Eco-stays in Uttarakhand are paving the way for bio-conservation and restoration!

The majestic beauty of the hilly terrain of Uttarakhand is a source of joy for the residents and tourists that visit the state every year. The residents take great pride in the hordes of tourists that flock to their hills: some on a Char-Dham pilgrimage while others to experience the pleasing climate and culture. This inflow of people also brings them a constant source of income.

However, this inflow also ends up being a double-edged sword. The tourists visiting the bountiful hills are not conscious enough of the ecological harm they bring to the region with their detrimental habits of garbage disposal, energy usage and abuse of biodiversity habitats etc. The most evident example of this is the latest discussions on the extensive garbage pollution that the re-opening of Char Dham Yatra has brought about. Moreover, the natives are raising concerns about the damage the garbage will do to the ecology, especially in the landslide-prone areas (something they had experienced in the 2013 Uttarakhand Tragedy).

Fueled by their desire to protect their homeland from further degradation and restore the glory of the bountiful ecology of Uttarakhand, many residents have taken it upon themselves to work towards bio-conservation and condition the tourists to contribute to this goal too. One of their main steps for this purpose is establishing Eco-stays in various state regions.

What do we mean by Eco-stays?

An Eco-stay or Eco-lodge is ‘a sustainably designed and operated lodge that focuses on minimizing its impact on the environmental and local environment it is part of’. This ‘green hotel’ is intended to promote the harmonious existence of a man with nature through its various practices of conscious tourism, boosting the local economy, minimizing carbon footprints, etc.

These eco-resorts ensure that travellers act more responsibly when they visit as they experience the beauty of nature and learn about the local community and biodiversity that inhabit the place.

What are the different types?

With the common goal of bio-conservation and spreading awareness, several different types of eco-stays exist that emphasize distinct ways of striving for this goal.

Some Eco-resorts and hostels profess the use of clean and green energy. But on the other hand, there are farm and village stays. These offer activities that educate the travellers about eco-friendly practices, waste management, organic produce and local culture. In addition, there are specialised farm stays, like a Vegan Farmstead, where they highlight animal-free agriculture, which includes no animal-sourced fertilisers, etc.

A small part of these eco-stays also takes delight in departing valuable memories of the greenery as the travellers engage in adventure activities like parachute gliding, rappelling, river rafting, etc.

What makes these retreats in Uttarakhand Eco-stay destinations?

The fulfilment of the overarching mission of bio-conservation and restoration might be the defining factor of an Eco-stay. Still, there are a lot of smaller, distinct processes that make a retreat a sustainable eco-stay. Let’s take a look at some of these aspects:

Eco-architecture

Usually, plans for establishing any retreat start with designing and building the living space. Then, one would begin designing a ‘green building’ to make a place an Eco-stay.

The Eco-resort owners in Uttarakhand have taken great care to construct such a green building and forge a sustainable system to support it. Moreover, these eco-stay owners have laid a strong foundation for their bio-conservative plans, from utilising renewable energy sources like solar energy, and setting up a rain-water harvesting system, to using eco-friendly materials like carbon capture tiles.

A perfect example of such architecture would be the Himalayan Hemp Eco Stay of Pauri Garhwal, built with eco-friendly building blocks called “Hempcrete”. These blocks, made up of a mix of parts of the hemp plant, lime, fly ash, and more, make the buildings earthquake-resistant and act as a natural temperature regulator. Other eco-stays also offer their customers a chance to live in naturally constructed cottages of clay, mud walls, and stones.

Eco-Decor & Furniture

After erecting the exterior green structure and employing the sustainable support system, the following essential feature of an eco-stay is the place’s environmentally friendly interior decor and furniture. Eco-stays tend to proffer natural comfort, to go hand-in-hand with the outer modelling of the site, much like the ones we see in quaint little cottages.

Many, like Onizni Eco Lodge in Nathuakhan Village (Nainital), are home to accommodations that boast a wooden interior design, where the furniture is made of regional wood, and sometimes even wooden tiles line the inside of the place. Some eco-stays also tend to avoid the usage of modern equipment and appliances, relying entirely on natural coolers and local ways of living.

Zerowaste Lifestyle

Another vital mission that these eco-stays carry is the utilisation and propagation of a “Zero-Waste lifestyle”. This practice tests their strategic planning and implementation abilities, as they employ various ways to minimise the wastage of energy, water, resources, etc., from every activity of their retreat.

From implementing energy-conservative systems and appliances to composting kitchen waste and donating leftovers to the hungry to treating and reusing wastewater, the eco-stays carry out practices of a zero-waste lifestyle. For example, Fagunia Farmstay, located near Nainital, composts its wet wastes and uses its onsite recycling twin-pit system to convert its sewage waste into organic fertiliser for their fields.

Efficient waste management

Just as our Honorable Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, asserted in one of his latest speeches, one of the most significant steps needed for bio-conservation of Uttarakhand is to put in place a proper Waste management and treatment system.

‘This system he refers to is crucial for our state which is prone to landslides and erosions’, has been realised by the eco-stay in Uttarakhand, and so they are steadily remodelling their resorts and lodges. These eco-lodges are evolving to adapt to wastewater treatment systems, responsible garbage disposal, organic and vermicomposting, etc., to respond to the need of the hour.

Aside from Fagunia Farmstay mentioned above, many others, like Aahana Eco-tourism Resort of Corbett National Park, are tapping into sustainable waste management systems for composting and sewage treatments (the water from which is then being directed to their gardens and fields, etc.)

Bio-degradable materials are also being used to substitute plastic and carbon-emitting materials. These can be decomposed and utilised as organic manure, thus making solid waste management more efficient and eco-friendly. As a bonus, it helps minimise the carbon footprints of the retreat too.

Eco-stays also play an important role to empower local society and culture

Aside from the much-needed revenue generated by eco-tourism for the eco-stay owners, eco-lodges also contribute heavily to the empowerment of the locals’ quality of life. These stays provide sources of livelihood for various members of the local communities. For instance, organic produce is procured from local farmers. In addition, the local cooks prepare local delicacies for the tourists; trek guides assist in hiking activities; artisans sell handicrafts as souvenirs, etc.

The eco-stays bring awareness towards the region’s culture and natives aside from equipping their local economy and livelihoods. For example, in many eco-stays in Uttarakhand, guests are served Kumaon-Garhwali Himalayan food to give an authentic taste of the state’s culinary culture. Some retreats also use copper glasses and earthen pots to store and serve drinking water to promote health benefits. Some, like Aahana Resort, also hold cultural nights where the locals are invited to perform and even lead discussions on their cultural history and daily lives.

To deal with the ecological imbalance that the hills are experiencing, eco-stays in Uttarakhand have also initiated awareness programmes and activities for the visiting tourists, in addition to going green.

Eco-stays try to make their connection stronger with nature to enable the visitors to be more conscious tourists. This connection can be through leisurely walks in the nearby areas, yoga/meditation sessions early morning, or inviting them to partake in organic farming activities or even workshops for teaching the significance of waste management and garbage segregation. Campsites like Thath Campsite (Nag Tibba) foster a more harmonious existence with nature, where living right between the lush green trees of the hills and witnessing a breath-taking sunrise makes one realise the true beauty and boon of nature bestowed on humankind.

The fight to restore the ecology of the bounteous state of Uttarakhand to its former-sustainable state might be long and ongoing. However, the consistent atomic efforts of the established eco-stays and the local communities are slowly but surely contributing to the progress of the ecological battle.

Credits

This article is authored by Ishika Rawat, a patissier-in-training and a passionate writer who has worked for over three years to propagate and map Korean culture’s rise worldwide and in India. Hailing from Uttarakhand, she loves spending time being one with nature. While looking forward to growing as a writer and as an informed individual, she has picked up the vast theme of sustainability, which has piqued her interest recently.

Deepa Sai, the founder of ecoHQ, strategised and edited the article. The startup extends content consultations for Sustainability and Social Impact industries. Hailing from a background in Psychology, Social Work, Human Resources, and Communications, Deepa believes in Creative Advocacy. She is also a music enthusiast who consumes liberal amounts of coffee!

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