Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Conscious Tourism

I came across the term Conscious Tourism on the internet the other day as I was fishing in the great sea of communication that flows across continents and consciousness.
With the corporate office where I came to share my talents with a company who promotes themselves as one which offers cultural insights as it’s unique selling point in the background, I skim read the blog and wondered at the vagaries of life. 
My recent experience of this kind of Five Star “Stick Your Telescopic Lens in the Face of a Villager”, who has been paid to entertain you with the charming aspect of their desperately simple lifestyles” approach to tourism was perhaps the best example of Unconscious Tourism, a kind of tourism that smacked of voyuerism is something that I despise. I have had moments of sheer disappointment that the bridge between worlds and cultures had been corrupted into tourism of this superficial nature. While I understand that for most tourists, even these brief glimpses of a sanitized reality will give them a lifetime of memories, what happens back on ground zero once the water bottles of have been recycled and their footprints swept over in the usual village traffic? What do they think of that, what memories live in their minds of this contact with another culture? 

As a long time solo traveler, I have been blessed to find myself in the homes and at the hearth and heart of many a home in small villages, temples across the land. As a solo traveler one is somewhat more aware of one’s impact on the environment and on the culture but most of all within the hearts and minds of the people they interact with. I have witnessed the paparazzi pornography of tour groups and been embarrassed by their behavior by which all foreigners will be judged and shied away from group travel as a result.

Maori woman culture teaches that as a traveler one must adhere to the correct practice of the people of the land where you visit, and that to make demands or to consider oneself as superior to the respected host was an insult that could be passed down for generations,. So my mode of travel has always been marked by the idea that my impact could reverberate down generations. My behavior was being recording by the moving hand of time and having writ, the story had better be a good one lest if reflect on the next Maori or member of my family to stumble along the same path in the future.

This was borne out by the absolute delight of my Indian friends when I bought my grandson along to visit India. For all of us, it was a continuation of the story, a new chapter in the tale of how our lives had intersected an added depth to our relationships. They remembered when the boy was born, so to meet him in the flesh was for them a story come true and for me the first time a member of my family had visited my life in India.
The boy was spoiled and adored, he gained a unique insight into India, but I was surprised and delighted to see that he never saw a point of difference between himself and the locals, except for one day remarking how well the local kids spoke Hindi! Otherwise he saw them at the level of his heart which is as open and intelligent as the sky.

But I digress, and in my digression I have come to understand that there can be no conscious tourism since tourism implies a lack of time and it takes time to earn the love and trust and respect of people. What there is is Conscious Travel, which is the slower route through life. Travel that brings the wanderer to mountain villages, to fires in the desert and the and within the circle of the festival. 

So were do the two meet?
Conscious tourism is where the conscious traveler meets time restricted tourists, takes them by the hand and says “Come and meet my friends," and together you walk that rickety bamboo bridge of connection across oceans.

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