Alternative or alternate Tourism is primarily meant for encouraging the dependency and the interaction between tourists and the native ecology of the place including local human civilisation, the flora and the fauna of the place. Also quite famously known as responsible ecotourism, the concept of alternate tourism is in sharp contrast to mass consumerism. This form of tourism helps build a stronger bond between the traveller and the environment by proactive participation in the preservation and revival of the local ecology and social communities around the place and focuses on well-planned strategies to undo the adverse effects of commercialisation and mass tourism.
Alternate tourism is one of the rapidly growing segments of tourism worldwide. Now it is growing at a rate of 10-15%. In the heart of India, Surwahi Social Kanha, also called SSK is an upcoming home-stay project at the Paraswada Tehsil of Madhya Pradesh that aims at setting an example – a precedent of sustainable and minimalism tourism. One of the biggest features about this upcoming project is that it is lies near the one of India’s premier National Park and Project Tiger Reserve – the Kanha National Park. One of the main entry gates of The Park and its buffer zones, the Khatiya gate is about 18-20 km from the Surwahi Social site making it an ideal accommodation option for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts to book for their stays. Not only that, the Banjar River, one of the major tributaries of River Narmada and the lifeline of Kanha, flows-by at walking distance from the homestay. The property is also one-of-its-kind amidst the wildlife habitat and dense vegetation that is aimed at providing universal accessibility to not only young and the old, but also to senior citizens and the disabled. [Also Read: Indian Food to Carry While Traveling With Kids]
The ecological neighbourhood of the place is what gives this property a distinctive upper hand in the authentic practice of alternate tourism in this region of the country. The promoters have hence chalked out a well-thought-out model of eco-friendly community ecotourism with the option of adding on more with passing years.
The four aspects or pillars of alternative tourism that is being ensured at Surwahi Social can be summarized as –
- Environmental Sustainability – The sustainability of the environment is about working responsibly and consciously to reduce the degradation of forests and other natural resources. At Surwahi Social, the principles of ecotourism will be practiced at all levels. For example, the Unmanaged Area of the property is being made to blend with the natural essence of Kanha. Far-reaching reforestation activities and rainwater harvesting have been planned for now and for the future while the construction of the property is being done with minimalism in mind.
- Community Empowerment – involves focussed and pre-empted ways to enable the native community to improve their way of living, both economically and physiologically. The upcoming homestay of Surwahi Social aims at empowering the local Gond and Baiga tribes to take charge and control of their livelihood and quality of living. From showcasing local arts to the world through the digital medium to encouraging visitors to participate in community development related works, the objective is to give back to the indigenous tribes what they have lost out on following years of displacement from their roots in the forest.
- Minimalism – the approach here is to reduce the consumption of products and services that negatively impact the environment around. From using local construction materials to using kitchen waste and solar energy for facilitating modern-day amenities, Surwahi Social intends to lead by example on alternate tourism.
- Holistic Wellbeing – has been practised in India since pre-historic times through Yoga and Ayurveda. At Surwahi Social all attempts are being made to rejuvenate the body and the soul. Starting from natural walks amidst pollution-free thick vegetation and along the riverside to herbal baths to consuming organic food, all efforts are being made for visitors to achieve overall wellbeing during their stay here. Peace of mind and bringing mind, body, and soul into sync is the basis of holistic healing proposed by Surwahi Social. In today’s modern lifestyle, it has gained a lot of significance as stress levels are increasing by the day. People are looking for instant gratification, fiercely competing to stay ahead in the race, multitasking brains and juggling with non-stop interconnected thoughts slaved by the digital economy. Surwahi Social aims to bring joys of existence in this beautiful world with nature as meditative healing platform, inculcating compassion for the inclusive environment around us, soaking in bliss with a meaningful contribution towards the local community and leaving with positive convictions that world can be a better place despite water, air, chemical and unsustainable constructions.
Green Tourism Concepts
Here are key and novel green tourism concepts that the homestay is aiming to open the doors to for its guests to experience and discover, as it goes live in the next couple of months: –
The homestay is spread over an area of 10.5 acres of land with a maximum effort centred on keeping the virgin tree area as it is. In fact, many medicinal and flowering herb, shrub and tree species have been added while some native flora are also being nurtured naturally – the ones that were prey to deforestation.
The landmass has been divided categorically into Managed and Unmanaged Areas. The former area is maintained as per required maintenance rules and guidelines while the latter is untouched to keep intact the raw and minimalism look and feel of the forest.
Plans include adding natural sit-out benches along the periphery of trees, shared DIY kitchens, an open-air amphitheatre, a dormitory and many more such structures in an endeavour to keep the construction as simplistic and natural as possible. [How to Arrive Kanha Tiger Reserve, National Park?]
Locally available materials like kiln, rocks and eco-friendly construction techniques are being used for construction. The topology is marked by manmade wells and ponds. An earmarked area for kids and elders is being created called the Play Area where it is proposed to recycle waste materials extensively – things like rubber tyres and other trash items. The management proposes to add a projector mounted to wall for screening presentations and films on wildlife soon. There are plans for a 3D/4D indoor theatre in the future that would be used for showcasing the biodiversity of the place. Walls of the homestay are being adorned with tribal graffiti, local paintings and frescos.
Use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides is a strict no-no in the property. Own vegetable garden and have plans for in-house farming of grains and fruits in the future. Finger millets like Ragi and Mandua, Little millet and Kodo will be procured locally. [Shortest Route to Reach Kanha National Park Gate]Plans are also there for production of in-house dairy products and implementing fishing in the artificial water bodies within and adjoining the property. Practice of reforestation and rainwater harvesting initiatives are ongoing. Few of the initiatives are listed here.
- Volunteer for community empowerment work
- Kids can engage with local kids at different levels. Teaching and educating rural kids to play games with them; take them along for a jungle safari or educating them on basic etiquettes, there are various voluntary activities lined up. Adults can work on different conservation-related awareness camps and sessions. Interested tourists can also contribute to community empowerment work and activities like farming, participating in local Panchayat surveys or forest development projects etc.
- Involvement with the local potter community – the Baiga and the Gond tribals – from the nearby Boda village for re-igniting of the Limestone Kiln where guests can indulge in the making of clay pottery with their own hands. They can carry back their made utensils as souvenirs.
- A specially created Surwahi Social Self-Help Group called “Deetya Jagriti Mahila Swayam Sahayata Samuh” for community development work is already in action.
- Promoting local art by encouraging tourists to visit to the local village Haats. Initiatives to sell online such works of art is also planned to boost local income.
Energy Conservation Activities
Use of bullock carts and bicycles will be promoted for fitness and environment. In the longer-term use of e-bikes and e-cars is on cards for to and fro transfers of guests. Exhaustive use of solar energy will also be a goal in the home-stay and coliving dormitory premises. A 3KW solar panel is already installed to run a solar water pump. Use of kitchen waste for the production of energy is planned for the near future. This form of biogas will help in cooking and boiling water. Kitchen waste is also being used as natural manure for the vegetable garden.
Water Conservation Activities
Artificial pond and water bodies within home-stay premises to be developed for fishing, swimming and naturopathy treatments like mud bath. Groundwater recharge system is in place. A stop Dam has been constructed in the adjoining area with wells bored deeper and artificial ponds created within the SSK premises.
Physical Activities for Tourists
- Camping on the river beach or tents within the premises of SSK. Perfect stargazing and sky watching activities. A special watch Tower providing panoramic views of the river and the nearby buffer area.
- Promoting local tourism with planned visits to the Waterfall nearby, the Gangulpara Dam and more.
- Crossing Banjar River.
- Walking through the village trail.
- Revisiting childhood days with tree climbing and in-house rope rides.
- Outdoor activities like volleyball, football, swimming and cricket nets.
- Nature walks options in the forested area.
- Participating in community empowerment work.
- Assisting in the farming of local produce and other community development activities.
- Propagation of the benefits of herbal baths and Japanese forest bathing
The Surwahi Social Kanha homestay is expected to open its doors to guests with a proposed soft launch around the Indian festival of Deepawali also called the festival of light this year.