We aim to bring into the minds of our guests an understanding of both the joys and the hardships of rural and tribal Indians. We strongly believe that foreigners showing an appreciation of the simple but productive lives of those at the low end of India’s social hierarchy can send a message to those in power that this way of life is worthy of their support and protection. We also believe that the financial support we provide by employing local people in full time, year round jobs helps to prevent migration to cities and the damage and exploitation that comes with this.
We work in an area where tourists are not common and we genuinely work hard to ensure that we do good not harm. We take only couples, families, or very small groups to villages and give guidance on the acceptability of taking photographs and how best to return the great favour of being welcomed into people’s homes. All guests are given a fact sheet with some tips on cultural etiquette.
We strongly recommend that all able bodied guests do as much of their sightseeing as possible on foot or by bicycle. Not only is this better for the environment but it makes for a far more interactive sort of tourism, which we feel benefits everyone.
Many of our guests travel from Bhoramdeo to Kanha National Park (or Satpura) where they are encouraged not to have a too tiger-centric attitude. There is much to see in the forest other than tigers, and bullying guides and naturalists into charging around at speed in order to ‘provide’ them with a tiger is something we abhor.
We have various charitable projects, largely associated with water, access to which is of course crucial to the survival of these vulnerable communities.
We try to ensure that the money our guests bring to the area reaches the people who live there, largely by employing only local people at BJR and by using guesthouses that do the same elsewhere. On treks and village visits we make small contributions of food and clothing. We also have a couple of social enterprise projects (completed and ongoing) and we encourage our guests to get involved if they choose.
FUND RAISING FOR Water Conservation and Sanitation Projects
A Well for Village Pani AND FRANK WATER
In 2015 my friend Saurabh and I visited an NGO in Chilpi – a sprawling little village on the road to Kanha national park which has a large weekly market and is the main commercial centre for all the Baiga and Gond villages that are scattered in the hills around. The NGO, Shikhar Yuva Manch, helps the Gond and Baiga people access government support that is rightfully theirs – in the main making sure there are schools in the villages themselves (there is a high drop out rate if the children have to travel far) and helping make sure the education reflects their traditional way of life more than it often does in larger villages. We were hoping to involve some of our young working holiday guests with the NGO but language issues made it impossible.
However in the course of our meetings we heard of a village that has been badly affected by climate change. A large brook runs below the village, which, until a few years ago provided sufficient water for the village year round. Nowadays from the end of winter (late February) until the monsoon arrives (formerly in mid-June but these days later and later) the villagers have had to walk two kilometres up stream where they have to dig to reach water which is often dirty.
Obviously this is time consuming and affects hygiene as well as hydration. The village is poor: there were two people who were extremely sick with malaria on our first visit; and many of the children appear to have kwashiorkor (the government gives quotas of white rice as welfare, rather than dal, and white rice clearly doesn’t supply enough protein for growing children). The very least we felt we might be able to help provide was clean water. We asked how much it would cost to have a bore-well with a hand pump installed and were told £1500 would cover it. So we embarked on a fund raising campaign (I ran a couple of trail marathons: though that, it transpired, was the easy part) and after a lot of hiccups a well was installed a year and a half after our initial meeting.
We soon realised that simply sticking bore wells into water-less villages was not a long term solution and the issues were infinitely more complex than we knew. Thankfully Katie Alcott of FRANK Water (UK reg charity 1121273) stepped into our lives through a series of excellent coincidences. FRANK WATER works with partners in India including many villages in Kabirdham where we run holidays. With the help of FRANK’s partners SAMERTH CHARITABLE TRUST we have installed a Rain Water Harvesting System at BJR which villagers will have access to during the hot season when their need is great and BJR is not open to tourists. Over the past three years we’ve raised about £5000 for FRANK through a ‘Walk for Water’ holiday which takes guests to see some of the work being done by Samerth Charitable Trust (FRANK's partners in Chhattisgarh) and through Sophie’s sponsored runs in various parts of India.
TRAvel by train campaign
We have always encouraged our guests to spend as much time on foot or bicycle as possible. Exploring villages by the same means of transport as the people you are visiting immediately removes one barrier, as well as being better for the environment. This season we’re offering more train journeys as an alternative to domestic flights. The trips will all be in first class air-conditioned cabins (not super smart but safe and reasonably comfortable) and will only be for journeys that begin and end during the day or evening. As an incentive Holidays in Rural India will donate £20 to Frank Water for every journey made by train that would ordinarily involve a flight.