During my travels across India, I have seen first-hand the effects of overtourism, which has resulted in garbage clogging pristine beaches and mountainsides. Irresponsible travellers have wrought havoc in places known for their natural beauty. I remember being appalled by the sight of plastic bags and fruit juice containers carelessly tossed out of buses or cars in Sikkim whose people are so conscious of the importance of keeping their surroundings clean.
So, it was a pleasant surprise to read about the rise of undertourism and responsible tourism. The first is a conscious effort to avoid travel hotspots that are overrun by swarms of tourists, which threatens the fragile ecosystem. Even governments are getting into the act, with the US Forest Service regulating entry into natural attractions and limiting visitors.
Taking the idea of responsible tourism seriously, there are new groups of travellers who are choosing to embark on cleaning expeditions while exploring new destinations. They undertake cleaning treks to mountains and beaches
However, mindful of the revenue potential, many tourist destinations are trying a new tactic — positive redirection or recommending less crowded places and quieter seasons. By dispersing visitors, they hope to direct travellers to less-visited places and a more authentic experience.
Of course, there are still people out there who are just beginning to travel for the first time and want to see bucket-list destinations. However, one can avoid the crowds and long lines at entry points by opting to visit in the off-season when there are fewer people and one doesn’t have to jostle for space to get the best view of a natural wonder.
Responsible tourism has become the mantra of eco-conscious travellers who have experienced first-hand the disastrous effects of overtourism. I remember visiting what is supposed to be the cleanest village in Asia. It is Mawlynnong in the state of Meghalaya, where my mother was born. It was rather touristy but what upset us was the behaviour of tourists who carelessly discarded paper and plastic with little regard for the trouble taken to achieve the status that this village enjoyed.
Taking the idea of responsible tourism seriously, there are new groups of travellers who are choosing to embark on cleaning expeditions while exploring new destinations. They undertake cleaning treks to mountains and beaches. One such group has picked up around half a million kilos of plastic and non-biodegradable waste over a period of three years from Himachal Pradesh alone. Several groups opt to go to spots frequented by tourists because these are places which need help the most.
The jarring presence of trash in the background of selfies taken on a hill in Karnataka spurred the holiday-makers into positive action. What had started out as a fun trek ended in a trash-collecting undertaking. Another student from Nagpur enlisted the help of locals to clean up a beach while holidaying in Goa. Upset by the heaps of garbage left lying on the beach, he decided to do something about it.
Many of these responsible tourists pack garbage bags along with their clothes whenever they set out on a holiday. They are keen on making their treks meaningful and doing what they can to make the world a cleaner place, literally leaving only their footprint behind.
These trips are meticulously planned through social media, with the route determined beforehand as well as the duration and budget for the working holiday. A point for waste segregation is decided on earlier. On the mountains, lighter waste is carried down by the volunteers themselves while heavier waste is loaded on mules to be carried down.
In Nepal, the volunteers even took the trouble of disposing of the trash responsibly, at waste disposal centres set up by the government.
What is so uplifting is the fact that these eco-warriors are young people who are not just aware of the importance of preserving our planet but willing to go the extra mile to do something about it.
— Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.