I have always been a staunch supporter of traveling responsibly. I am not an expert in this field but in my own personal capacity, I do my bit. I try to keep the environment clean, carry my own refillable water bottle, use public transport, support local community and propagate the idea through my blog and social media.
But, there are times when traveling responsibly is not about these little challenges. Instead, it's about choices and decision-making.
Last month, I was traveling through Rajasthan. I stayed in Jodhpur for a week and planned to visit the Bishnoi tribe in one of those days. Those who have spent time in Jodhpur would know how popular these Bishnoi Village Safaris are. These are 4-5 hour guided tour through the Khejarli village, at a short distance from Jodhpur, to meet the local Bishnoi people. Bishnois are well known for their crusade in preserving trees and wildlife. A typical safari also includes meeting some local artisans, food in a local home and maybe even a chance to buy some local handicraft. On one hand, I wanted to support the rural tourism, while on the other, I did not want to commodify Bishnoi community by making such a superficial visit, taking photos and adding them to my 'Done That' list. I decided to not visit.
I faced a similar situation again when I went to Jaisalmer. I wanted to go into the desert, sleep overnight on the dunes, but not ride a camel - which is very much a part of Jaisalmer's customary Desert Safari. Not riding an animal was a personal decision I made a couple of years ago. After noticing how camels' legs are tied up when they are (apparently) set free in off-duty hours, I did not regret my decision. But here again, it was a choice I had to make between not riding an animal, therefore, discouraging use of animals for commercial purposes, and supporting the local community for whom this is a major source of income.
I am also not a huge fan of wildlife safaris. I just feel we humans need to leave the wildlife be. Of course, with the exception of forest rangers, conservationists, researchers and locals. Having said that, I am well aware that around every wildlife preserve open to tourists, there is a local community dependent on income generated by tourism.
So yes, these were few instances when I found myself stuck in-between two similar yet opposing directions. Perhaps there is no right or wrong in either of these. At the end of the day, it's a matter of choice. As for me, I really have no qualms about missing out on the must-sees and must-dos, as long as I stand by what I believe in. I would rather spend my time whiling away in a local food joint getting a whiff of local life than be bogged down by the pressure of ticking off a checklist. But those who are choosing to go for these guided village tours or wildlife safaris (responsibly, without creating a ruckus in the local habitat!) are doing their bit as well.
Have you ever faced such a dilemma? How did you go about it? I would love to hear your experiences.