So here we are – the very first post on the little local blog. And it’s only apt that it happens on World Responsible Tourism Day! If you are here, it means you are part of a small group of friends, family or little local travelers. So first and most of all, thank you You are the reason we had the courage to begin, and will remain our strongest source of strength forever. Over time, as our community increases (hopefully :P) we will continue to fall back on you for feedback, new locations, recommendations and above all your love and support.For now, this is a humble beginning and sincere request to stay with us on our journey.

The conversations around travel are slowly, and surely beginning to change. More and more people want to now discover lesser known places, try their hand (and feet) at trekking and adventure sports and also find ways to really explore the places they go to, intimately and not just through a tourist check-list. At little local, we feel the best way to know a place is to really see and live it through a locals’ perspective. And to also do it in a way that it creates some positive impact on the local economy and livelihood, and at the very least doesn’t negatively impact the environment and natural resources.

Here are 5 simple things we try to encourage on all our travel experiences, to ensure you travel responsibly and live #littlelocal

Henasku - May 2017

Living in homestays and locally-owned guesthouses - This is our favourite and hence right on top of the list. Locals opening their homes to travelers is not only the best way to offset the environmental damage caused by large hotels and ugly construction, it is also a great way to regulate and limit the amount of travelers at any given time. The benefits are multifold – this serves as supplementary livelihood for the families in times when traditional income sources may be dwindling, or may not be enough to support costs like out-station education for their kids; this also serves as a great option for reverse migration, thus lessening the burden on cities and providing a good option for the youth. And for the traveler, it is the best form of access into local culture, history, food and places they would otherwise never know of. It does come with its’ set of challenges however, local homes need to be upgraded/ modified a bit, to suit city-folk expectations (washrooms, heating etc) and both the local hosts as well as the travelers need to be well-oriented into what to expect and what not.We are proud to have some incredible partners on board, who are working hard in their respective communities to promote homestays and sustainable travel. Sunshine Himalayan Adventures works in Tirthan Valley, Himachal which is one of the pioneers in homestay tourism, and most known for when the community came together to successfully protest against a hydro-power project in order to protect the Tirthan river and the fish and bird population in the region. Himalayan Ark works in the remote Munsiari district of Uttarakhand, where they have set up one of India’s first entirely-women run homestay programs. And Roots Ladakh works towards documenting Ladakhi heritage and folklore, and creating homestays in lesser known villages in the region.

Richa and her host Chandra Didi, outside their home in Munsiari

Eating (and drinking) as much local fare as possible - The advantage of living in homestays is that you get first-hand experience of the actual local cuisine. Not the few popular dishes you’d find in dhabas, but the most authentic and simple dishes that our hosts freshly prepare and eat themselves. Most times it works, and some few times.. well we make do with Maggi :P But always, one comes back having learnt something new! We’ve had freshly caught and prepared trout, and learnt how to make siddu in Tirthan Valley, we’ve eaten a hand-pulled pasta-like dish called skyu in Ladakh and tasted ‘bhang ka achar’ in Uttarakhand. We’ve tasted local fruit juices and drank butter tea like water, and sampled other local brews best experienced in person :)

Siddu - Local Himachali specialty

Carrying our own water bottles - We encourage all our travelers to carry their own water bottles. Filtered, safe drinking water is easily available everywhere and there is no reason why we should burden places where waste management and disposal is anyway a big challenge.

Trekking at Great Himalayan National Park, Tirhtan Valley includes carrying water bottles and returning with all waste generated

Engaging with the locals and learning about their history and culture - Some of this happens in a structured manner, where we have travelers interviewing locals, documenting specific stories and helping us create a repository of this knowledge. But much of this happens in the lesser defined moments, in conversations over bonfires, during walks across the village and through sharing of stories and experiences. Our travelers have come back not only knowing about the history of the village, or a way a certain festival is celebrated but also having made extended family and friends whom they continue to be in touch with.

Documenting folklore in Henasku, Ladakh

Doing a little bit of good for the community, while we’re there - This one sounds challenging, but can be done in surprisingly simple ways. Again, some of these are predefined like when we’ve had travelers work in specific areas like waste management, creating training manuals, working at the children’s library etc. These are also time-defined and require a minimum commitment. But there have been countless other instances when our travelers have just done something because of the people they are, and the relationship they’ve shared with their hosts. We’ve had people take art and craft lessons for kids, we’ve had lots of recipe exchanges and cross-cooking sessions that have happened, someone has gone back and continued to identify vendors for a task and plenty more that have left us completely over-whelmed!

Art lessons in Ladakh

If you enjoyed reading this and would like to be part of such travel experiences, do read about our current trips here. And please write to us on antara@littlelocal.in and give us feedback on what you'd like us to post about!

With lots of #littlelocal love, Antara