Why offbeat travel is not the same as responsible travel

The offbeat travel destinations of yesteryear are the popular tourist spots today, as today’s offbeat travel locations will be tomorrow.


The offbeat locations of yesteryear are the popular tourist destinations today, as today’s offbeat locations will be tomorrow. Deeptangan Pant writes why offbeat travel does not necessarily translate to responsible travel.

As a trekker I was enamored by the tales of foolhardy mountaineers pitting themselves against the mighty mountains in search of adventure and glory. I religiously devoured any book remotely associated with mountaineering and trekking, vicariously living their journeys and struggles.

Pic: Bangalore Ascenders in Brahmagiri, Karnataka

One such book is ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer which describes the events which unfolded on Mount Everest on 10-11 May 1996. Nine people were caught in a storm on the summit day and died before they could return to the safety of their camps. This incident, where guides made questionable decision to place more clients on the top, brought into the spotlight a new trend in mountaineering- commercial expeditions, where average climbers paid hefty sums of money to experienced mountaineers in lieu of a summit bid.

In September 2010 heavy rains lashed the state of Uttarakhand causing massive landslides, mud slides and cloud bursts inflicting severe damage to human life and property. The travel blogs exhorted trekkers to head to Himachal, instead. In the quest for the perfect travel experience, travelers overlooked the human tragedy as it did not comply with the traveler’s expectations and worldview where all offbeat locations epitomize beauty and happiness.

Recently, Jungle Resorts in the Bandipur and Nagarhole Tiger Reserves were accused of colluding with the forest guards to facilitate tiger sightings for their guests. Traveling, a luxury in the years gone by has transformed itself into a welcome respite for the new generation of corporate workers. The benefits of traveling have taken more center stage in recent times but I’ve been troubled by certain aspects of travel which are discussed in hushed voices on travel forums.

Sathish Ramaswamy and Niranjan Kumar organize hikes for the Bangalore based adventure group, Bangalore Ascenders (BASC). A non-profit organization, it has been instrumental in inspiring thousands of people to take up trekking and cycling in the Western Ghats and the Himalayas. Both accept that the number of people trekking the Ghats has increased significantly thus pressuring the ecosystem, but awareness and strict implementation of rules like no littering, discouraging use of chemicals and respect for the animals has ensured responsible trekking. They also assert that although some may take up trekking to follow a trend to get to the top, most view it as an opportunity to connect with nature where the journey is more important than the race to the top.

Rajesh Nayak at Pangong Tso, Laddakh. Pic: SD Vinod Kumar

While groups endorsing travel are flourishing today, independent travelers are also pushing their boundaries to promote travel. In the past 2.5 years, cycling has taken Rajesh Nayak from the Nilgiris to the Western Ghats. He feels that a healthy competition is beneficial to the sport but enthusiasts should adhere to the spirit of sportsmanship. Another trend he observes is that people often head to far off destinations to experience the joy nature has to offer  and totally ignore the wonders closer to home. He said, “With readily accessible information today, we are in a perpetual state of planning the next trip rather than soaking in the experiences and lessons of the last one”.

As youngsters in awe of the Himalayas, Sanjay Jangid and Shreshth Mohan established Snowpeak Adventures while pursuing their undergraduate studies in IIT Roorkee and organized budget treks in the Uttarakhand Himalayas. Both felt that commercial expeditions provide the necessary platform for interested individuals inept in organizing self-supported treks but the concerned organization should bear the responsibility of educating their clients in acceptable etiquettes while trekking. They recognize that with the advent of social media the tendency to share travel experiences has increased manifold, but indulging in travel just to flaunt or gain recognition can defeat the whole purpose of travel.

Himnit Sidhu represents the new generation of Indian travelers who are looking beyond the bustling hill stations, clichéd beaches and crowded historical monuments. She accepts that with the increased income and exposure travel has compounded over the years but sadly it has not translated to responsible travel. On the existence of travel snobbery she comments, “Such is the society that we have created that we leave nothing to be enjoyed in its entirety. Everything has or becomes a point of gaining comparative gratification.Anything which makes you feel and think of yourself as a ‘better’ person than the one in front”, he quips.

Travel communities maybe the new socializing hangouts where like minded individuals discuss topics related to the nuances of traveling but this gives birth to cliques, based on the travel choices one makes, which maybe unwelcoming to the newcomer. Vivek Negi, an independent traveler, who has completed the Basic Mountaineering Course from HMI in Darjeeling, says “Travel sometimes shows symptoms of a herd mentality, a rat race where social media spurns people to keep up with the Joneses”. Cliques might be promoting friction in the traveling community, which in turn hampers essential co-ordination for attaining the ultimate goal of responsible travel.

Veer Garh. Pic: India Untravelled / Creative Commons

Offbeat travel does not automatically translate to responsible travel; climbers worship the mountains and yet they have contributed in polluting the very mountains they love. Offbeat travel is often used interchangeably with responsible travel, which is fallacious as it perpetuates complacency and a disregard for the challenges ahead!

The offbeat locations of yesteryear are the popular tourist destinations today, as today’s offbeat locations will be tomorrow. It is ironical as the travelers who try to preserve the sanctity of these locations end up making them popular, and with the popularity comes the businesses and the establishments.

Today offbeat travel is promoted by patrons who vociferously advocate responsible travel. But will these virtues be valued once businesses whose main concern is profit ride the bandwagon, only time will tell.

Pic Source: India Untravelled / CC Attribution license

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An engineer by profession, Deeptangan likes to explore India, meet its people, savour its cuisines, climb its mountains and sail down its rivers. Born and brought up in the shadow of the Great Himalayas, he reveres the mighty mountains as the temples where I have been educated. When not writing code, he is trekking in the Himalayas and the Western Ghats, writing, reading books and enjoying mu... more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An engineer by profession, Deeptangan likes to explore India, meet its people, savour its cuisines, climb its mountains and sail down its rivers. Born and brought up in the shadow of the Great Himalayas, he reveres the mighty mountains as the temples where I have been educated. When not writing code, he is trekking in the Himalayas and the Western Ghats, writing, reading books and enjoying mu... more

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  • Rony Mikal

    If you are true trekker and searching for adventure and glory for sure you should travel to Himachal there you can see thrilling mountains which gives you real adventure of trekking.