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As I begin to write this article, the physical taxing of my brains begin to take its toll, because I have to go down memory lane – way back to the ninth grade during my schooling years; & this included looking for the essay I wrote after our trip to Goa, just about 2 hours from Bombay. I remember we had gone out there on a science or biological excursion in 1972 in the month of February, a ten day outing that was a part of our studies related to marine science; organized by the school I studied in at that time. Through the education ministry of the state of West Bengal, who worked out a package with the luxury resorts straddling the beaches of Goa for our biological holidays, we contributed our share of the spoils by paying our part of the cost…& merrily set out on our tour. We were a batch of 29 students from Gothalls Memorial School, based in Kurseong of Darjeeling district, in West Bengal. We boarded our train from Calcutta, the capital of this enterprising state in the subcontinent of India…& so began my first tryst with the green word called ‘ECOTOURISM’ & a thorough understanding of what this word actually meant…as I look back down the years, because till this day, I’ve dedicated approximately 20 years of the prime time in my lifetime to Nepal’s tourism sector; & have now begun to see, after all these years, the true meaning of ECOTOURISM, & what it should be, but is factually not…& so begins my story which took of on that moonlit night in the spring of February when the station master began to blow his whistle & wave his flag, signaling the take-off of the train we boarded from Howrah railway station in the mega city of Calcutta. My Eco story, read on:

I looked back down the years & imagined the scene then. We are sitting in the bright sunshine beside the swimming pool of our luxury resort, sipping our cola sodas. In front of me is the beach, reserved for the resort guests with motor boats for hire. Behind me is an 18 hole golf course, which was cleared from the native forest & is kept green from the hundreds of water sprinklers (imagine the amount of green forests destroyed to get this golf course going}. Around the hotel are familiar international restaurant chains & the same kind of shops that you see around home. I’ve seen some of the local folks around {the friendly goanese people} some of them sell handicrafts outside the hotel.

I bought a small wooden statue & after bargaining something like for half an hour, I paid only a quarter of the price for what the vendor was actually asking for. Pretty cheap, one would reckon! Is this your idea of paradise on earth or would you prefer something different?

These days, most of us try to live in an imaginary world where we seemingly try to minimum the damages we cause to our environment, we recycle our newspapers & bottles, we hop the local bus to get to work, we attempt to buy locally produced fruits & veggies & we stopped using aerosol sprays years ago. And then we want to take these attitudes on holidays with us; or so we imagine. This is why, perhaps, so many alternative forms of tourism are becoming more popular by the day all over the world.

So what is the real ECOTOURISM? Do we know its true meaning? Do we actually follow its preservation norms? How many trees were cut down for me to buy that wooden statue? Those statues were available in every shop found around the resorts near the beaches where we stayed. It’s obvious the trees were cut to shape those statues; were they cut legally? Was there a forestry rule where you cut one grow two??

Inadvertently, there are lots of names for these so called new forms of tourism: responsible tourism, alternative tourism, sustainable tourism, nature tourism, adventure tourism, educational tourism…& more, you could think of other names rampantly; but where is all this taking us? Do we have Ecotourism inspectors to monitor if this is all for real? Ecotourism probably involves a little of all the forms just mentioned. Everyone has a different definition but most people would agree that ECOTOURISM must:

Conserve the wildlife & culture of the area…RIGIDLY
Benefit the local people & involve the local community…PRACTICALLY
Be sustainable in the true sense of the WORD, that is make a profit without destroying natural resources
Provide the kind of experience & EVIDENCE that TOURISTS’ want to pay for

Now let’s look at the practical applications; for example, in a true Ecotourism project, a nature reserve allows a small number of tourists to visit its rare fauna & uses the money that is generated to continue with important conservation work. The local folks get jobs in the nature reserve as guides & wardens, but also have a voice in how the project develops. Tourists visiting the park stay in local houses with the local people, not in the luxury resorts I saw in Goa. In this way they experience the local culture & do not take away precious energy & water from the local community. They travel on foot, by a locally built boat {not motor boats) or by cycle or on an elephant’s back & in this way we have no pollution. Visitors soon realize they’ve enjoyed a special experience that they will remember for all of their lives.

The kind of tourism we just discussed can only involve a small number of people so this can be expensive, but you can apply the basic principles of Ecotourism wherever you go on holidays. Always keep in mind the fundamental rules that needs only the minimum of common sense to love the earth you live on; they are:+ Always be prepared. Learn something about the place you are going to visit. Get to know something about its culture & history. Learn a little of the native language, especially in the most required areas of ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘good morning’ & ‘this is so nice’. Don’t only think of your holiday as something to ‘blow your tops of over the hill to enjoy’, look at your holidays as also an opportunity to learn something.

+ Don’t waste natural resources. If the area you visit is facing water problems, don’t go for a double shower everyday. Remember the old adage: ‘leave nothing behind you except footprints & take nothing away accept photographs’. Take as much care as you can of the places you visit, just like you would do at your own home. Never buy souvenirs made from endangered animals or plants; this is one thing I learnt in Goa.

+ Buy local products whenever possible & pay a fair price for what you buy

+ Always remember that the word ‘ECO’ is a very fashionable word today & a lot of the holidays that are advertised as ‘ECOTOURISM’ are not really better than the traditional tourism that’s common place in all its conventional forms…just don’t go for the bait.

It’s only us as ‘individuals’ when we travel to realize what it takes to love & protect ‘Mother Earth’. Its really up to us only to make a wonderful thing called ‘ECOTOURISM’ happen the way it should be…& this can only come from within; an in-depth love for everything natural that preserves our earth the way GOD created it…because all things bright & beautiful, all creatures great & small, all things wise & wonderful…the good Lord made them all…let’s remember these words always when we plan to go out on holidays; we’ll enjoy it more perhaps.

By David Panchakoti
An ECO worker
For Encountersnepal