Hornbill Camp dhaba and water point. Photo: Ashish Kothari
The Hornbill Camp in Uttarakhand is serious about the ‘eco’ in ecotourism.
It was still dark and misty at 5.30 on a cold December morning, when I reached the camp where I was to spend the next three days. A torchlight bobbed towards me, and a young man emerged from the mist. He ushered me to my tent, which was pitch dark. It was a slightly unnerving introduction to Hornbill Camp at Kyari village, near Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand. Somehow, though, it gave me the feeling that here was something different from the run-of-the-mill ecotourism ventures sprouting up all across the country.
As dawn broke and more people congregated around some welcome hot tea (some campers had arrived the previous night), Naveen Upadhyaya, the young man who had greeted me, explained why there were no lights in the tents. “We want to give visitors a feel of how it is to stay in a forest, or in a village that has not seen electricity for most of its existence. We want to give you a different experience, leaving behind the luxuries of urban life.”
Over the next three days, I experienced a number of other features of Hornbill Camp that left me convinced that these guys were serious about the ‘eco’ in ecotourism. I was here for an orientation programme for about 30 birdwatching guides from various parts of Uttarakhand. Organised by the state’s Forest Department, it was part of an ongoing series of birding camps as also preparation for the forthcoming second Uttarakhand Bird Festival in February (http://www.uttarakhandbirdfestival.in).
Set up in 2011, Hornbill Camp has succeeded a previous attempt at a community-based venture set up in Kyari village by a tourism company. That camp shut down in the early 2000s as the villagers felt it was run in a top-down, non-transparent manner from the city. It did, however, serve to provide Naveen and other village youth the experience that helped them set up a new camp. The difference is that this one is completely owned and run by people from the village.
“We have kept frills and luxuries to the minimum,” explained Chandra Shekhar Upadhyaya. Accommodation is in the form of tents, rustically comfortable with simple cots and bedding, and logs for tables. The camp can accommodate about 40 persons. The loos and baths are clustered in one corner of the camp, and, with a concession to the delicate nature of tasks performed there, do have lighting! A wood-run bhatti provides piping hot water.
First published in The Hindu
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