What is Eco-tourism?

Eco-tourism is tourism that allows us to appreciate nature in its barest form while valuing the importance of conservation, with the least amount of impact on our surroundings. This term now has many additions to make it all the more diverse, where eco-tourism is the main umbrella with inlets of other forms of travels that allows visitors to enjoy the local culture, nature and wildlife while being eco-friendly. With the increasing need to protect the cultures and traditions of local indigenous communities.

Ecotourism is also about Responsible Travel. The latter is about an attitude and a set of behaviour that brings about a win-win situation for the tourist, the destination, the community and the environment. It is the inherent sense of responsibility we feel while visiting a site by posing the least amount of impact on a site and be as eco-friendly and respectful towards the locals as we can.

Why Responsible Tourism?

The Sundarbans mangrove Forest is not only the largest mangrove forest in the world, but a network of rivers, canals and creeks that meander through the spiky Mangrove halophytes, home to some of the most exotic and endangered species in the world. These features call for an intrinsic sense of responsibility displayed by tourists visiting an ecologically sensitive zone like the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest, where their visit causes the least amount of impact, paving the way for Sustainable tourism.

 Eco-tourism is all about our behavior and sense of decorum while visiting a site that is either ecologically sensitive or has communities living within of an ethnic origin or are a minority group. It is about how we try to minimize the impact of our visit by:

a)   Being respectful towards wildlife, the locals living around and area and the site itself by making as less noise as possible

b)   Not littering while we are visitng and ensuring no extra rubbish is added because of us

c)   Not plucking or tearing off leaves and branches from the resident trees

d)   Buying only local products so as to avoid adding any wastage from our stock but more importantly, contributing to the local economy

e)   Not disturbing the wildlife or feeding them and trying to draw them out of their homes.

f)   Eating only that which is served and not asking for food which will be hard to find or needs to be especially hunted

What is Cultural Eco-tourism

Cultural Eco-tourism is the preservation of cultural norms and traditions of a community living in the vicinity of a fragile eco-system where respecting and valuing the ways of living of these communities, is an extension of a tourist’s overall experience. The Artists, performers, cuisine and everyday religious rituals, all bundle up to form a unique package that deserves to be preserved and Cultural Eco-tourism is the latest thread in the world of tourism that allows us to experience this heady mix of culture and nature.

Cultural eco-tourism looks at how the local culture of a site can be the main focus and draw in visitors who can enjoy a taste of local norms, traditions and cuisine set against the backdrop of an ecologically diverse area.

Below is a checklist to discern whether you really are a cultural eco-tourism traveler or not:

Appreciate culture and heritage?
When you travel you also seek to deepen your understanding of the culture of the people as seen and felt in the tangible and intangible aspects of their heritage. You find meaning in the way human culture and nature are interwoven and connected. You appreciate local food (no matter how strange, weird and different they may appear to be), dances, songs, rituals, practices and beliefs. You are constantly in awe of how people’s lives are deeply connected to nature.

Follow rules and regulations and understand the reasons for them?
You understand that tourists can be destructive and can leave negative impacts in the places they visit. You appreciate and understand that rules are important in making sure that people behave responsibly in order to minimize these impacts.

Willingly pay a premium for life changing experiences?
You understand that community members who are engaged in tourism are just like you, making a living in order to provide for their families. You appreciate that they are working hard to provide you with best service that they can given their limitations in resources, training and knowledge. You know that every cent that you spend while on the site will provide an economic incentive for the local residents to conserve the natural environment. You fully understand the concept of inclusive growth such that you are even willing to pay more for a life-changing experience.

Behave responsibly especially in protected areas?
You do not collect wildlife for souvenirs, leave graffiti behind, do not create bonfires if it is not allowed, hire guides if it is required, practice “Garbage in-garbage out” and makes sure that you do not leave your trash behind. You also understand that it is better not to use disposable containers for packed lunches and food when you travel because this practice adds to the garbage problem.

Value the places you visit?
You feel proud to have visited the site and wish others to experience it too but with a sense of responsibility and care. You know that the place is valuable not only as an attraction that is pleasing to the senses, but it is also valuable ecologically and economically, especially for the community that is engaged in ecotourism enterprises. You now have a sense of stewardship and appreciates the reason why community-based tourism is being implemented on site. You feel that you are now a partner towards the cause and you are willing to promote the same principles to other people.

Sustainable Tourism:

All forms of tourism development, management and activity, which maintain the environmental, social and economic integrity and well being of natural, built and cultural resources in perpetuity.

Who are the Traditional Resource Users (TRUs)?

The forest dwellers comprise of communities that have been living off the resources of the forest for centuries now. But due to its ecologically significant value and being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest can no longer provide for these people. The Mandas are a Hindu community whose populations are now dwindling; Moualis are the honey collectors who brave the Bengal Tiger and other threats to extract honey, smoking the bees out with Tiger Ferns (Acrostichum sp) and Hental (Phoenix paludosa) leaves. The Moualis are given permits and extract honey in a sustainable manner. The jele or the fisherfolk follow the moods of the tidal surge and try their luck at catching fish using nets, while the Tarjalifishermen use otters to help them catch fish, which itself is a extraordinary fishing technique! The Bawalis are the wood cutters who are yet another community that have shifted to alternative sources of income or moved away, along with the Jongra Khota of the shell collectors of the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest. These communities are either still living along the forest boundaries or have mingled with the other communities and constitute a diverse group of people, who guard the secrets o the elusive Sundarbans.