The Indian subcontinent, stretching from the snow-capped Himalayas in the north to the white sandy coves of Kanyakumari in the south, is one of world’s most popular destinations for travellers in search of diverse experiences. After all, South Asian countries have a distinct energy that combines the spiritual, natural, cultural and human.
The pace of life in South Asia, particularly some of the larger cities, can seem chaotic and disorienting, sometimes even overwhelming to newcomers. While this feeling is usually assuaged after a short period of acclimation, many people still prefer to plan a visit in advance, thereby minimising the sense of first-arrival confusion and dislocation. Fortunately, these people are finding recourse in the growing number of businesses offering their services online.
The Green Circuit Sprouts to Life
Relatively new to the scene is the Green Circuit, “a unique collective of operators dedicated to ethical and sustainable tourism at a grassroots level.” The Green Circuit, launched in February 2009, is “an ecotourism loop that circles the Indian subcontinent” and sees five locally-based service providers collaborating to enable access to a wide range of experiences in locations at all points of the compass – a genuine reflection of the variety of geography, climate, people and culture captive in this corner of the world, as well as an enduring testament to the power of small operators working together “to further develop, share and promote responsible tourism in the region.”
Initiated by Social Tours, an active member of the Fringe Travel Network and one of the leading lights in Nepali responsible tourism, the Green Circuit has gathered considerable steam throughout its first year.
“The idea was always there years ago to start some sort of a networking relationship at the regional level for responsible tourism,” commented Vishwaraj Gyawali, founder and director of Social Tours. “On the other side, there was a growing movement in the West not to fly. I personally think that this is just a fad. In the west there are far bigger issues related to emissions than flights, but if the market is moving in a particular direction, we need to adapt. This meant that people would reduce their long haul travels. Hence, it was imperative to offer ground solutions that minimized travel by air.”
The Green Circuit Partners
Officially launched in mid-November by Fiona Jeffery, Chairman of the World Travel Market and Just a Drop, the Green Circuit alliance is completed by Grass Routes, Ecosphere Spiti, The Blue Yonder and Help Tourism. Each company “lives, breathes and works in the very same communities they conduct their tours,” thus turning their hard-earned local expertise to the benefit of travellers and their communities.
Social Tours, founded in 2002 and based in Kathmandu, covers the Nepali Himalaya leg of the circuit. Travellers are invited to participate in a 17-day tour of the region, taking in Lumbini, Kathmandu, the sights along the Tamang Heritage Trail of the Langtang Region and finally Chitwan National Park.
Grass Routes, based in Orissa, opens up the east of India through its 15-day package. Kolkata, Puri and the brackish waters of Chilika Lake and the Eastern Ghats are all on the itinerary. The company – founded by Claire Prest and Pulak Mohanty – aims to give customers a real insight into the workings of rural India and abides by a comprehensive list of values intended to codify its ethical practices.
Ecosphere Spiti is run by a team that works closely with the native Spiti people of the Northern Himalayas. Its stated mission is to promote awareness of the ecological and cultural issues faced by its people by opening their home valley to outsiders. Exposing visitors to the awesome kaleidoscope of Spitian culture on an 11-day experience is in full embrace of the tenets of responsible tourism.
The Blue Yonder is headquartered in Bangalore and covers the south of India for the Green Circuit. Its 14-day itinerary delves into the boundaryless Malabar region and includes the waterways of Alappuzha, the folk traditions of the people of the Nila River, the fauna of the Wayanad district and the beaches of Kannur. As part of its wider focus, the company covers several other parts of the country, but its number one priority is on the promotion of responsible practice.
Help Tourism handles the Eastern Himalayas and has a pronounced focus on conservation. The region has been listed as one of top eight biodiversity hotspots in the world. While its 22-day leg of the circuit does contain a healthy dose of wildlife (and is named after the native red panda and elephants), Help Tourism also goes to great lengths to provide insight into the lives of people living in this Sikkim region that stretches from the Darjeeling tea plantations to the dense jungles of Manas National Park.
Beneficial Common Cause
In an industry often characterised by competition, it’s genuinely refreshing to see a group of local businesses recognising the commonality of their causes and working together to improve the experience they’re able to offer to travellers.
The key benefit is “a link into a circle of trust, and into products run by companies that offer excellent value-added services,” adds Gyawali. “The trust is transferred from the company to the traveller and this essentially is the best sort of promotion that can ever happen.”
Looking to the future, there are plans to extend the network, but as Gyawali notes, the process takes time. “Eventually, yes. However at this point, we are practicing, working out the logistics of different companies coming together. Once these things are ironed out, we will spread the initiative to other parts of the region for sure!”