Thursday, November 12, 2009

Green Circuit Launched at WTM

Press Release
London, 11th November 2009

Launch of the Green Circuit

“I hope initiatives like this also start in other parts of the world ”, said Fiona Jeffrey, head of World Travel Market, as she launched the official website of the Green Circuit, www.thegreencircuit.net

Raj Gyawali of socialtours.com in Nepal initiated the Green Circuit through a dialogue between specialist tour operators throughout the Indian Sub-continent. The key partners are Socialtours.com in Nepal, Help Tourism in North Eastern India, Grass Routes in Orissa, East India, The Blue Yonder in Kerala and Ecosphere in Spiti Valley, Northern India. Each tour operator, is an expert in their respective region and specialize in deep rooted community based responsible tourism initiatives.

Asit, Sandeep, Fiona, Gopi, Ishita and Raj Photo: Steve Dunlop


Now this is unusual and worthy of attention, because in South Asia most tour operators offer packages all over the country without having even set foot in the places they sell. However with the Green Circuit you have a unique collective of operators dedicated to ethical and sustainable tourism at a grassroots level. The accountability is much higher because they live, breathe and work in the very same communities they conduct their tours. In every instance responsible tourism lies at the core of the companies ethos and is reflected in their initiatives. Responsible Tourism is their reason for being and it’s what unites them to form the Green Circuit.

The Green Circuit is literally an eco-tourism loop that circles the Indian subcontinent. Made up of individual tours with a definitive focus on natural and cultural heritage; each tour (handled on the ground through respective operators) links together to explore the subcontinent's astounding diversity.

This is a really refreshing approach. Rather than competing against each other as traditional tourism businesses often do, the Green Circuit partnership exemplifies an invigorating spirit of collaboration. Each tour operator in the Green Circuit is a committed expert in their chosen field and offer unique tourism product specific to local environmental and cultural conditions. Each tour is the result of years of research and hard work. I’m not talking about long hours in an air-conditioned office here; these guys literally ‘walk the talk’ braving basic infrastructure and mind-boggling bureaucracy to create inclusive eco-tourism initiatives. This willingness to work together on the Green Circuit can only be the result of confident transparent operations and clear focused intentions. For partners of the Green Circuit this and their united approach to responsible tourism is something they share. Drawing strength from individual specialities, it’s only natural they collaborate on the Green Circuit to further develop, share and promote responsible tourism in the region.

And the benefits really are manifold. The Green Circuit creates a great learning opportunity as operators share advice and ground level experience. A lot of theory on responsible tourism already exists, but actual documented accounts and practical tips from the grassroots is rare, at least as far as the Indian Sub-continent is concerned. While each operator will have indigenous solutions for their respective areas, there is always scope for different perspectives to shed light on common problems. The Green Circuit opens a dialogue between operators traditionally isolated by geographic distance and a conscious decision to focus efforts on the field. It provides a perfect platform to share experiences, develop ideas and grow collectively.

Apart from helping each other the Green Circuit was really conceived to present travellers the very best eco-adventures from the Indian Subcontinent. Tapping into the Green Circuit links travellers to a trusted independent network. What impresses me most about the Green Circuit is the recognition granted by one responsible tour operator to another. That each operator finds faith and sincerity in the other’s work is a huge vote of confidence that speaks volumes about the integrity behind the Green Circuit and the circle of trust uniting each responsible tourism partner.



Contacts

info@thegreencircuit.net

www.thegreencircuit.net
www.socialtours.com
www.theblueyonder.com
www.grassroutesjourneys.com
www.helptourism.com
www.spitiecosphere.com

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green Circuit Celebrity Launch in London!


Green Circuit, an idea mooted by socialtours - Nepal is now a partnership between 5 responsible tourism operators in the India Sub continent. Social Tours, Grass Routes, Ecosphere, The Blue Yonder and Help Tourism are coming together to provide a unique network of responsible holidays in the subcontinent.

Green circuit proves the fact that tourism industry can work together and complement each other, rather than competing with each other other. Green circuit features various destinations covering Nepal, Eastern and Western Himalayas, West Bengal and North Eastern India and South India.

We welcome you to join us at the official launch of Green Circuit at World Travel Market - London. Fiona Jeffery - Chairman of WTM and Just a Drop, will launch the initiative on the World Responsible Tourism day on 11th November 2009 at the stand of International Centre for Responsible Tourism - India (AS4600 / 03).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The paradoxes of being Nepalese

I was hoping that I would not write about this incident, but thought it best to record it, while it is still fresh in my mind. Have a previous post also that can be linked to this one, as that also are incidents which bring mixed emotions...

also read: a nation of contrasts

So, we are visited in Ghana by a Nepalese adventurer, Lok Bandhu Karki, who is cycling around the world and is somewhere in the middle of his trip (57 countries in 4.5 years so far). His target is 113 countries in nine years. So when some of our Nepalese friends here decided to call him for dinner and also invited us, we were naturally excited. What an adventurer. Big rush. Nepalese friends got together for the dinner.

Mr. Lok Bandhu comes in the door, in his daura surwal, with a big traditional Namaste and a folder in his hands. All is well so far.

Then expectant ears over drinks and dinner only heard, from this adventurer, a call for financial support, and we realise that the big folder is not a record of his experiences but a record of the letters of appreciation and the money that he has received so far, 40,ooo + dollars in all. He was not here to meet fellow Nepalese, and tell them of his travels and adventures. He had only come here to ask for money and wanted to pressure Nepalese around the world, whereever he went, into 'pushing' him forward financially, as he, according to himself of course, was a messenger of peace and brotherhood, and was distributing leaflets to this effect all around the world.

What a letdown! What does one do in a situation like this? Just another of those situations.

Would not have even written this blog post, but after 'begging' up 1345 USD from the Kofi Annan Center in Accra and the Indian Association, our messenger of peace and harmony wrote us a text message, saying that this was the city where he met the worst Nepalese so far! That after one of us put him up in his house for three days and gave him 160 USD for his visas (not to mention the Red Label bottle he emptied), one brought him to his house for dinner and also contributed about 30 USD, and me (stupid me) in my infinite "useless" wisdom, offered to build his online presence and support him doing that through facebook pages, twitter and blogs, for the next four and half years of his travels. Oh and yes, I did not give him any financial 'push'!

OK, me being me, I also gave him a little piece of my mind! Just told him about this very dilemma in my mind!

So, am still confused, am I proud of him or not?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cylone Aila Update / Sunderbans

Small gains in the support of victims of Cyclone Aila - Report from Asit Biswas, www.helptourism.com

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Dear Friends,

1.With the initiative of the Sunderbans Affairs Department, repairing of embankment finally began today – especially in Gosaba, Basanti, Satjelia, Mollakhali and Kumirmari area. Our volunteers led by our coordinators Mr.Anil Mistry, Mr.Shambhu Sinha Roy, Mr.Arabinda Biswas, Mr.Subhash Mandal, Mrs.Archana Biswas, Ms.Moyna Poira, Ms.Nibedita Gayen, Mr.Subhashis Mistry, Mr.Chidam Mandal, Mr.Badal Mandal, Mr.Mahadeb Gayen, Mr.Dinabandhu Mandal, Mr.Debashish Mistry are providing supervisory support to speed up the repairing works in Bali. Ms. Madhu Reddy – a film maker who is in Sunderbans now and is trying to document the situation there accompanied our team who visited Dayapur, Pakhiralaya, Satjelia, Mollakhali and Kumirmari today to check the progress. Madhu reports that:

· Repairing of embankment could not be started at Lahiripur, Chargheri, Kankmari, Parashmani, Kalidaspur, Baidyapara area as the villages are still submerged and are inaccessible because of wide breaches in the dike. There lies nothing in between the water and people – not even a single tree. It is impossible to believe or imagine that there ever existed a dike that ran few kilometers before the Cyclone hit – she says!

· The villagers have taken shelter on the highland. They have lost everything and do not even have any utensils to cook food and store drinking water. There is shortage of man power and materials required for the repairing. Many interior villages have not received adequate relief support as yet as they are completely cut off. The fallen trees could not be removed from the village tracts making it impossible for the relief workers to reach these villages even by a motor rickshaw or bicycle.Our team is planning to return to these villages on Monday with appropriate relief materials.

· The only primary health centre at Mollakhali that caters to several villages is getting flooded with Diarrhea patients. There is shortage of medicines and saline. Our team has left 200 bottles of saline there today as an emergency support.


Government of West Bengal is seriously planning to construct concrete dikes for long-term solution to the breaching of clay embankments by tides and storms and is reported to have been in touch with Central Government as well as Government of Japan for financial assistance/ loan as the project requires huge fund.

2.Sunderbans Affairs Department is supplying free cloths and ration to the villagers who are engaged in the repairing of embankments.

3.Mr.D.P.Jana – a retired officer of Indian Administrative Service and former Member Secretary of Sunderbans Development Board carried a truckload of relief items such as cloths, rice, pulses, cooking oil, drinking water, and milk to Bali Island yesterday and handed over the consignment to our team there. Our volunteers have distributed the relief items today to some remote villages in Bali Island where relief support had not reached before. Today they visited few villages in Satjelia, Mollakhali and Kumirmari and distributed relief items there.

4.Mr.Gurudas Kamath – the State Minister for Telecommunications in the Central Government undertook a field visit to Sunderbans day before yesterday. He visited the affected villages of Gosaba and Basanti Islands and stopped for a while in Bali Island and met our teams and took stock of the present situation. He was particularly curious to know as to how the telecommunication and postal departments faired during and after the cyclone. He was accompanied by the officers of the state telecommunication department whose performance deserves special appreciation as the wireless phone system installed by the department was the only functional communication link between the delta and the mainland when the cyclone was at its peak.

5.Nearly 700 contaminated ponds in Bali Island have been totally dewatered as on date with the help of Sunderbans Development Board, local communities and our volunteers working round-the-clock. By Monday we hope to clean another 300 ponds making the number to 1000 and thus benefiting 6000 farmers provided we have a normal monsoon in the delta.

6.Mr. Patrick Francis and Ms.Sangeeta Ganeriwala – two Board Members from Samarpan Foundation visited our health camps in Bali Island yesterday. They carried a consignment of many useful medicines along and confirmed that they would adopt few damaged houses in the village and provide the finance for few new tube wells.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group
Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.
13th June 2009.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Small gains, some progress - Aila Update!

Dear Friends,

1. Several villages in Satjelia, Choto Mollakhali, Kumirmari and Patharpratima are still water-logged though pump sets are being used to take out the salt water from the ponds and farm fields. Many villagers here have taken shelter on the boats and are even using their boats for moving inside the Island since the roads are totally washed away and can not be reconstructed until the area remains under water.

2. While the relief operation is more or less organized now, the immediate task would be to clean up the fresh water ponds and pumping out the saline water form the villages and start the rehabilitation process – the people of Sunderbans feels. Another area that needs attention is the housing. No concrete and comprehensive plan has been announced so far. Villagers living in temporary shelters will face great difficulties once the monsoon hits the Islands. It is still not known if the Government is planning any specialized housing scheme keeping in mind that cyclones might hit the delta again in future. Dewatering of farmlands must be completed before the monsoon arrives so that villagers are able to plant crops and can manage to ensure the basic need of food.

3. Most of the inhabited Islands are now affected by Diarrhea. The hungry tide has rolled back its waves away into the sea, but the tide of patients continues to raise everyday with very limited number of doctors available to handle the situation. There is dearth of medicines and mosquito nets. In the absence of qualified medical practitioners quack doctors have been engaged to provide support though they may not be able to take the pressure for a long time. Supplying drinking water to remote villages has not been possible yet although many tube wells have been repaired and new ones are being erected.

4. A medical camp has been set up at the premises of WPSI Conservation Centre-Sunderbans Jungle Camp in Bali Island with a team of Doctors sent by Samarpan Foundation. The team will hold camps until 18th June and so far more than 800 villagers have received treatment. With generous support from WPSI, Kedar Bhide of Sumitomo Chemical Corporation, Samarpan Foundation and Sunderbans Jungle Camp medicines, saline and Olyset mosquito nets are being provided to patients from the camp free of cost.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group
Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Appeal from Cyclone Aila 2009 Disaster Relief Support Group

Seems like the most I can do to support the relief operations at the moment is spread the news, hopefully, and if you are reading this, it must be getting spread. Here is an reproduced appeal from the Support Group. The original of the appeal is here

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An appeal to you:

Two weeks ago Cyclone Aila ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh. In the Sunderbans, the scenic islands and mangrove forests set in the Gangetic delta, the wind, the tidal waves and the flood destroyed or damaged over 500,000 houses. Over 150,000 people lost their homes, fields, work equipment and livelihoods. Many of them lost their breadwinners or other family members.

With the disaster killing their cattle and rendering their farmlands saline and infertile for many months or even years, it is a very grim outlook for the people here. In India and Bangladesh an estimated five million people are affected in one way or the other.

Heavy monsoon rains are predicted in few days to come – a grim forecast considering that many of the affected families are left with no proper shelter.

To prevent more floods, the local communities with support from the government, military and NGOs have been desperately trying to repair embankments to prepare for the monsoon.

Still effective disaster management is not on track yet. There is a lack of basic necessities like water, staple food and medical assistance. While some delta islands have received relief items, many others have got nothing. Health workers fear that lack of water and sanitation facilities may lead to outbreak of epidemics. Already there are cases of diarrhoea. Children will go hungry on under-nourished.

The media grossly under-reported the impact of the disaster and failed to predict its aftermath. It was actually a precursor another calamity with the fierce annual monsoon rains imminent.

In a rapid response to the appeal of our local partners in the Sunderbans, The Blue Yonder, Traveltocare.com and Help Tourism have set up the Cyclone Aila Support Group to help local communities in peril in the Sunderbans Region. Our local partner, the Association for Conservation and Tourism (ACT), was in the field during and immediately after the cyclone and is currently stretching its resources to reach out to people at the earliest.

The Cyclone Aila Support Group has partnered with the well-known Charities Aid Foundation – India (CAF India) to help manage an accountable and transparent fund raising process. The ACT and the West Bengal Voluntary Health Association (WBVHA) are co-ordinating relief efforts on the ground.

The Cyclone Aila Support Group is committed to supporting the long-term rehabilitation of the Sunderbans region and we need all your support – for now and for the future!

We urge governments, public and private organisations, and fellow human beings to wake up to this disaster and the impending tragedy that is about to unfold. Kindly support the people in need!!

A sample on how even small amount can make a difference.

Rs 50 or one euro: Drinking water for five families for one day.
Rs 50 or one euro: Epidemic protection for one week
Rs 250 or five euros: Buys 10 flashlights to protect against snakebites and accidents
Rs 500 or 10 euros: Food for 50 people for one day
Rs 500 or ten euros: Enough food supply for one family for two weeks
Rs 2500 or 50 euros: People in a small village do not have to sleep under open sky
Rs 5000 or 100 euros: Transportation and supplies with one boat

We can make a difference!

Check the website for more updates from field and on how to donate efficiently

http://rtnetworking.org/aila

Thank you!

For Cyclone Aila Support Group
Asit Biswas, Ashish Gupta & Gopinath Parayil


photographs: copyright Reuters, Andrew Biraj, Jayanta Shaw

Monday, June 8, 2009

Its all about Action! Cyclone Aila Update

Update from Asit Biswas from Help Tourism

1. With support from our partner Samarpan Foundation a team of Doctors along with a consignment of essential medicines left for Bali Island today. They will hold medical camps in Bali and adjoining Islands for next few days to attend the medical problems and diseases erupted in the aftermath of Cyclone Aila.

2. A second team will follow after three days.

3. With financial support from our Partner WPSI couple of pump sets has been already made available in Bali and other Islands for pumping the stranded saline water out from the village ponds and fields.

4. No further inundation is reported with the end of the spring tide on last Sunday. The next tide is expected from 22nd June.

5. The accumulation of saline water due to the tides and breaching of embankments followed by the contamination has given unprecedented rise to the mosquito population which in turn might spread infectious diseases in the Islands. Medical teams sent by Indian Army, government departments and NGOs have reached many Islands today although Relief and medical teams have not yet set foot in many interior areas. People there complained that the relief support was reaching to the bank of the Island only and not to the interior villages. There is unconfirmed report of five Diarrhea deaths in Satjelia Island.

6. Few defunct tube wells have already been repaired in some villages. Sunderbans Development Board has started to erect new ones as well.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group

Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.
8th June 2009

Friday, June 5, 2009

Coordination finally & a little love on World Environment Day


Am again just spreading the updates from Asit Biswas, of Help Tourism... there are some interesting reads below, a wave a relief as special task forces seems to have a sembling of order in the relief operations and some coordination, stark drinking water shortages putting it back in our heads how acute the crisis is, and a little show of love by a village who rescued a banded krait taking refuge in their house.

Read on.

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Cyclone Aila 2009/Update/Sunderbans, India.

Dear Friends,

1. The Indian Army has already started sending special task force to Sunderbans. The special rescue, relief and medical teams from the Army reached to the Islands today to provide the much-awaited support for evacuation, relief operation and reconstruction. Common people are of the opinion that such steps should have been taken much earlier.

2. The government departments seem to have been able to establish a basic coordination concerning relief operations. Each consignment is now being sent under the joint supervision of representatives from the Police, District administration and village councils making the relief operation quite smooth and democratic.

3. The carcass of dead animals (cattle) could be removed from the rivers and many villages excepting places like Kumirmari, Choto Mollakhali, Shamshernagar. These areas are affected by the full moon tide as well. There is no report of any attempt to repair the embankments here. People are already being evacuated from Kumirmari, Choto Mollakhali, Amtoli, Lahiripur, Satjelia and Kachukhali. In the mean while Calcutta Port Trust which keeps track of the tides in Hoogly river has issued an alert saying that the next tide scheduled to hit the Islands on 22nd June would bring higher waves than the current one. The government is planning to procure a barge to extract soil from underwater to repair the embankments as there is acute shortage of clay locally. The embankments will have to brave few more tides before the proper repairing work can be started.

4. The drinking water situation continues to remain same with enteric spreading in many areas. There are contradictory figures supplied by government department and health NGOs working there as to the number of villagers suffering from the disease.

5. There remains huge confusion concerning the amount of ad-hoc compensation announced by the government for rebuilding the smashed houses in the villages. The villagers do not know how much money they will get, from whom, when and how.

6. While death follows as an obvious penalty when a snake sneaks in a house after flood sweeps away its nest and is eventually detected, the villagers of Bijayanagr 3 proved an exception by rescuing a Banded Krait today. It was trying to take shelter in Mr.Sunil Mondal’s house. They rescued the snake alive and handed over to the forest department officials. A little love made a positive difference on the World Environment Day.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group
Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.
5th June 2009

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Its the High Tide now! Cyclone Aila Update

Update from Asit Biswas, Help Tourism
___________________________________________________________

Dear Friends,

Our Principal Field coordinator Mr. Anil Mistry is currently touring to the Islands to check the condition – especially the progress of repairing of embankments.

He reports:

The full moon tide has once again inundated the worst-affected areas like Kumirmari, Ranipur, Choto Mollakhali, Puinjali today making the future of the ill-fated Islanders completely shattered. There is no hope for any immediate reconstruction work to take place after such consecutive disasters with roughly 15,000 villagers becoming homeless and without any livelihood option left.

Emergency repairing of embankments could not be initiated as materials required for emergency repairing (Gunny bags, sand/clay, bamboo etc.) have not reached to these areas. Most of the villagers have taken shelter on the bunds or in local schools or Panchayat buildings. Private contractors have declined to come forward and repair the embankments here.
Repairing work has started in Bara Mollakhali, Taranagar areas sporadically but the Islands are still not fully protected as the tide will continue to rise for the next couple of days.
The situation is slightly better in Sandeshkhali, Hingalgunj, Patharpratima, Basanti and Gosaba though the condition in the interior villages has not improved much.

Food and medicines have finally reached many areas but there is still immense shortage of drinking water.

Government has requested Indian Army, Navy and Air Force to send special task force for providing emergency evacuation support, relief operations, and medical help and also to support the reconstruction work.

The next 4/5 days would be crucial as the Met office has bad news for us. Heavy depression is reported in the sea which can gain strength any moment and turn into a powerful storm.

More updates will follow soon.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group
Asit Biswas, India.
HELP TOURISM

4th June 2009.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cyclone Aila - Progress and Setbacks

As is with disasters of this nature, you always have two sides... a immense feeling of goodwill and generosity, fantastic people doing fantastic work, people benefited, and the flip side and side effects - Irresponsible giving, unplanned rehabilitation works, and the resultant accumulation of inorganic wastes and damage to the environment. Some of it is already highlighted in Asit's status report from the field, that he posted on a latest update on the facebook support group

However, we all have to do something about it... Disaster management work is messy, but it is heartening to note that people like Asit, Gopi, Ashish, Karen, Marcus, Linda and countless others are there, who are concerned about minimising the negative impacts of this effort too... I am sure that will have an effect.

The update in full, taken from the support page on FB, reproduced below.

For more details, go directly to the facebook group page @ http://tinyurl.com/aila09 . There are updates, references to sites where you can donate, etc.

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Dear Friends,

A quick update from the field:

1.In the wake of the forthcoming tide set to hit Sunderbans from 5th June the Government machinery is gearing up. With government support and initiative of local NGOs and Panchayats, communities have started emergency repairing of embankments in few Islands namely Bali, Gosaba, Satjelia, Jharkhali, Basanti, Sandeshkhali. In some areas the progress has been good though in many areas the work is slow due to acute shortage of clay and manpower since many villagers have left their homes. Government’s appeal to private contractors for help did not yield significant response. No major repairing work reported from worst-affected places like Kumirmari, Mollakhali, Shamshernagar, Hingalgunj, Ranipur where most of the villages are still submerged. They have not received sufficient relief support as yet.

2.There is still acute crisis of drinking water in most of the islands although government vessels are ferrying water since last three days. The handful of tube wells that have been supplying potable water to several villages all these days may collapse any moment due to overuse.

3.Few medical teams have arrived finally but the requirement is so much that they can not really make any difference unless special task force of Doctors and nursing staff are sent urgently. There is acute shortage of emergency medicines as well. With generous funding support from our partners and WPSI Cyclone Relief Fund we have sent a truck load of emergency medicines and bleaching powder today. In Bali we organized training for 40 health volunteers today under the guidance, presence and leadership of Dr.Supada Mandal. The volunteers will now spread in different villages with stock of medicines we dispatched today. Such volunteer teams must be formed in other Islands as well to combat the epidemic which may surface any moment.

4.It has been observed that many individual and organizations are carrying relief items to the Islands that are not necessary. Many of them are just handing over the relief materials to the nearest communities and villages to the boat jetty prompting them to take easy escape by begging that never existed in Sunderbans. This could also encourage few rackets who would take undue advantage of the situation. It is not possible for the administration to keep a check on this in this crisis period. It is advisable that all donors or contributors who prefer to deliver the relief support personally to the victims should engage local NGOs, community bodies, panchayats for proper and fair distribution of the relief items.

5.Proper packaging of the relief items and selection of unit size, type and size of containers must be carefully done to avoid further pollution to the Islands and the park. Many villages and Islands are getting flooded with plastic bottles, empty plastic pouches and packets. Many non biodegradable items are floating on the rivers and channels which could turn out to be dangerous. Such environmental issues get diluted in the event of such devastation and we tend to pay no time to think about it and take these items back to the designated dumping ground in the main land. This must be addressed.

6.There is no stopping of people leaving their homes and heading to the main land. On an immediate basis we need to clean some of the village ponds and that can only be done by using pumps to drain out the water and then cleaning the tanks so that when the rains comes, they can be filled with potable water. The monsoons are due any moment but they are a double-edged sword, while they will provide some clean drinking water they will affect most of the population who are still in make-shift accommodation on the embankments on higher ground. As far as the eye can see the fields are full of salt water.

7.The local politics has created havoc in the actual rehabilitation work but there is nothing we can do about it. Rumors are running every corner of the villages, in the corridors of power and even in the Media about the rehabilitation and relief operations.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Relief Support Group

Asit Biswas
3rd June 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Skip Beers, Save a life!

Message from Gopi Parayil, The Blue Yonder.

Appealing to you...

A report from Indian Express,
"Nine-year-old Sandeepa Gharami survived Cyclone Aila, but succumbed in its aftermath. She died on an embankment near Lahiripur on Friday after several days of continuous vomiting and diarrhoea. She received no medical care. Her parents buried her by the river.

A week after the storm, the first signs of a severe outbreak of enteric diseases have emerged on the battered islands of Sunderban."

People are dying for silly reasons! Some died because they didn't have access to drinking water!

The donation we are asking for doesn't have to be in millions. If you can and if you can convince your friends and colleagues to skip a night out, or pay at least for the beer that you would be drinking otherwise, that can SAVE lives!

Look at this simple reality.....
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Pounded Rice 50 Kg - at the price of 8 beers
Puffed Rice 25 kg - at the price of 8 beers
Packaged Drinking Water- 20 litres - at the price of one beer!!!
Polythene Sheet - at the price of 2 beers
Bleaching Powder - 25 kg at the price of 3 beers
Torch - at the price of 3 beers
Condensed Milk 1 Kg for 2 beers -
Container for Drinking Water 50 liters - at the price of 1 or 2 beers
Geoline – 200 (Water purifier)(Liquid) - 2 beers price
Norflox+ Tiniadazole - 1 strip - 1 beer?

and many more????!!!!

A small push, and we can that difference to the people suffering !
Help spread this news around, please donate if you can!
http://www.facebook.com/l/;http://rtnetworking.org/aila/donate.htm

We can ensure that your money is accountable and it is used well!

For Cyclone Aila Support Group

Gopi

Cyclone Aila: An Update from the field!

Reproduced from Facebook Update from Cyclone Aila 2009 - Support Group

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Dear All,

Apologies for the delayed posting. Thanks very much for all your support and concern that you have so passionately expressed through this group.

I and Bikram Grewal (from WPSI) just returned from Sunderbans after a hectic field visit. In the last two days we visited some of the worst-hit islands such as Gosaba, Basanti, Bali, Satjelia,Choto Mollakhali and we met thousands of affected villagers and talked to hundreds of them.

It is difficult to describe the devastation in writing.

The situation is much worst than what we had imagined. Thousands and thousands of houses have been reduced to dust by the storm. With nearly 500 kilometers of embankments destroyed, more than a million people are still marooned – most of them without drinking water, food, shelter and emergency medical support even after a week since the Cyclone Aila had hit the Sunderbans. There is no correct figure as to how many hectors of arable agricultural lands have been inundated and what the extent of damage to the crops and livestock is. In most of the villages the grain storage which usually supplies food to a family is washed away along with the main house resulting lack of food security of the islanders. During the field survey it seemed evident that in most of the islands agriculture would be impossible in next 3 years. During the interviews many of the islanders confirmed they had never faced such a devastating cyclone in the last 20 years (the last super Cyclone had pounded in 1988).

A primary guesstimate suggests that:

•Roughly one and half millions people in Gosaba, Pathrpratima, Sagar, Basanti, Higangunj and Sandeshkhali blocks have lost everything and are facing a grim and uncertain future with no hopes to return to normal life unless something miraculous happens!
•Nearly Forty Thousand houses disappeared
•Crops, vegetables, farm fishes worth Rupees 30 Crores (3000 Millions) are lost
•Around Six Thousands people are already affected by the outbreak of Diarrhea

In every village or island we stopped, we saw endless queue of villagers including small children with empty pots - crying for a drop of drinking water. Many villagers are forced to hire boats everyday and travel half a day to fetch a pot of drinking water from another village where a tube well is working by chance! The Government relief that started trickling down since yesterday with personal initiative of few Ministers and elected Public Representatives and with the intervention of the Chief Minister of West Bengal who visited the affected areas yesterday, appeared to be way below what could be termed as adequate. There seems to be a lack of coordination and planning as far as distribution of Government relief is concerned.

Our visit to some of the interior villages produced horrifying pictures with house after house being abandoned by the dwellers and pile of rotting dead animals and fishes and decaying trees and plants lying everywhere. There is no one to clear the debris and remove the carcasses. The sweet water ponds already got contaminated with the surface color turned into deep black perhaps spelling out the message of death! All the drinking water sources are lying dead. There is no fodder available for the cows and goats to survive. The villagers are either shifting the animals to nearby towns or are selling them at throw-away prices. The only sign of life that punctuated our journey through the haunted villages was the occasional cry of the lonely dogs left by their masters. While driving to Gadkhali jetty we observed that driven by hunger and desperation thousands of Islanders started fleeing the only world they know the city of Calcutta. We do not know if the city that took 3 full days to restore electricity, water supply for its bonafide citizens after the Cyclone is still left with any more capacity to face this exodus!

A quick visit inside the National Park did not apparently reveal much damage to the mangroves and mud flats though we did not see much wildlife except few birds and a water monitor. There are reports of crocodiles to have slipped in with tides in few villages, but no attack, rescue or release was heard of.

The Project Tiger team, under the able and firm leadership of Mr.Subrat Mukherjee - the Field Director of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, is doing excellent work and deserves high appreciation for their timely intervention and initiative. It was heartening to see and know how the team and Mr.Mukherjee immediately rushed to the affected areas and have been working tirelessly to support the villagers and also to protect the park and the wildlife simultaneously. I have posted pictures taken by Mr.Anil Mistry from WPSI of a Bengal Tiger being rescued by the forest department from a village in Satjelia Island to our friend Marcus Bauer who will upload the same on our Facebook group. The tiger had strayed in a village house to take shelter when the storm and tide was on peak. Both the family staying in the house and the tiger shared same space till the forest department got the information and reached there with a rescue team. Such co-existence only speaks of the gravity and power of the Cyclone that brought both together under a single domain. We must salute the villagers of Jamespur who extended their best support to the rescue team despite their unfathomable miseries. It is hoped that the striped cat will once again thrive in its mangrove kingdom.

The local NGOs with support from NGOs from nearby towns and Calcutta are also doing their best to standby the people of Sunderbans. Many of them are running temporary relief camps and are supplying essentials to the islanders by boats. Few are supplying cooked food as well. We feel that there should be a working cell in every administrative block with representatives from local administration, all local and partner/donor NGOs working there and set up a common agenda with specific task, responsibilities and targets instead of following individual plan and bringing many unnecessary items just for the sake of the relief. I think we should take lessons from the post-Tsunami situation in Andaman Islands. A proper documentation of the post-Cyclone situation could be a vital instrument for the human society to get a real picture and also to find remedies in future.

The three-storied concrete building of Bijaynagar Adarsha Bidya Mandir on Bali Island is now providing shelter, food and water to nearly 4000 villagers including many children and aged people everyday since 25th May. Mention should be made of the efforts and selfless service of the head teacher of the school Mr.Sukumar Paira and his colleagues supported by our coordinators Mr.Anil Mistry, Mr.Arabinda Biswas and Mr.Shambu Sinha Roy and the volunteers and the members of local Nature Clubs. Unfortunately, the
School building and its premises got partially damaged by the Cyclone.

The immediate support (relief materials) received from our partners such as WPSI, Samarpan Trust, Sanctuary Asia, Kolkata Birds, Delhi Birds, Bangalore Birds have already been distributed in the villages by our volunteers. Details will be available on the group in due course. More support is requested and is expected. The tube wells that exist in Bijaynagar Adarsha Bidya Mandir and in the premises of Sunderbans Jungle Camp are luckily still functional and are providing drinking water to nearly fifteen thousand villagers in Bali, Satyanarayanpur, Saterkona, Amlamethi, Gosaba, Pakhiralay, Dayapur, Satjelia everyday with the help of our motor boats.

The villagers of Bali 9 were surprised when a city-bred and leading West Bengal-based Industrialist Mr.Bipin Bhora arrived at their village at 3 A.M with three boat load of relief materials. He after reading reports in Newspapers and watching news on Television wanted to distribute the relief items himself and was accompanied by his wife and a team from his office. When asked by our coordinator Mr.Shambhu Sinha Roy how best the relief items could be distributed and to which areas, the villagers of Bali 9 unanimously told that they were in much better condition due to the immediate relief support they had received after the Cyclone. Based on their advice Mr.Bhora distributed the relief items in Satjelia, Lahiripur with the help and inputs from our volunteers.

What next?

•With another full moon tide approaching fast and set to hit the islands on 7th June, the first and foremost task lies with us, the villagers and administration is to raise alert call and confirm minimum repairing and protection of the broken embankments on war footing basis. Proper and long term repairing of the embankments can follow once we are able to protect the islands from further inundation by the forthcoming tide. If we can not do that, there is no chance that we can really do much later. We must reach the communities in the villages urgently and organize community groups and initiate action as fast as possible. If we can do that, we may expect that the legendary Sunderbans Islanders will once again prove their unputdownable fighting spirit and add another chapter to the history of their never-ending battle in the land of the hungry tide.

•Secondly, emergency Medical assistance and supply of primary medicines to combat Cholera and Diarrhea would be crucially important and must be made available immediately. Support groups may be formed with local youth who after receiving a very short and basic training/ briefing by a qualified Doctor (one such programme will be held in Bali 9 village on Wednesday for 30 local health volunteers) can provide emergency medical support with stock of basic medicines readily available with them.

We will get back to you soon with more updates.

Regards,

For Cyclone Aila 2009 - Support Group

Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.
1st June 2009

Monday, June 1, 2009

Travel Philanthropy in Action!

Now this is a post that really suits the title of this blog..... ...be inspired!

Tourism companies are coming together to do "real" work on the ground to support rehabilitation efforts following the devastation caused by Cyclone Aila. Strangely enough, it has not been reported too widely in the western media, so no one knows about it, but this cyclone killed over 200 people and has widely displaced people, and in the reserves in the Sunderbans, wildlife, including the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger.

Some pictures of the devastation from the new search engine, www.bing.com is here http://www.tinyurl.com/ailapics ... I warn you that some of the pictures will depress you.

However, nature has a way to strike and there is nothing we can do about it, except follow in its wake and do the humanitarian thing. HELP! in any way we can.

In this particular case, the response has been inspiring. The Blue Yonder and Travel to Care were quick to respond to the actions initiated immediately by Help Tourism, all private tourism operations, concerned, responsible, and committed. Thats inspiring. And that is not all. Immediately across the world, Grace Tours in Denmark, Ethical Travel Portal in Norway and Respontour.net in Austria, chipped in and set up bank accounts and have started a campaign of fund raising to help support the rehabilitation efforts on the ground. Again, all private operations, concerned, responsible and committed.

Talk of Travel Philanthropy in action! Kudos, Asit, Raj Basu, Gopi, Ashish, Karen, Marcus, Linda ... You are inspiring a lot of people right now!


___________________________________
Letter from the organisers requesting support

Cyclone Aila hit Eastern India & Bangladesh on 24th of May 2009 and left a path of destruction in its wake directly affecting over 5 million people and reportedly killing 200 people. Although under-reported by western media, local aid agencies say that the true extent of the tragedy is gradually unfolding.

A number of districts in West Bengal, India are deeply affected as heavy rains and gale force winds tore into houses and trees, damaging roads, electrical & communication infrastructure. Further south in the Sunderbans Delta, over 400,000 people in 200 villages are marooned due to floods. With their homes under water due to breaches in embankments, schools and government offices are serving as temporary, but wholly inadequate shelter, while others are still at the mercy of the elements. According reports from UNDMT India, many villages in the worst-affected areas still remain inaccessible.

Asit Biswas from the NGO, ACT (Association for Conservation and Tourism) reported from the world famous Sunderbans, home to the Royal Bengal tiger, that “thousands of villagers are still stranded without food or freshwater in Bali and adjacent islands. Cultivated fields and fresh water bodies have turned saline due to breaches in embankments; carcasses of their cattle are still floating, leaving homeless communities to ponder about their livelihoods. “

Traveltocare.com in association with The Blue Yonder and Help Tourism has set up a “Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group” on the social networking site ‘Facebook’. The group has launched a fund raising campaign to help the people affected by the cyclone. For more information pls see http://rtnetworking.org/aila

Karen Stigsen of Traveltocare.com said, “We have our partners, ACT in West Bengal, working closely with local communities and in conservation initiatives for several years. To help in their initiatives in disaster relief, we took up the responsibility to help raise funds for them.“ Our joint initiative has also partnered with Charities Aid Foundation in India (www.cafindia.org) so that funds we raise can be transferred to their account. CAF India will then redistribute the funds to assist in the work undertaken by ACT.

Based on daily reports from ACT and other local agencies, assessment of the damage is still going on and we are yet to receive the extent to which financial support will be needed in different locations. Four trucks of essential items and medicine have been sent to those most in need.

We invite all individuals and organisations to join us in this initiative and make a positive difference to the lives of thousands of people. Working closely with our local partners, we will send you regular updates on how the funds are being utilised & the status on the ground. Any surplus funds raised will be utilised for disaster mitigation, rehabilitation, conservation & livelihood support of the local region.

The bank details are in the hyperlink below. Please note that any transfers should have a reference code “FBCA2009”. This way, it is easy for us to track down the amount raised. We look forward to your support.

Donation details are available
http://rtnetworking.org/aila/donate.htm

Updates are also available on
http://rtnetworking.org/aila/update.htm

If you are on Facebook, you can follow it at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=85465385255

On twitter, follow the #aila2009 hashtag for activity and updates on how this is progressing.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Screencasts: virtual marketing

So, I am experimenting with screencasting software called screenflow. Its pretty impressive and takes HD vdo of your screen, audio from mikes, and another vdo from your inbuilt camera... Man, I love macs!

Anyways, to the point!

I managed to make screencasts of two of our most recent products, the Green Circuit and the Responsible peek into Nepal.

Am lovin' it! Will come up with more screencasts soon.. great way to market your products I think.

So here goes

THE GREEN CIRCUIT




A RESPONSIBLE PEEK INTO NEPAL


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

in the NEWS: TravelMole


There is nothing much to say! The GREEN circuit launch on www.travelmole.com

Its starts like this
---------------------------------------

The Green Circuit was launched ‘LIVE’ at the Responsible Tourism Network Meeting at SATTE, New Delhi. This is a collaborative initiative started by socialtours.com in February, which was pitched at ITB Berlin at the last network meeting.

This new product offers clients an opportunity to experience a selection of the best ‘responsible’ products in the Indian sub-continent. They can land at any of the many international airports, or arrive at a train station to start the journey....

>>>read more

Friday, April 24, 2009

Press Release - the GREEN Circuit

24th April – The Green Circuit has been launched ‘LIVE’ today amidst the Responsible Travel Network Meeting at SATTE, New Delhi. This is a collaborative initiative started by socialtours.com in February, which was pitched at ITB Berlin at the last network meeting.

This new product offers clients an excellent opportunity to experience a selection of the best ‘responsible’ products in the Indian sub-continent. One can land at any of the many international airports, or arrive at a train station to start the journey, all of it is done overland within the sub-continent, so as to reduce carbon emissions. One can then finish off at an international airport or a train station, choose to continue the trip in one continuous circuit, or come back another time to continue on with the next product.

The product is being jointly marketed, meaning it can be booked individually, or together with any of the partner operators. It is also being offered in international retail travel portals. Again, working on responsibility ethos, it is customizable, so can be broken up into smaller trips to fit traveler requirements

We believe the scalability of the product, and it is meant to be inclusive, not exclusive, working on the ethos of responsibility, but at this stage, we are offering select products from these four operators, to smoothen out logistic challenges with zero compromise on visitor experience. Once this phase is over, we will open it to other products and operators, who are no doubt, also responsible.

The product can currently be viewed at

www.socialtours.com
www.theblueyonder.com
www.grassroutesjourneys.com
www.helptourism.com/blog

www.tourdust.com
www.traveltocare.com
www.responsibletravel.com

We invite international operators to talk to us to determine ways to market it. And also travelers to come into these websites, make enquires and/or book directly with us!

Namaste!


Vishwaraj Gyawali, Founder Director
socialtours.com travels

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Product Launch: The GREEN circuit


The Green Circuit is an initiative started by socialtours.com in February 2009. It tries to bring together some of the best ‘responsible’ products in the sub-continent together in a circuit, which can then be offered to travellers all around the world. The idea is to make this information known using each others websites and the promotions that we all individualy do, creating a mass awareness of responsible practices, and also generating business for all involved.

It is aimed to become a win win situation where ‘responsible’ operators and products hand hold, share, learn, link (which are all responsible practices in itself) to the betterment of the whole.

With an aim to also make the trip “greener”, we will also support by providing information and service support to connect to these products using train and ground travel. The products are also convieniently developed around international airport, so that access is easy.



Nepal: the Tamang Heritage Trail

17 days, heritage sightseeing, moderate trekking, jungle safari
from £ 675 per person

About 150 years ago, Nepal fought Tibet over salt, and some of the biggest areas where this war took place is in the Langtang Region of Nepal, wherein lies the third most popular trekking trail in Nepal. This area is connected to Tibet and the trails in this region were used by traders from Tibet bartering in Salt and mountain goats for meat (changra) with foodstuffs from the south. Developed by the Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation Program, the “Tamang Heritage Trail” is the newly developed tourism product, off the beaten track, which highlights an ancient lifestyle combining it with picturesque scenery and healing baths in natural hot springs.
Read more…

Eastern Himalaya: Red Panda Tea and Elephant Trail

22 days, culture, wildlife and tea gardens
from INR 67,000 per pax nett

East Himalaya is a part of one of the EIGHT HOTTEST BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOTS of the world. This is a part of the Indo-Burma region. Other then India, the East Himalaya touches the countries of Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and West Bengal occupies more than 100,000 sq. kms of East Himalaya approx. which is about 25% of the Indian Himalaya. This shows a major portion of the Himalaya is existent in the East. Similarly, the whole of Nepal and Bhutan are a part of the East Himalaya.
Read more…


East India: Orissa Odyssey

15 Days Kolkata - Visakhapatnam
from 980 Euros per person

An epic adventure through timeless India; stretching from the bustle of India’s renown cultural capital Kolkata, through vast tracts of pastoral plains and palm-fringed paddies, to dense mangroves and tranquil boat rides twisting though the tangled mangrove forest of Bhitarkanika National Park. From natural wonders to the irrepressible man-made marvels of ancient India’s earliest temples at Bhubaneshwar and Konark to the sea swept coastal town of Puri, one of India’s Char Dhams (four holy hotspots of Hinduism). Cruise along Chilika Lake, Asia’s largest salt lake lagoon and camp under a starlit sky.

Read more…

South India - The Malabar Holidays

14 days, culture, spice tour, beaches, homestays
from 815 USD net per person

Malabar was once a British Principality of India. After Independence, Malabar as a state was no longer recognized and the region was divided to form the northern part of what is today called Kerala. Though Malabar has no geographical boundaries, no presence on a map of India, it still exists as a state of mind: laid-back, slow, to live and let live. This is the spirit we capture in this package that begins with Cochin and goes along backwaters, River Nila, Mountains of Wayanad, and ends at the virgin beaches of Kannur in Malabar region.

read more...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Responsible Tourism Networking at new level!


Responsible Tourism Networking is geared to set new standards this week. On 24th, it will go into a live Webinar where pitches can be made from all over the world, and people can listen in from all over the world! Truly groundbreaking!

Check out the invitation below!

-----------------------

Join us online
by webinar for the Responsible Tourism Network Event 24th April 14.30 DK time

Hello there!

The Responsible Tourism Networking at SATTE New Delhi Organisers in India ICRT India, ITB Berlin, Travel to Care and The Blue Yonder

Date : 24th April 2009
Time : IST 1700-1900 (Copenhagen 1330-1530)
Venue : Conference Hall 11 / SATTE Pragathi Maidan

In co-operation with Travel Mole, we are making this event available online as well. A max of 1000 online users can access the webinar and see the pitches made in New Delhi and EUME Croatia. If you are interested in following the webinar online, please click the following link.
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/join/299384946\n\n2

The online event is in tune with Indian event. Please check your local time here and ensure you are online and on realtime.
http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html

By IST (Indian Standard Time) 1630 the moderators Sally Broom of YourSafePlanet.com, Gopinath Parayil of TheBlueYonder.com, Ashish Gupta from Traveltocare.com, Raj Gyawali from SocialTreks.com, Marcus Bauer from respontour.net and Valere Tjolle of VISION on Sustainable Tourism – tourism-vision.com will be online.

Please give yourself half an hour preparation time before the actual event start.

Let us know if you have any questions, we will be glad to help you (info@theblueyonder.com )

Looking forward to meeting you in Delhi or online.

Sally, Gopinath, Ashish, Raj, Sajo, Marcus, Valere and Karen

Friday, March 27, 2009

Freakonomics: The problem with non-profits - A response

This was written in response to an article that appeared in the New York Times Opinion column Freakonomics. The article is titled


My comment:

1. Salaries need to be paid. And if you give peanuts, you will only get monkeys.

2. The problem with non-profits lies elsewhere hidden in issues of accountability and connected to this is the demands of donors to “perform” (whereas there is no objective definition of what that performance is nor an indicator to measure it) and the resultant misuse (not corruption, just ill management) of a valuable resource such as money, specially in poor countries.

The latter, in my belief is a much much larger problem for charities, and will require a sea change in philosophy and practice.

I think it is pretty clear and does not need elaboration at all.

Lately, though, through my various affiliations with charities (some started by private sector and some by the development sector) I am more and more convinced that the only type of development that seem not to waste this valuable resource is the one initiated by the private sector.. I am a private sector entrepreneur, and put 10% of profits into charity.. when I do my charity, I want every penny to go to the cause, in a right responsible way, and since it is my hard earned money (OK, my organisations hard earned money) I will make damn well sure that it is accounted for and is done right (at least, from my understanding of what is right and wrong)

- Raj Gyawali

The author suggest the following in his post

I am writing to suggest a blog topic about a book I recently finished reading called Uncharitable [by Dan Pallotta]. Uncharitable concludes that the constraints society places on non-profits leave them unable to solve the great social problems of the world. The book argues for the capitalization of philanthropy, including: competitive wages to attract the best applicants, increasing spending on advertising to build demand for philanthropy, and allowing investors to purchase stocks in non-profit organizations so philanthropy is not capital barren.

One of the key points of the book is that the method we currently use to evaluate charities, through efficiency ratios, provides no information about the effectiveness of an individual charity and leads an organization to focus exclusively on the short term (at the cost of long-term planning) and develop extreme risk-averse preferences (which leaves them unwilling to take risks which could lead to innovations).

----------

The comments eventually stray to the problems of non-profits and the wastage through high salaries etc.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another milestone: our trips in Spain

In another milestone achievement for socialtours.com we have started a working relationship with Maka Ecotourism from Spain.

The first trip will start in July with a couple going into Nepal and Tibet.

This is another success of the Fringe Responsible Travel Network which started at WTM two years ago and just recently had its third meeting at ITB. The next meeting is in April at SATTE, Delhi.

This is what Maka say of themselves on their website @ www.makaecotourism.com
__________________________________________

Makà Ecotourism is a travel agency, located in Barcelona and set up by a group of intrepid Ecotravellers with working experience in the fields of tourism, education and international co-operation. We offer you a great variety of routes and Ecotourism trips based in natural sorroundings, giving you the chance to discover another way of travelling.

Our themed guided tours are specially designed to take you to some of the most enchanting places in Catalonia, in small groups. We design tailor made itineraries escaping from the conventional, well trodden tourist circuits and we organice special trips for those having a hobby. With a personalised travel consultancy service, we offers you the opportunity to partake in sustainable and responsible tourism trips and holidays.

These include trekking, walking, horseback riding, bike tours, birdwatching, flora and fauna spotting, scuba diving and kayaking, activities in Natural Parks and Protected areas, rural tourism, cultural excursions and historical journeys throughout the whole of Catalonia.

______________________________

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

ethicaltravelportal.com - Partners in Norway


As on today, we have started a partnership with www.ethicaltravelportal.com, who are based in Norway.

Ethical Travel Portal organizes learning experiences in responsible travel! Together with their local partners in destinations the trips aim to give a different kind of experience. One can take part in activities as a tourist and at the same time gain knowledge how responsible tourism is making a difference in local communities. They want to share the value of responsible tourism and give clients an eye opener experience to tell their friends and family back home. Feel free to contact them at info@ethicaltravelportal.com.
____________________

From the website, the about us section says:

Ethical Travel Portal was established to meet the growing demand for in-depth knowledge in the field of sustainable and responsible tourism. Passionate about responsible travel, we realized that the best way to close that gap was to bring travellers to the destinations and learn from the local experts.

This unique concept provides a learning experience in responsible travel to various destinations. The trips are tailor made in cooperation with our local partners who are specialists in their communities. They use tourism as a tool to 'create better places for people to live in and visit'. Travellers get an insight on how they have successfully created positive impact in the local community and the surrounding environment.

Our trips focus on giving the traveler a deeper understanding about responsible tourism and ethical issues. Travelers are encouraged to use the achieved knowledge in their future jobs, travels and daily life. Or simply spread the message about responsible tourism and how to be a responsibe tourist. Our destinations and partners are handpicked by Ethical Travel Portal. We are convinced that our travelers will benefit from the trips thanks to our and our partners’ knowledge of each destination.

Linda Veraasdal,
Founder and Director

_________________

socialtours is partnering with them to provide learning experience in responsible travel in Nepal. Currently we have one trip that will go on their website very soon. It involves a lot of cultural interactions, stay in eco-lodges, a small trek through the Chepang Hills, visits in Chitwan of a Tharu project besides jungle activities, and ending it with some responsible shopping with members of the Fair Trade Group Nepal. Of course, the whole trips is peppered with a lot of learning opportunities on responsible tourism.

www.ethicaltravelportal.com also offers similar trips to Gambia, India, Uganda and Norway.

Follow them on twitter here

Friday, March 20, 2009

Comment: the need for professional Adventure Graduates

This is a comment on the article entitled New Zealand nurtures adventure students that appeared on travelmole.com .. read the article here


Finally the industry can get people trained for this purpose, not just interested people who have to be trained from scratch.

In Nepal, where my business is located, there is a big need (as opposed to demand) for professionals in adventure of all types... soft, medium and hard core.

We have tons of trained guides, raft guides, paraglider pilots, mountain bike specialists, etc... but all of them have learnt it on the job (which mind you is not a bad way to learn) but there is the other side of things... customer service, leadership skills, etc. which is greatly lacking. Our guides are excellent in just that... but what is required is leadership.

Hopefully a program such as this can produce future leaders, and not just workers... that is what the industry requires!

This is not a place to advertise, but Nepal would be more than willing to take in a few interns... I know my company would!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Profiling the Eco-Guest

this is a comment made to the article on

Green is the new Luxury on Travel Mole written by Sally Broom, www.yoursafeplanet.com

I was at this interaction too, and it was very interesting. The one thing that really hit me was that no one really knew who the eco-guest was, and I love this fact.

Gone are the days when you can profile a consumer based on how much money he/she has and what the education level is. I used to be in the consumer market research business several years ago, and it will be interesting to see how market research will tackle this new challenge. The difference now is that people are basing their purchases on values and principles (and this is not income or education driven). Its fantastic and exciting.

We are so used to follow an old age approach of divide and rule (basically fit everyone into boxes and then market to them) that we forget that this is a wonderful opportunity to market to everyone. And the challenge to cater to such a vastly different clientele is awesome.

The initiatives mentioned at this interaction were also wonderful, albeit a bit targeted to only the rich customer, whose eco/non eco balance might be a bit skewed, but it was interesting / inspiring to hear this prespective.

The Green Circuit on TravelMole!

TravelMole, the industry's leading newswire, put out a special report on the Fringe Networking of Responsible Tourism that happened at ITB on Friday the 13th (wow, did not realise that was the day).

Read the article on TravelMole here

There were some fantastic pitches, and the "green circuit" was one of the initiatives launched... and it got a mention. Read all about the Green Circuit here

Thanks Velere for putting it in there. Support such as this will help us take this forward. Watch this space for the developments as it happens.

As on now, I am working on working on the feedback we had, finding a better name for the circuit (getting out of the green), documenting it, so that we can report at WTM on how it went forward, tyring to get the players to meet up at SATTE next month, so that we can finalise the product and launch in India too and on our websites...

Lots of work, but so so exciting!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Response: Slum Tourism confusions

This is in response to the article on the Worldhum website. Read the article by Eric Wiener here

Slumming It: Can Slum Tourism Be Done Right?

I think it is very well put Eric, and I appreciate that you have not only written about it from one side, I think though you have a clear opinion, the article is very balanced. It is very difficult to say when tourism starts becoming voyeuristic and unjust and irresponsible and what the borders are.

Using an example from my country, is going through a poor village in the mountains of Nepal and “looking” into their lives irresponsible? Some of these villagers are poorer than the Mumbai slum communities.

I think that we are too quick to draw a line in our minds between good and bad. What is important is that the practice needs to be right. A school for the slum kids can make a big big impact and difference in the lives of the people in the slums. Agreed, that if the tours were going to Tak Mahal and the donations to the slum school, it might have been better, but there are chances of making a bigger impact by taking the tours (responsible practices apply here) through the slums itself. There is a cross-cultural aspect of tourism that cannot be ignored, that understanding each others conditions can help foster a better global thinking between humans!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Green Circuit - as on today!

On the day of the pitch at the ITB Fringe Network Meet, this is the status of the "green" circuit.

Players:

Tour Operators involved so far:
socialtours.com
HELP tourism
Grass Routes Journeys
The Blue Yonder

The circuit connects select RT operations and projects in Nepal and India (at the moment) through train and ground transport (to reduce the carbon footprint as well give another very fulfilling experience of traveling over land).

The product is excellent, some highlights are included in the short descriptions in the posts below.

The theory behind the circuit is in the last post!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eastern Himalaya - Red Panda, Tea and Elephants Trail - from Help Tourism

22 days, culture, wildlife and tea gardens

East Himalaya is a part of one of the EIGHT HOTTEST BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOTS of the world. This is a part of the Indo-Burma region. Other then India, the East Himalaya touches the countries of Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and West Bengal occupies more than 100,000 sq. kms of East Himalaya approx. which is about 25% of the Indian Himalaya. This shows a major portion of the Himalaya is existent in the East. Similarly, the whole of Nepal and Bhutan are a part of the East Himalaya. The rich biodiversity and cultural diversity of East Himalaya has further reaching effects and extends the region in a compact zone from Bay of Bengal to the snow capped ranges of Mt.Kanchenjunga and Mt.Everest.

The topography varies from the estuarine landscape, passing through low foothills reaching upto the highest mountains of the world, the Mt. Everest and the Mt. Kanchenjunga. A massive area is covered with snow glaciers feeding a large network of rivers, the major ones being the Brahmaputra, Ganga, Lohit, Dehing, Jiabhareli, Koshi, Rydak, Torsha and Teesta. The areas below the snow are mainly used for forestry, agriculture, grassland habitations and infrastructure such as dams, reservoirs and roads. The forest cover is about 140,000 sq. kms even after losing about two third of the forest in the last few decades. The East Himalaya is the home of more than a hundred indigenous communities, with unique cultures & origin.

The biodiversity explored till date provides mind boggling figures, about 8000 species of angiosperms of which 3200 are endemic, 800 species of birds, 150 species of reptiles, 80 species of amphibians, 200 species of fishes and the list continues.
More than 80 wild relatives of crops belonging to cereals, millet, pulses, oil yielding plants, spices and fruits have been recorded here in scientific studies.

Keeping in view whatever little that has been described, the ecological importance of the region is beyond question. The ethnic diversity is so vast that more than 50% of the population and their cultures are still waiting to be explored.

Mt.Kanchenjunga, towering at 28,156 feet, the third highest mountain in the world is considered as the Guardian Deity of the region and dominates the landscape of the whole area including Darjeeling Hills, Dooars-the foothill forests, Sikkim state and the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Your experience in this tour includes unique opportunities to visit the picturesque and remote Himalayan villages, Tea Plantations, and some of the outstanding ecological sites, and interact with the local community. Enjoy a taste of their lifestyle and be a part of it while staying with them, experience local crafts, cuisine and even be entertained in their local cultural tradition. The people of villages are your hosts. They have proudly retained most of their cultural tradition and self-sustaining lifestyle.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

South India - Malabar Holidays - The Blue Yonder


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Malabar Holidays
14 days, culture, spice tour, beaches, homestays

Malabar was once a British Principality of India. After Independence, Malabar as a state was no longer recognized and the region was divided to form the northern part of what is today called Kerala. Though Malabar has no geographical boundaries, no presence on a map of India, it still exists as a state of mind: laid-back, slow, to live and let live.

This is the spirit we capture in this package that begins with Cochin and goes along backwaters, River Nila, Mountains of Wayanad , and ends at the virgin beaches of Kannur in Malabar region.. While most of Kerala is recognised as a traveller’s must–visit destination, Malabar is yet to be discovered. And hence to the uninitiated offers a plethora of delights ranging from a river cruise to legend trails to spice tours to tea estate visits to craft villages and heritage sites.

This is a Kerala where the everyday and exotic merge seamlessly. For a traveller who is weary of experiencing shrink wrapped plastic package tours, the Malabar leg comes minus hype and spin and instead is a way of life that asks little of the traveller except an open mind.

Catch some details of this trip on the Blue Yonder Website here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Green Circuit - Nepal - The Tamang Heritage Trail


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The Tamang Heritage Trail
17 days, culture and easy trekking

About 150 years ago, Nepal fought Tibet over salt, and some of the biggest areas where this war took place is in the Langtang Region of Nepal, wherein lies the third most popular trekking trail in Nepal. This area is connected to Tibet and the trails in this region were used by traders from Tibet bartering in Salt and mountain goats for meat (changra) with foodstuffs from the south. Developed by the Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation Program, the "Tamang Heritage Trail" is the newly developed tourism product, off the beaten track, which highlights an ancient lifestyle combining it with picturesque scenery and healing baths in natural hot springs.

This trip will be preceded by a trip to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, as you come across from India into Nepal. Once the trek is over, we will take you to the famous Chitwan National Park for some game viewing and jungle activities including Elephant back safari. You will also visit a project on papermaking from Elephant dung.

This trip is contributed by socialtours.com & socialtreks.com to the "green" circuit!

Orissa Odyssee - 15 days - by Grass Routes Journeys


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Orissa Odyssey
15 Days Kolkata - Visakhapatnam

An epic adventure through timeless India; stretching from the bustle of India’s renown cultural capital Kolkata, through vast tracts of pastoral plains and palm-fringed paddies, to dense mangroves and tranquil boat rides twisting though the tangled mangrove forest of Bhitarkanika National Park. From natural wonders to the irrepressible man-made marvels of ancient India’s earliest temples at Bhubaneshwar and Konark to the sea swept coastal town of Puri, one of India’s Char Dhams (four holy hotspots of Hinduism). Cruise along Chilika Lake, Asia’s largest salt lake lagoon and camp under a starlit sky. Join festive weekly markets where indigenous cultures converge; interact with peoples imbued with centuries of independent traditions. Traverse rustic countryside and tap into the simple pleasures of village life in timeless rural India.

contributed to the "green circuit" by Grass Route Journeys. Check their website here

Friday, February 27, 2009

For lack of a better name: The Grand "GREEN" circuit

This has been some years in the making, most of the time in my head, but it looks that its time has finally come, and I have to put it down, and take it forward.

I had been toying with an idea to bring "responsible" tour operators in the sub-continent (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan, and even including Tibet) together to develop a "grand green" circuit (which I have not gone around to naming creatively enough). The idea is this

The trip passes through some of the "responsible products" on offer in the sub-continent, connecting all places through through "green(er)" transportation means, like ground transport, trains, ferry etc, trying to avoid flying basically, which is a big issue today. We thereby achieve three big things:-

1. Make available a wonderful product which also makes "conscious" clients aware of what all is happening in the realm of responsible tourism, and what is available out there, that they can choose from and experience.
2. Develop a trip that is "green(er)", thereby having a better pull in today's footprint concious markets.
3. Is a common platform where local operators can work together and support each others business, and also share experiences and learn from each other, which will result in better products and services for the clients again, plus harnessing the synergies of common learning.

So where are we with this:-

So far, and I will keep updating this post as it happens, so keep an eye on this:-

The players

socialtours.com, GrassRoutes and The Blue Yonder are together in this, so also is Travel to Care and the intiative will be launched at ITB (www.itb-berlin.com), actively supported by experts in local travel like Your Safe Planet. Getting good moral support on the idea from Valere from TravelMole

Keep an eye here, the list will keep growing.

The product

To date, we have a trip that starts in either Kathmandu, Kolkata, Visakapatnam, Delhi or Cochin (the idea being that clients can land at an international airport of their choice and join the circuit, and pop out whereever it is convenient for them)

This will be a small group adventure and culture trip with the minimum size of 2 and maximum of 6 pax.

If you start at Delhi, one takes an overnight train to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, which is about 2 hours drive from the border with Nepal. You enter at Sunauli, where the first leg of your journey commences in Nepal.

NEPAL - Tamang Heritage Trail by socialtours.com travels

Day 01. Pick up at Sunauli and drive to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. Rest at the hotel.
Day 02. Tour of the Lumbini gardens and visit to the monument at the birthplace of the Buddha. Visit to the Buddhist temples from various nationalities at the site. Back to Hotel for the night
Day 03. Travel to Kathmandu by land (Bus or car, depending on size of group). Taken to a welcome dinner to a theme nepali restaurant, and later back to hotel.
Day 04. Preparation day for the trek in Nepal. Detailed trip and safety briefings, and last minute purchases.
Day 05-11. Drive to Dhunche in the Langtang Region to start the Tamang Heritage Trail, a newly devleoped product in the Lantang Region, complete with homestays in Tamang houses. The Tamangs of Langtang were originally Tibetan and fled Tibet centuries ago and settled in Nepal. Since they were not recognised as Nepalese, they changed their surnames to Tamang, which is a Nepali surname. The 7 days trek meanders through Tamang villages, with overnights in homestays and immersion into the cultures of these wonderful people.

Read details of this trek here (The Tamang Heritage Trail)

Day 11. Back to Kathmandu and overnight in Kathmandu.

Day 12-14. Drive to Chitwan National Park for a Rhino safari. We will stay in small lodges here, support the work of the Nepal Green Society, visit an operation which is making paper out of elephant dung, besides going on elephant back safari, canoeing, visits to the elephant breeding center. More about the safari part here (Chitwan Jungle Safari)

Day 14. We will drive today to the Border of India at Raxaul, and get on an overnight train to Kolkata.

EASTERN INDIA - Orissa Odyssee by Grass Routes Journeys

Once in Kolkata, for another 15 days, your trip will be taken over by another Responsible Tourism partner, GrassRoutes, where they will take you on an expedition through Bengal and Orissa, before ending the journey at Visakapatnam. Read more about this journey here (The Orisssa Odyssee)

So on day 29, you will be at Vizag, boarding a train which will take you to Cochin, where the Blue Yonder will take you to the Nila River in Kerala and their product there.

SOUTHERN INDIA - The Malabar Holidays - from The Blue Yonder

Malabar was once a British Principality of India. After Independence, Malabar as a state was no longer recognized and the region was divided to form the northern part of what is today called Kerala. Though Malabar has no geographical boundaries, no presence on a map of India, it still exists as a state of mind: laid-back, slow, to live and let live.

This is the spirit we capture in this package that begins with Cochin and goes along backwaters, River Nila, Mountains of Wayanad , and ends at the virgin beaches of Kannur in Malabar region.. While most of Kerala is recognised as a traveller’s must–visit destination, Malabar is yet to be discovered. And hence to the uninitiated offers a plethora of delights ranging from a river cruise to legend trails to spice tours to tea estate visits to craft villages and heritage sites.

This is a Kerala where the everyday and exotic merge seamlessly. For a traveller who is weary of experiencing shrink wrapped plastic package tours, the Malabar leg comes minus hype and spin and instead is a way of life that asks little of the traveller except an open mind.

This 14 day package takes you through Cochin – Backwaters – River Nila – Nilambur – Wayanad – Kannur-Calicut Train Station.

This is where the circuit has reached at the moment

Comments are welcome.

btw, looking for people who can comment, join, expand the idea, make suggestions, just about anything... even criticize (hopefully of the constructive nature)

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