For me, mindful travel isn’t just about getting off beat. There is no point in driving to or even through off beat destinations or just staying there for a night, clicking a couple of pictures of locals or rural life and then moving on to the next destination. With the selfie and Instagram, ‘need to be seen to have been there,’ travel culture, travel has become incredibly selfish and this needs to change. We need to think, not only about the impact the journey has on us, but also about the impact that we are having on the communities that we travel to.
Off beat doesn’t automatically mean sustainable or responsible travel, we need to think less about being voyeuristic and more about being immersive, be inquisitive, yes but also be respectful, remember that the communities being visited may also like to know more about you, it is a two way street. Also consider that these are people’s homes that you are visiting, how would you feel if someone trampled into your garden, stuck a camera in your face and then walked off? You would be incensed! So, why is it acceptable to behave like this yourselves when you are traveling? Think, are you being positively impactful and what impression are you leaving behind?
Take for example Pushkar Fair and the Raika community. The Pushkar Fair was originally a fair where the nomadic communities of India would come together to trade camels. 30+ years ago, a few tourists visited, overtime this became a big tourist attraction, predominantly for the photo opportunities but who there, actually gave a second thought to the Raika communities who were there to trade? They get a camera stuck in their face, no recompense and people move on to the next photo op. Tens if not hundreds of travel companies send thousands of tourists every year to this fair, but my question is, do any of them bother to arrange any meaningful interactions with the Raika, to learn about their lives, their hardships and the perils they face? Do any of them contribute to them in any way? The answer is no. Without the Raika there would be no fair and yet they do not benefit at all. The lifestyle of the Raika is in danger, camel numbers over the last 30 years have dwindled and loss of grazing rights have meant that sustaining their traditional way of life is in danger.
Because of this, we came up with a Raika Journey which was designed to be run by and for the Raika community. A small group of travellers spent 4N/5D living with this unique community. We learned about the camels, the medicinal plants they forage on, the benefits of camel milk, the gods that the Raika worship, what they eat, we spent a night camping out in the desert with them and spent a day with the ladies and children who are left behind for months at a time to discover how they cope. We had translators but not just for us, but so the Raika could also ask us questions about our lives, remember, this is a two way street. When before had these community had such an opportunity.
At the end of the journey we all left much more enriched for the experience and the money spent was directly donated to the Raika Camel Dairy in Sadri which is an initiative to help them to maintain their traditional ways.
I appreciate that this is an extreme example and not one that is available to everyone, but think, slow down, even in cities. Why rush through Jaipur or Cochin or Calcutta, tick off the main monuments and move on? Each of these destinations has so much to offer, a week could easily be spent in each one. Get to know more about the destination, shop at the local markets, ride in an auto, buy chai from the street chaiwala, try the street food. Basically, invest in the local communities, that way, you will have a more rewarding experience and the local people benefit not just the hotels and guides. Not to mention the ecological benefits of a hotel not having to change the linen every 1-2 days! As I always say, ‘Monuments provide the backdrop, but people create the experiences.’
Philippa Kaye, founder of Indian Experiences and Author of Escape to India has specialised in travel to India since 1998. She has spent thirteen years living in and extensively exploring India and has always advocated getting off the beaten track, even in the cities and is a firm advocator of, ‘Discovering India differently.
If you’d like to join a Raika journey, I’ll be leading a small group in 2024, contact me on email@example.com.