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The village in India, where life was once portrayed as 'unchanging' and 'idyllic', has in recent decades seen profound changes. The twin shackles that once decided matters for India's villagers, caste and agriculture, no longer exercise their vigorous hold. While a break in caste rigidities has fostered greater fluidity in occupational choices, agricultural stagnation has ensured the constant march, in increasing numbers, of employable people in the villages towards urban areas. At the same time, vote bank politics means that parties and politicians continue to pay lip-service to the cause of villages, chiefly the poor farmer. It is in the light of these changes that the 'culture' surrounding agriculture and the village needs to be understood. While this culture is not altogether a stable one, its state of pronounced flux does hold out certain portents, whether these are understood by policy-makers and the vast majority of Indians, remains open to question.
Village Ways, right from its start in the foothills of the Himalayas, determined that sustainability is key to the survival of rural villages, that economic opportunity is best achieved by encouraging and building on the villagers’ own strengths, skills and knowledge to develop enterprise. Working in partnership with the villagers, we encourage low-key tourism that runs alongside, but does not displace, traditional livelihoods. So the farmers keep farming, and do not abandon that livelihood to devote themselves to tourism. it can be a delicate balancing act, but we work hard to get this right.
Village Ways works in partnership with each village to establish, develop and manage a unique kind of ethical, responsible tourism. A local tourism enterprise is created with the help of funding through Village Ways, ownership of which is in the hands of villagers. Typically a village-owned guesthouse is at the centre of the enterprise - if you like - a form of ‘home-stay’ offered by the whole village. The village communities have embraced new roles as hosts, guides, cooks with huge heart. They are happy to undertake regular training to improve steadily their new skills, providing you, their guests, with the warmest of welcomes in a delightfully natural way.
Village Ways holidays knit together a series of these village enterprises to create for you delightful journeys through wonderful landscapes. With most journeys being on foot you move slowly from village to village and you are able to connect easily to the village communities and their way of life. Our local, well-trained guides explain the rhythm of rural life and help you interact with your hosts. Little help is needed however as the welcome is naturally warm and you will be invited to chat and visit many of the village in their homes. It is this wonderful social exchange that forms the most abiding memory for many of our guests. Add to this excellent rural cooking and the opportunity to understand and participate in traditional skills and you have a wonderful mix that offers a unique and privileged access to rural ways.
We all love these places for their natural beauty. We work hard together with the village communities to understand the environmental issues that could affect future changes. We are all learning to nurture the traditions and local knowledge that have long allowed the villages to live in balance with their surroundings, and to develop understanding of the changes (positive and negative) that the modern world can bring.
Guides are trained to value and share their knowledge of local flora and fauna. Local craftsmen are encouraged to use traditional skills and materials to build or restore guesthouses and at the same time incorporate energy-saving technology such as solar panels for lighting and heating water.
The result is true and effective ecotourism that cherishes these lovely rural regions of India and Nepal.
Rural communities in fairly remote places often struggle to survive – and as they lose economic viability and their young people head for the cities, so too they lose traditional knowledge and skills.
It is important that the income created through these tourism enterprises is real but supplementary to traditional livelihoods. With more than 10 years experience we are confident that we have had real effect on out-migration and have brought a solid, secondary income stream to the villages. In 2017 we won our third World Travel Market Responsible Tourism Award. This time this prestigious award was given for our work in poverty reduction.