When Goa met Ladakh & the Curious Case of Tourism in India
Tourism is like Fire
“Tourism is like fire… It can cook your food but also burn down your house” – Robbin Fox
The act of travelling across landscapes and cultures allows us to grow into holistic individuals. As we meet new people and observe new customs, we understand different ways of life and the diverse world that we live in. Mindful travel is credited for making the traveller more humble, who goes beyond their own comfort zone to live a new way of life for a very short duration.
A rather dynamic interaction exists between culture & tourism. Domestic & international tourism is being increasingly appreciated for being a positive force towards the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. However, on the other hand, poorly planned tourism initiatives can end up damaging the physical and social fabric of the host culture. The situation is especially sensitive in destinations that experience mass-tourism, such as Goa and Ladakh. A community’s self-image and its recognition of identity increases civic pride and also energises communities. Unfortunately, a stereotypical image of the destination often develops when only a certain aspect of the destination’s experience is promoted over a continued period of time. This, in turn, begins to affect the local community’s perception of their own identity. If visitors only enjoy road trips and cafes, do our farmlands hold any value? If setting up a shack on the beach is the easiest source of income, should we invest time into developing our crafts?
While internet searches lead potential tourists to pages which boast of the “best sightseeing”, “most Instagram-worthy destinations” and other articles which work well for the search engine optimisation, the finer aspects of a travel experience often get missed out. Social media and cinema are some of the major influencers which encourage travellers to make choices about their destination. It is a cycle of biased stereotypes influencing traveller perceptions leading to check-list itineraries and thus more popular imagery showing up on the internet, ready to influence the next set of travellers. What we end up losing in the process, is what we can actually learn most from. The local knowledge systems of every culture are so strong, they have the capacity to have a positive influence on our life. In a country as diverse and culturally-rich as India, the misfortune of “travelling but not really seeing” is magnified manifolds.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognises the need to safeguard our fragile cultural systems in an increasingly globalising world. Our living heritage includes the practices, knowledge and skills which are handed down from generation to generation. “This heritage provides communities with a sense of identity and is continuously recreated in response to the environment”. It is called intangible because its existence and recognition depend mainly on the human will, which is immaterial, and it is transmitted by imitation & living experience.
Experiencing our own cultural heritage and sharing that experience with visitors to our community is the only way to keep our living heritage alive. Sharing the experience of a neighbouring culture can allow us to broaden our own sense of self and learn something which may be new to us. Within India, many case examples have emerged which inspire possibilities for effective revitalisation and management of the rich and diverse heritage that our country has to offer.
A Case of Tourism Gone Wrong
Goa, which started experiencing very high footfalls in the eighties (when Ladakh had just opened up to the outside world) is already a case of “tourism gone wrong” where many fishing villages have ‘developed’ into top tourist destinations and resources have been squeezed out of the hands of the locals and pumped into resorts and hotels. The locals who once saw the tourism industry as easy money willingly gave up their land and lifestyle to accommodate a very high number of incoming tourists.
Today, the differing expectations and aspirations of the local communities vs. those of tourists can pose to be a major threat to any tourism initiative. It is therefore important to understand how a beneficial interaction can be maintained between all the various stakeholders involved.
The tale of Goa is almost a precautionary one for Ladakh. A sensitive approach to the ideas of conservation and celebration of cultural heritage which is not just concerned with the continuity of old traditions of historic value but also with the lives of people who dwell in them. The needs of people are constantly evolving and change is thus inevitable and necessary. A resolution must thus be reached which caters to the contemporary needs of the different traditions. Increased possibility of tourism in heritage areas will benefit both the visitors and local communities in many ways. It is based on trying to achieve the sensitive balance between the means adopted for generating revenue. Needs of the people while allowing the identity of cultural heritage to be retained. It is based on trying to achieve the sensitive balance between the means adopted for generating revenue and the impact it has on the lives of people residing within these areas for whom the space is about much more than beautiful facades and ambience.
The Rainbow that is India
Every nook and corner of India has something new to offer. The landscape, the language, the costumes, the food…. Everything changes every few hundred kilometres. Culturally speaking, India is like 2 dozen countries united by a common political boundary. Everything changes, but so much remains the same.
The warmth with which we gather for our evening chats in the neighbourhood…
The passion with which we cook and eat…
The heart that goes into creating every art form, unique to every location…
The joy in our hearts when our music starts playing…
There is so much to experience, to appreciate and to, possibly, learn from in this vast country of ours. Indians are travelling like never before with the spirit of discovery. Goa and Ladakh are two of the top tourist destinations in India. But no vacation is long enough to allow us to truly meet the best of what every destination has to offer.
A Goan Saturday in Ladakh
The Goan Saturday was an evening which brought together glimpses of both Goan & Ladakhi cultures parallel to one another.
Informal gatherings in public space and open-ended evening conversations are an integral part of community life in every local culture across India. Carrying forward the same tradition, the evening began with the local community coming together for a conversation over glasses of Ladakhi apricot juice and Goan 'kanda bhaji' (batter-fried onion rings). The gathering around the table was a mix of young professionals from different backgrounds, as well as senior members of the community including Ka Sonam Gyatso (Tibet Heritage Fund), Ka Skarma Gurmet (Julay Ladakh) and renowned filmmaker Ka Stanzin Dorjai Gya. Several questions were raised, discussed, sometimes answered and sometimes left to interpretation. As the young and old alike shared their experiences and anecdotes from life, a healthy debate was raised about issues ranging from local economy & the tourism industry to community pride & identity.
Art was in abundance, with the two large-scale hand-painted artforms from both regions being showcased simultaneously. The azulejos of Goa, a Portuguese influence, and the colourful labris (mural) art of Ladakh inspired the engaging art table gave the guests a chance to try their hands at this art. Square paper tiles were designed by Studio Folklore, which the guests brought to life in their own ways - mostly by filling colours using the reference art-work provided, but also often unleashing their inner creative and trying something offbeat.
Soul Art Ladakh displayed their products inspired by elements of the local. These are everyday lifestyle products - ranging from mugs and notebooks, to laptop sleeves and other products. The traditional inspiration transforms into very contemporary visuals with fresh colour palettes.
A photo exhibition brings together visuals from both Goa and Ladakh, on similar lines. Architecture, street life, community festivals, iconic urban landmarks, art in public space and many other aspects of public life in both regions is explored through these photographs. The exhibition in on for the season 2019 at The Turnip.
Chef Sam, who has almost 8 years of experience with Goan cuisine, created a culinary experience which transported guests to the Coast. On the table was Goan Fish Curry, Chicken Cafreal, Coconut Delight Veggies, being served with Goan Pav and freshly steamed rice. Crispy banana fritters were served to satisfy the sweet tooth.
The playlist for the evening comprised of upbeat tunes in Konkani and Ladakhi, followed by Karaoke. As Aisha Tyler said, "Karaoke is the great equaliser!" And we couldn't agree more. An evening of intense conversation, food and craft came to the perfect ending with music bringing people to the floor - whether to sing along or to dance to the tunes which played well into the night. The music and carefree-dance transported me right back to the Musical Sundays in the Park in Panjim town (Goa). And that's when I knew that the circle was completed.
Being in either Goa or Ladakh is not just about the landscape and the physicality of things around you. It's about a state of mind. The relaxed pace of life and enjoyment of the little things is what makes Goa and Ladakh twins.
The distinct characters of these areas such as add to the diversity to the multiple layers of history and culture that the country of India possesses. The artist Sony Thokchom wrote a beautiful post about how "India is like a rainbow". I agree. It is when all the colours come together that the beauty of the rainbow shows.
Ofcourse we are all different from one another. An evening like this was just the beginning. Glimpses into other cultures have the potential of igniting personal growth. I believe that understanding differences in a sensitive manner would only make us want to learn more from our neighbor. We have solutions that have been devised in the past for mental as well as physical comfort. There is so much ancient & contemporary knowledge in this entire country which is not just relevant, but mandatory, for our future as a sustainable and cultural super-power. Our differences are, thus, our strength. There is so much to be remembered and incorporated into our lives for a better future.
There is, after all, Strength in Diversity.