24 June 2020

The Lockdown Experience:
A Reminder of Our Roots or Signs of the Future?

The horror-show of epidemic turning pandemic was akin to a hurricane in its scale, speed and spread. It shook the economy and forced several businesses to shut down and leaving others struggling to survive. Hospitality, travel & tourism amongst all is the worst hit. Several people are losing their jobs. Workers are migrating back to villages from cities with the fear of the unknown. Millions of small businesses with debt and fixed costs are hit hard. Stories of starvation, deaths and loss of income are horrifying.

As heartbreaking the effects of this pandemic are, let us not allow the benefits and learnings from it be wasted. It gave all of us the time and forced us to think. We went back to our neighbourhood shops. We are united together. We are brought closer to our families, local communities and small businesses. We are reminded “essentials” is all we need. We are under a clearer blue sky and breathing fresh air. Peacocks and dolphins are out, with us indoors. Is it a wake-up call that we were living well beyond our boundaries? Is this awakening a reminder of our roots or signs of the future?

Village Life in Himachal Pradesh

Rakkh Resort

At Rakkh, an experiential resort in Palampur town of Himachal Pradesh, India, we are and will always continue to be locally connected. Circa 10 years ago, when the idea to set up a resort in Palampur, away from city’s chaos, on a hill-top at Rakh village occupied by Gaddi community, came up in our mind, we were filled with zeal to connect and work with the local community. To protect and promote local traditions and support eco-tourism. To be a one-stop destination for fun seekers, adventurer, foodies, hikers, bikers, birders, nature and culture lovers. But as in any venture, we faced several roadblocks. Locals were resistant, worried that irresponsible tourists will not respect the sanctity of their cultural and traditional village. The local workforce was either informal, unorganized or had migrated in search of opportunities. Promotion of local culture wasn’t the in-thing.

Right from day one, we made it our mission to support the economic, social and cultural development of the local community and protect mother nature. Our resort is constructed around the treeline leaving as many trees as possible intact and planting new ones to make up for those cut. Majority of our staff come from neighbouring communities and are trained on the job, which in addition to being a financially viable decision, helps in the local prosperity by infusing and keeping the money within the local economy. Further, keeping carbon footprints in check by avoiding long commutes.

Bir Billing in Himachal Pradesh

Village Walk

All our guests from kids to elderly, enjoy guided immersive experiences of walking alongside streams, hiking on mountains, spotting birds, strolling through tea-gardens, riding mountain bikes, interacting with locals, exploring their culture and heritage while enjoying a home-cooked meal, an experience filled with love and warmth in their mud houses. The locals feel pride in sharing their culture. For travellers from the Indian subcontinent, the authentic experience of being taken back to old times is beloved. While our international guests cherish the intimate acquaintance of a serene and rustic India of Himachali villages made memorable by humble and convivial locals. Some among them make these mountains their homes or second homes. This has a special appeal and resonance to me, as after a long stint in a foreign land, I too moved back to India and made mountains as my home. I redefined my career and retooled my skillset. My eternal gratitude to the Rakkh family for this wonderful opportunity. (On a side note, many among my friends and social circle wonder how it is to adopt a new home and be adopted, nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts of it all. Write to me personally to know more about why and how of it at swati@rakkh.com. Yes, I feel evangelical about it and will literally shout it out from the top of the mountain!)

There are benefits to being a locally driven and serviced venture. It is not about altruism or idealism alone. Working along with our local communities makes us self-sufficient. Our food supplies including jams, pickles and groceries are sourced from local small businesses. The flour we use for our bread is from the milling of locally produced grains in water-run mills (known as “Gharats” or “Pan-chakki”) making it nutritiously rich and of superior quality due to cold grinding. It is axiomatically eco-friendly as it harnesses a renewable source, the mountain streams. Our vegetables and fruits are either grown in our own organic garden or sourced through local farmers. Our vernacular architecture with the use of local wood, mud and slate keeps us connected to the environment albeit reducing utilities and maintenance cost. We take pride in supporting local weavers and potters by helping them keep their passion alive and giving an opportunity to our guests to learn a skill and take a souvenir back home with them. We invite local artists, musicians and cooks for the Kangra cultural evenings with music and “Dham” at Rakkh to preserve and spread awareness about local traditions.

Even in the current trying times, we are fortunate to give back, be hopeful and stay positive owing to our robust sustainable and responsible practices. Our workforce is able to stay connected with their families and community. Our offbeat location away from town and each private cottage provide natural social distancing. At Rakkh resort in Palampur, our team and the community as a whole came forward to educate itself in the proper protocols and practices of handling the pandemic. Personal hygiene, peer and self-monitoring, social distancing, proper use of equipment to minimize direct contact with food, linen and other personal use items are just a few of the measures now ingrained into our staff.

Together as a community, the travel and hospitality industry need to join hands and work towards the new future, inclusive and engaging. Help the small businesses get back on their feet, give back to the local community, motivate repatriation by gainful employment to those who return home to their families and roots, act consciously, build a community-first and environment-first sustainable business model, now more than ever. Our fear and worry are justified but we need to find opportunity and solution. Being local also ensures a reliable source of supplies and workforce in our businesses and provide us with a sense of belonging to the local community. Although precipitated by an unfortunate event, the mass exodus provides the opportunity to kick old business practices and focus more on a sustainable business model. It is the right thing to do.

Together we can make a difference. Our collective efforts in the battle against the current crisis are a testament to a safe, comfortable, hospitable and clinically clean environment we can offer to our guests while working along with our single-minded staff who worked diligently to put all measures in place and the small businesses who enthusiastically embraced our protocol recommendations in true partnership. It is time for us to now give back to them and make all this effort worthwhile.
Fred Rogers rightly said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

Text Credits: Swati Makkar
Resort Manager

Ghamrota Village Post Office Ballah ,Tehsil Palampur, District Kangra, Jiun, Himachal Pradesh 176061