that, I wish to emphasize that much before when the UNESCO came into existence or the league of nations was created and collapsed, since time immemorial our ancestors regarded Nanda Devi area as sacred and considered the peak of Nanda Devi (7816 m) as their Patron Goddess.

Before the terms like sustainable resource use, natural resource management became buzzwords in the modern conservation discourse, my people fought a long non-violent battle against the forest department, a vestigial system of the colonial era. Yes, my elders were in the forefront of what culminated as a Chipko movement. How Forest Department became the sole proprietor of the bio diversity conservation in India is a long story though.

I think, its appropriate to mention here that before the Cape Town declaration of 2002, my community has also issued a community based tourism and conservation declaration in October 2001. Having said that, now let's ponder over some of the recommendations of the Cape Town Responsible Tourism Declaration . I am just offering few of them which are directly related to my people, region and our existence.

1. "Recognising that there has been considerable progress in addressing the environmental impacts of tourism, although there is a long way to go to achieve sustainability; and that more limited progress has been made in harnessing tourism for local economic development, for the benefit of communities and indigenous peoples, and in managing the social impacts of tourism."

2. "Accepting that, in the words of the Global Code of Ethics, an attitude of tolerance and respect for the diversity of religious, philosophical and moral beliefs, are both the foundation and the consequence of responsible tourism."

3.Provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
provides access for physically challenged people;

I know it requires hell of a semantics to fully understand the meaning of such declarations, what I can state with confidence is that these resolutions loose their meaning and spirit and turn verbose before reaching our doorsteps.

As a tribe of travelers who prefer to tag themselves as 'Responsible', it is essential for them to fully understand the meaning of 'responsible travel' and behavior supposed to be associated with it. Usually, their concern is limited to trash disposal and management. While this is worth appreciating, their role is far more important in nurturing 'Sustainable Tourism Destinations'. What's missing on their part is to find and strengthen the grass root responsible tourism initiatives. A corporate can easily manage the trash of a destination but they will alienate the local stakeholders and commodify their culture. As they have already horded the first page on Goolge search, our alienation starts from the www.

Presently, the tourism economy is based on the deals between online aggregators and its consumers (read travelers). While this is the prevalent trend, there are certain ethical issues involved in this process. To be specific, I would like to focus on my area only. The meadows of Lata Kharak, Saini Kharak bordering the core zone of the Nanda Devi National Park in the Indian Himalayas belongs to the forest council of my village, Lata.

If you google Nanda Devi trek, you will find n number of websites offering you a trek to the Nanda Devi National Park. None of these website owners ever bothered to seek permission from my village council, who is the legitimate owner of this property. Its like a free for all gold rush.

Am I allowed to organize a BBQ party and sell tickets online on the common ground of a gated community in a metro ? My village is similar to a gated community with its elected village council, technically and legally backed by Indian constitution and far more superior than a resident's welfare society registered under the 1860 act. This is the biggest tourism scam happening on a scale as big as India.

Local communities are in a catch 22 situation, while the hordes are invading the socio-cultural and common environmental space of the remote communities, someone based in a metro is minting money out of it. Its all about SEO and new online tourism based startups, without taking consent of the people who inhabit and are legitimate stakeholders of such common property resources.

The village forest council of my village is now taking necessary steps to take control of the tourism in our forest lands including the alpine meadows of Latak Kharak, Saini Kharak till the watershed boundary at Jhindidhar bordering the core zone of Nanda Devi National Park. A forest management micro plan has been developed, duly passed by the village council and submitted to the Divisional Forest Officer, Nanda Devi National Park.

Additionally, an interpretative Trek to the Nanda Devi National Park area has been designed as a new adventure tourism product to offer an all immersive experience of the physical and cultural landscape of Nanda Devi National Park.

Here, I am sharing the web link of our Interpretative Trek :

My humble request to the tribe of Responsible Travelers is to please spend some time online to select a local responsible tourism operator in the destination you are planing to visit. Such small initiative never get space on the first page !

Merry xmas and best wishes for your 2019 travel plans

Narendra Rana
Village Lata,
Joshimath, District Chamoli, 246443 India