Locomotoring

Seven continents, seven seas, seven billion people and seven thousand good eats …

India’s village tourism

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Recently New York Times published an article on village tourism in India – “Villagers in India Open Their Homes“. Author of this article stayed for three days at a small village called Samthar near Darjeeling, the tea hills of West Bengal.

This is distinct from staying a night at a village as part of an adventure trip. In this case the principal activity for guests at village homestays is observing and joining in the humdrum rhythms of village life. While a local government official was quoted saying that one has to stay for at least 3 months to enjoy and understand the villages, 3 days is a small beginning.

A small beginning to what? That is what I am pondering over.

Surely it is not about the art of using squat toilets or bathing with a bucket of water or eating simple vegetarian meals or learning to pump a kerosene stove. Most of us who have grown up in “developing countries” have spent some days or months or even years of our lives doing exactly that. Ditto for the veteran campers of the “developed” countries. So that really leaves us with observing and participating in the humdrum of everyday life in the villages and hopefully, enjoying the natural beauty of some of these off the beaten track places.

Makeshift Buddhist prayer wheels in Sumur

Makeshift Buddhist prayer wheels

Some of the most beautiful things are indeed found in middle of nowhere. I found Himalayan splendor in Lamayuru, a poor Himalayan village. But what is so exciting about washing dishes, chopping vegetables,  or composting? Not much really. But by observing a truly threadbare lifestyle, maybe we learn to do with a little less. I know that sounds very anti-American where the economy is based on “more, more, and even more”, but maybe “less” is pro-earth.

For me, Bengal villages conjure up images from Ray’s Apur Sansar – doe eyed village women, ponds surrounded with bamboo and banana shoots, thong slippers spattering mud on clothes on dirt paths through hills and farm lands, womenfolk planting paddy in waterlogged fields, kids flying kites…. Even with his poetic depiction of village life, one couldn’t overlook the mud homes that get washed away during heavy monsoons, thin fermented rice water as a meal, child marriages, not to mention the absence of healthcare, education, electricity, drinking water…The sad part is, things haven’t changed much in some of these villages.

View from Lamayuru monastery

View from Lamayuru monastery

What I am really hoping for however is not what they can do for us, but what we can do for them. And I don’t mean the meager payments guests of this program are bringing to villages. Maybe by interacting with outsiders, villagers get a glimpse of a world beyond and this will be their leap forward. You know, something like “Seeing is believing, believing is wanting and wanting is the first step to getting it.”

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Written by Som

March 11, 2009 at 8:47 pm

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