This week’s Sustainability Series interview is with Kuldip Gadhvi, from Kutch Adventures India. Kuldip talks about Kutch, India, and gives his opinions on responsible tourism in the area. Kutch Adventures India has won numerous awards, including the Trip Advisor Award of Excellence and the Responsible Travel Award for Engaging People and Culture.
Firstly, tell us about Kutch :
India’s largest district, Kutch (Kachchh), is situated on the western most edge of the state of Gujarat. The history of Kutch (Kachchh) goes back thousands of years and includes the Harrapan Civilization which thrived along the Indus River (3500– 1500 BC ). Over the centuries many cultures settled in Kutch (Kachchh) from places such as Sindh middle east, Marwar (western Rajasthan) and other parts of Gujarat. The region had lush grasslands, good water and attracted farmers, herders and shepherds.
Kutch’s land mass covers 45,612 sq. km and its coast stretches more then 300 km along the Arabian Sea. Almost 50% of Kutch’s land is the Great Rann (salt desert) of Kutch (Kachchh). Once the estuary of the mighty Indus River it is now flat and barren but it is the most beautiful territory of ‘nothingness’. Further east is the Little Rann of Kutch now the sanctuary of India’s last herds of Wild Ass. Today’s population of Kutch (Kachchh) is 1.2 million many of whom are cattle and buffalo farmers, goat and sheep herders and camel breeders. Other people work in the towns or in the new industries of Kutch.
Handicrafts are an important part of Kutchi tradition and include embroidery, leather work, pottery, woodwork, batik, Bandhani (fine tie and dye), Ajrakh (block printing and natural dyeing), Hand loom weaving, Rogan (painting on cloth), silver work, mud-mirror work and copper bell making. Handicrafts are used for everyday life, for dowry and now for livelihood. Each community of Kutch has its own style, colours and motifs that represent nature, geometry or religious beliefs.
Communities of Kutch such as Rabari, Ahir, Mutwa, Halepotra, Jat, Megwhal and Sodha are famous for their detailed embroidery work. The Khatri community of Kutch are the dyers and produce Bandhani (Tie dye), block printing and batik (wax printing). Hand-loom weaving of Kutch by the Harijan community using wool, silk and cotton is also highly prized.
Since 2005 onward, Government is promoting Kutch, Gujarat nationally as well as internationally and so the number of visitors has increased dramatically high and many locals involved in tourism are benefiting. It also has increased number of young students/ enthusiasts interested in textile, fashion and film industries.
Kutch sounds really interesting. Kutch Adventures India works to create responsible tourism in the area. How important is responsible tourism and how can everybody incorporate this into their traveling?
Responsible tourism is very important for any region where tourists footprints are huge. Although increased number of visitors benefits local economy but it could also potentially damage culture and environment which is the backbone of tourism industry. If locals and visitors are not familiar with responsible tourism practices, it can be very destructive in many ways. Since visitors are becoming more aware about their impacts to the region they are visiting, there is a huge potential in the field of responsible tourism.
“There is no better way than buying straight from the maker and artisans where your money makes huge difference”
If anyone wants to incorporate responsible tourism into their traveling, they could simply educate themselves by choosing options during their traveling. Such as choosing responsible tour operators, mode of transportation, supporting small family home stays, learning about local culture and traditions before visiting place, consulting local guide, expert or anyone who is practicing responsible tourism in particular region, bringing water bottle, fabric bags or anything that can reduce usage of plastic during traveling, purchase local products only, buy straight from the makers rather than from shops, emporiums or luxurious hotel stores because there is no better way than buying straight from the maker and artisans where your money makes huge difference. Avoiding visiting endangered species, riding animals that are not treated well and most importantly respecting local cultural practices, laws and spreading awareness when posting pictures and videos on social media to educate your friends, family and followers.
I always try to shop local when I visit a new place, I think you get much more meaningful items by doing this too. How does responsible tourism help the local people of Kutch?
Since practicing responsible tourism for more than 8 years, I have noticed following responsible tourism guidelines has reduced the gap between visitors and locals. Visitors are more aware about what to do and what not to, it has created respectful and genuine relationship between them and locals. Choosing genuine local businesses that support responsible tourism, contributes to sustain local economy, cultural practices and less damage to fragile Eco system. It supports artisans and makers directly and so it empowers and educates locals directly. Responsible tourism ensures that tourism industry should benefit smaller and genuine businesses first, it is helping local communities to sustain their culture (traditional arts and handicrafts, folk music and singing, inter-community relationship, harmony between man and nature) and by sharing their local life with visitors earning better living too.
It is so important to sustain culture, I’m glad that responsible tourism is helping locals in Kutch keep their local way of life. So, what does Kutch Adventures offer to travelers?
Kutch Adventures India offers personalized guided tours and family home stays in the Kutch region, acting as bridge between locals and outsiders to reduce any negative impacts, directly supporting many local people (drivers, weavers, printers, embroiders and other arts and craftsmen during the tours, educating visitors about Kutch, it’s history, social, economical and environmental impacts of tourism and how together we can create win-win situation for all and protect local culture and environment through tourism experiences.
Kutch Adventures India offer most personal interaction, cultural exchange and opportunity to soak local culture, not as typical tourists but as visitors visiting friends in India.
Besides that Kutch Adventures India has initiated small project “United Artisans of Kutch” to strengthen smaller artisans by training, educating, linking them with each other and also with responsible visitors and buyers and businesses against the huge businesses, brands, designers and re-sellers who are mass producing and benefiting more than the real makers on the ground and their environmental impact is huge, compared to these smaller artisans. In other words, advocating for smaller and lesser known artisans who are still out of the direct reach of many visitors, visiting Kutch, Gujarat.
Most importantly Kutch Adventures India has created Responsible Tourism Guidelines to educate visitors who might not be aware about the cultural and environmental impacts of tourism in the region of Kutch.
I think some of the main issues with tourism can be fixed if people are aware of the impacts, and follow guidelines like the ones you have created. Where do you see the future of responsible tourism heading?
There is no doubt that future of responsible tourism is very bright. More and more people are becoming aware of issues associated with tourism and they are choosing responsible tourism options wherever possible. In my 9 years experience, I have noticed that 9 out of 10 visitors are willing to support responsible tourism guidelines which shows the willingness to protect our cultural heritage and not to harm much our fragile eco-system. Tourism is a great informal way to educate ourselves while traveling around the world and it brings people closer and there is no better way to enrich our travel experiences than supporting responsible tourism.
Thank you for talking to me, Kuldip. I have learnt a lot about Kutch and also about responsible tourism. I can’t wait to see what’s instore for the future of Kutch Adventures India!