Tourists visiting Tinkitam in Sikkim indulge in a spot of organic farming Image Credit: Bhaichung Bhutia

The state of Sikkim is the world’s first organic state and this is a feather we all wear very proudly in our cap. The world might be waking up to the importance of organic farming only recently, but I come from a family of farmers who have been involved in organic farming for centuries now. Born in the lap of nature in the village of Tinkitam which is in South Sikkim, I have grown up playing with my friends in the cardamom and ginger fields, which is the largest cash crop produce of Tinkitam.

With stunning views of the Himalayas, the rains making the greens more verdant and people living a simple life, Tinkitam is a place that stands for peace and serenity. It is a place I will always call home.

The writer enjoys a bonfire alongwith visitors at his homestay Image Credit: Bhaichung Bhutia

Tinkitam is one of the few places in the world from where the Kanchenjunga is visible as the Sleeping Buddha and this view of the snow-clad mountain is so beautiful that I keep gaping at it, despite the fact that this is the view I have grown up with.

The village life, its culture and the surrounding beauty are things worth experiencing and savouring. That’s why we decided to develop agritourism here so that tourists who are genuinely interested to learn about nature and culture could stay in our villages and experience the simple life.

The best thing about agritourism is that it is different from commercial tourism and tourists who are aware about the ecosystem and wish to learn about indigenous arts and craft or about organic farming are the only ones who show genuine interest. Agritourism is also sustainable tourism because as a community, we work towards respecting the ecosystem and giving it our best.

We are calling this the Gurubas system where you learn from the gurus, the masters of all the knowledge handed down to them through generations. Be it organic farming or art and craft involving bamboo work, or learning age-old ayurvedic techniques from healers, it’s the gurus who share their knowledge with you. Right now, Tinkitam is a pilot project, but a lot of other villages in Sikkim are coming within the fold of the Gurubas system.

The best part is the whole village gets involved. So, while some convert their homes into homestays, others are working on the farm-to-table concept where they make fresh food using produce sourced from their farm and tourists even learn from them by prepping in the kitchen. Young boys and girls are also getting involved in the process, becoming your guide on that cherished forest hike, helping you with a spot of bird watching and letting you in on all the new flora and fauna.

Agritourism is about sharing knowledge. While villagers educate tourists about their culture and nature, they also learn from the tourists, leading to a healthy exchange of ideas and the common goal of sustaining the ecosystem.

What makes me happiest is the kind of enthusiasm I have seen among both young and old as we are working on this idea. A typical itinerary would include all the activities tourists can do; such as milking the cows, tending the chicken, growing cardamom, hiking to a hot spring or exploring the 8th century cave of Guru Padmasambhava, which has remained largely unexplored.

My home has three rooms and we encourage a family to book all together. There are also other homestays in the village that people can opt for. Parents can present a different holiday experience to their children, who would go back learning so much about nature and how to preserve and protect it.

When I am not busy elsewhere, I love to interact with tourists and join them on a hike. Point to note — keeping smartphones away on this trip would be a great idea.

The writer seen at an observation point at his homestay in Tinkitam, Sikkim Image Credit: Bhaichung Bhutia

Right now, we are working with the Association for Conservation and Tourism and wish to spread our concept of the Gurubas system and agritourism throughout Sikkim, Darjeeling (West Bengal), Nepal, Bhutan and even Bangladesh.

- As told to Amrita Mukherjee