Sustainable tourism: travelling light and respecting cultures

Every destination has something special. Be it a desert, mountain, forest, village or even a city. In particular, places where man has not disturbed the environment are a distinct treasure as nature paints the landscape in various colours, forming a subtle expression which is very beautiful.

Author RESET , 03.05.13

Every destination has something special. Be it a desert, mountain, forest, village or even a city. In particular, places where man has not disturbed the environment are a distinct treasure as nature paints the landscape in various colours, forming a subtle expression which is very beautiful. Cities are no less treasured as tourist destinations but no matter if you stay on the well-travelled path or not, you need to be mindful of your impact on the local environment.

For centuries, travelling in India was about pilgrimage. Holy trips were (and still are) given great emphasis in every individual’s life. All these places of pilgrimmage were linked for the purpose of national integration. When people travelled to different parts of the country they would also carry along trade, language, dances and art along, leading to an exchange of culture, ideas, technology and economy.

Today, travel in India and overseas has broadened somewhat though these ideas of exchanging cultural ideas and language still run hot. It is still as important as ever to listen to the locals when it comes to exploring and protecting your destination. Below, we offer some basic tips for ensuring your trip is a positive experience for you and the people living in your destination.

Getting around

At home, you may travel by car, bike or public transport. In very general terms, these means of transport can also be found in many other parts of the world, though it goes without saying that travelling by car isn’t the most sustainable means of getting around. Taking public transport is a greener mode of transport but spending a large chunk of your trip in a subway means you miss out on so much of what’s happening on the streets.  Renting a bicycle or simply walking are the best ways to soak up the atmosphere of your destination and they have minimal impact on the environment.

Some places offer other forms of transport such as electrified or man-driven rickshaws which are also eco-friendly alternatives to gas-dependent motorised forms of transport. Modes of transport involving animals (such as elephants, horses and yaks) are sometimes provided as a tourist attraction in some destinations. It is always worth researching the reputation of these transport operators to ensure that no abuse is inflicted upon the animals involved.


According to ancient Indian scriptures, every place has the medicines (medicinal plants) for diseases/health problems that may arise in a specific location. The same can be said of a region’s food. Food is of great importance and reflects not only the geographic inimitability of a place but also the culture.

When travelling, opt for local food. Not just a great way to experience a local culture, eating local food minimises your meal’s impact on the environment. Attempting to stick to your regular “at home” diet will mean obtaining ingredients that may have been imported, adding unnecessary transport costs to your meal and potentially harming the environment.

Adopting local meal customs can also help reduce your impact on the environment. A fine example is that of the banana leaves. Huge banana leaves are thoroughly washed and cut into appropriate sizes to be used as a plate. In this case, the food is brought to person eating and is served in the leaf. Banana leaf plates pose litle threat to the environment as they are extremely durable, bio-degradable and compostable.


The ‘Chatras’ or ‘Satrams’ dotted throughout the country offer a viable option for affordable accommodation that doesn’t have a huge negative impact on the environment. These types of accommodation are maintained by individuals, committees or bodies elected by public. This is a concept where people pool together money as a donation and contribute to the construction of these buildings. The centres are affordable and have been in operation for hundreds of years.

Generally people belonging to the same communities tend to contribute and get these built all across the country so that they as a community can feel secure in any place. The food and other arrangements are also made according to the community needs and way of living.

If you are opting for more conventional forms of accommodation, check to see if your preferred options offer any of the following:

  • renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or hydro
  • rainwater harvesting
  • meals featuring locally-sourced ingredients
  • central location (which would cut your need to rely on motorized forms of transport for getting around)
  • recycling of waste

Another alternative is to check out opportunities available on organic farms in your destination. Package deals vary from place to place, but generally accommodation and sometimes meals are offered on these farms in exchange for volunteer contributions. Check out the dedicated website for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

Ask for tips

Hospitality is an integral part of Indian culture. In India a guest is known as “Athithi” (Thithi means date) which means one who doesn’t check the date or time and is expected any time. There is a common local saying which goes “Athithi Devo Bhava” meaning “A Guest is God”.

Meeting and interacting with new people exposes us to new dimensions. Different people have different points of view. When we share our travel with other tourists or ask natives for advice, the exchange broadens horizons and helps provide deeper insight into a destination. As they say, experience is the best teacher.

Author: Abhishek Jagini, RESET editorial. Follow Abhishek Jagini on Twitter: @AbhishekJagini

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