Indigenous and Local Is The Way Ahead

Indigenous and Local Is The Way Ahead
The Heritage Bungalow at Wild Mahseer, Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wild Mahseer

This is the second part of our series on eco stays which explores the importance of local resources and community involvement in their post COVID-19 plans. We spoke to Rudy Marak who supports the business development and marketing team at the Eastern Himalayan Botanic Ark in residence at Wild Mahseer, Assam and Ratika S. Ramchandran, co-owner and director of Svasara Jungle Lodge, Tadoba

OT Staff
May 27 , 2020
04 Min Read

"Wild Mahseer is a social enterprise located within the green boundaries of the Eastern Himalayan Botanic Ark. The vision of the enterprise has always been in line with establishing a bond with the indigenous people, their traditions, and traditional knowledge based on ecology, food, culture and heritage. It is an estate which has been transformed not only to restore the heritage and the history that comes along with it but also to promote the communities through homestays located in and around - namely the Mishing, Nyishi, Assamese, Bengali, Nepali, Bodo and Garo communities. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our team members have been actively carrying out orientation on health and hygiene practices such as maintaining physical distancing, washing hands regularly, disinfecting rooms and surroundings accordingly.

The verandah of the heritage bungalow at Wild Mahseer

During this period, once the area was declared a ‘green zone’, we had started training programmes amongst local youth, dependence of tea garden workers on the basics of being nature tour guides (identification of plants, birds and explaining the basic ecosystem services of nature). Our staff is also visiting their homes to impart training on health, safety and wellness to their family members and distribution of masks, sanitisers and soaps. In addition, we helped our kitchen staff, mainly belonging to indigenous communities, by engaging them in online dissemination of cooking classes through our official social media platforms. Post the lockdown, our team continued working towards engaging the youth of these communities by providing them with modified training alternatives in the hospitality sector which also includes proper inspection of food and beverage, management, housekeeping and maintenance, public relations, marketing, and landscaping.

Community homestays, traditional activities and ethnic meals will become important aspects of immersive tourism. There may be smaller groups of young tourists travelling while being concerned about their safety and well-being. We will continue encouraging our guests to explore rural life and enhance their experiences, rejuvenating themselves both physically and mentally. Wild Mahseer as a social enterprise also realised that guests would often long for both luxury and adventure furthering the cause to create a homestay model  which would help the communities generate a livelihood besides agroforestry practices, agriculture or for that matter, migrating to the nearest town or city looking for ‘better opportunities’.  In this endeavour, Wild Mahseer has had a team of visionaries who dared to take risks not only in terms of generating money for the estate but also incorporating the idea of compassion and social justice. Our endeavours address many critical and timely issues identified as some of the world’s most pressing problems such as poverty, unemployment, skill development for the coming generations - allowing the idea of social impact to be validated."
Rudy Marak  

READ: Going Local - The Post-Lockdown Roadmap for Eco Stays India

"As a conservation-focused lodge, our commitment to the eco-sphere we belong to has always inherently encompassed a commitment to our local community. This is evident in all facets of our being, whether it is our local team that constitutes more than 80% of our service roles, the local artisans and farmers we support by procuring our daily groceries and bamboo crafts from them, or whether it is through cultural exchanges between the community and our guests.

The challenge with COVID-19 is how to sustain all our commitments as, currently, everything is economically dependent on tourism. A positive reflection in our years of existence has been the assistance we have provided to the rural economy through a new source of income – tourism. It now feels that we must also embrace responsibility of furthering diversity in local livelihood options, so that it is not solely dependent on visitors/tourists. 

The evening lantern preparations at Svasara Jungle Lodge

So we are planning to increase our engagement in supporting additional livelihood programmes, improving healthcare infrastructure, and providing workshops on financial planning for the community.

With regards to the pressing need for food and hygiene in the community, we initiated a compassion corpus to which we invited our regular guests to come forward in support of the community they are deeply fond of - like the forest guides and jeep drivers. The response was overwhelming, and it has already enabled us to support over 600 families at Tadoba for the next three months. Post the lockdown, we are considering evolving the initiative into a community kitchen, where our team (with access to hygiene infrastructure) can serve meals to the community in need. Our logo depicts the Tree of Life – a constant reminder to us that all life on earth is interdependent. That's going to be our driving principle in the years ahead. "

Ratika S. Ramchandran 


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