Sustainable Development: Homestays in Dzongu During the Pandemic
The journey of homestays in Dzongu began in the year 2009, when three youngsters, who were active members of the anti-dam movement in North Sikkim, decided to seek alternate forms of livelihood. Since 2006, many youngsters from Dzongu, who were members of the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), were involved in the anti-dam movement. As many, including the state government believed that this act was hindering the general idea of development, the movement was, too a great extent, dubbed as anti-development and anti-state.
In the process, many youngsters found it difficult to find jobs and means of livelihood. It was in 2009, that Kachyo Lepcha, a resident of Lingthem, Dzongu, along with two others, Gyatso and Tenzing, decided to start homestays in the serene land of Dzongu. Since then, tourists have found their way to the beautiful, pastoral villages in Dzongu. Today, in 2021 there are about 15 homestays that function out of Dzongu, catering and educating tourists from across the world on the concept of sustainable living and development.
Dzongu is located in North Sikkim and lies about 70 kilometers from the capital city of Gangtok. It is a Lepcha reserve and travelers are required to attain a permit to enter to reserve.
Since 2009, it has become a destination for backpackers, trekkers, tourists and other nature lovers, as it has a lot to offer to them. The enclosure contains monasteries, waterfalls, lakes, trekking paths and even a natural hot-water spring. The homestays in Dzongu follow sustainable ways of living, existing in harmony with nature-in accordance to the Lepcha way of life.
The pandemic and lockdowns had affected the tourist influx into Sikkim in general, leaving an adverse impact on the homestays in Dzongu. Kachyo and Premit, who run the Lepcha Homestay in Lingthem, say, “It has not been very easy to manage things during the lockdown. As it is run and maintained by the family, we don’t have much manpower to maintain the premises. And we don’t generally have the regular tourists who visit through packages.
Most of the guests we receive are either people who have visited once, or their acquaintances. We still haven’t put up a website or anything as we do not wish to commercialize my homestay. We believe in the principle of sustainable living and have managed to do well enough so far. But this pandemic has definitely impacted this. We have had to cancel a few bookings in the initial days as we felt it was not responsible of us to receive guests during this situation. But one thing that has kept us going is our simple and sustainable lifestyle. We produce most of what we need and support each other as a commune.”
Gyatso Lepcha of Mayal Lyang homestay in Dzongu, who has also been running his homestay since 2009 says, “The pandemic has hit us like the rest of the world in an adverse manner. During the first lockdown that around five months, I took the time to work a little on my property and also re-think and reflect about the situation. But after the period, the pandemic really started to hit us.” According to Gyatso, the reality of the homestays in Dzongu is slightly different from the other parts of Sikkim.
In the case of many other homestays, at least one member of the family has some other source of income. This has helped them support themselves during the pandemic. That is probably one reason why, when multiple sectors dependent on tourism such as hotels, tour operators and cab services made appeals to the government for concessions during the lockdown, there wasn’t much voices heard from the homestays.
The number of stakeholders who completely depend on the homestay are less in number. He adds, “In my case the homestay is my source of income. And with that being shut down for long now, it is becoming difficult to manage things. But having said this, I must mention that we are still able to manage because we don’t have much liabilities in terms of running the homestay. For instance, we don’t have liabilities such as salary for staff, rent, etc.” he emphasized on the idea of sustainable development and tourism which has helped to fight the lockdown crisis.
The importance of a strong community and producing one’s own need, and not running behind greed is important.
Today, the government of Sikkim has taken many initiatives to promote the setting-up and running of homestays across the state over the decade.
This provides as a source of income and livelihood among many families across Sikkim. And it also welcomes tourists from different parts of India and the world to experience various aspects of rural life in Sikkim. But alongside this, it is important to develop a sustainable way of life and promote sustainable development.
Sikkim being a state where multiple economies are tourism dependent, it is important to take this time-off to consider the type of tourism it invites. A rather sustainable approach would help not only in the development of better tourism, but would also contribute to the environment of Sikkim on the longer run. Instead of going big and luxurious, we could all work and promote the idea of ‘small is beautiful’.
Ruksana Sharma, a tourist who visited Dzongu says, “It was a wonderful experience to spend time at the Lepcha homestay at Dzongu. It is basically a home away from home. It is also interesting to observe how low-cost and sustainable their model is. Most of the material required to maintain the homestay is available locally and the work is done by the family. By my second, day I felt like a part of the family and got to spend time in the fields.
They cultivate a variety of vegetables and one could walk to the field and decide on the menu.” Another visitor from Kerala, Beena, who visited in Dzongu is 2016 says, “Our stay at Mayal Lyang homestay left us with memories for a lifetime. The constant melody of birds in the backdrop of the sound of the flowing river is something one doesn’t forget easily. It was also interesting to get away from the concrete jungle we live in. It gave us an opportunity to connect with nature.” Yet another avid traveler and biker, who frequently visits Dzongu, says, “The lack of awareness about our carbon footprint had made us drift into a trance of ignorance, a trance so deep that the significance of harmony between nature and mankind has slipped beyond our subconscious. Reset your priorities, adopt sustainable living! Go green, visit Dzongu.”
With the pandemic retreating slightly, and Sikkim awaiting to welcome tourists again, it is necessary not only to take measures to prevent the spreading of COVID-19, but equally essential to begin a journey towards the promotion of sustainable development and tourism. This would not only help the people acting as stakeholders in the hospitality sector, but also contribute to making Sikkim cleaner and greener. As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.’
By Vaidyanath Nishant. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org