At the feet of the Himalayas responsible tourism company Fernweh Fair Travel has introduced income-generating programs into remote village communities in India’s northern region of Gopeshwar, Uttarakhand. Through the implementation of programs such as a women’s empowerment homestay and a village handicrafts program, the organisation is using sustainable tourism to touch the lives of many women in the region.
“Our main goal is to transcend social and cultural barriers through exchange, education and empowerment that is supported by sustainable tourism initiatives.” – Poonam Rawat-Hahne, Fernweh Founder.
In 2005, Poonam opened a women’s shelter in Gopeshwar for underprivileged women, including widows and victims of domestic violence. She soon realised that providing shelter was not enough to truly make a lasting impact on their livelihoods and that of their families. Through consultations with the women and surrounding tribes and communities, Poonam decided to combine both her passion for travelling and passion for social good to create Fernweh Fair Travel, a travel experience that utilises the values of sustainable tourism to create positive change.
The tours take participants into villages in the distant hills of Gopeshwar and through regions of the far north, where nature becomes abundant and humans are no longer the dominant species. The week-long immersion program encompasses versatility as guests embrace their adventurous side, their culinary side and their spiritual side, exploring India’s off-the-beaten-path locations and impacting local communities.
One main area of the program that supports women is the homestay where guests stay during their time on tour. Peaches and Pears Himalayan Homestay is a social enterprise that provides employment opportunity to widows and victims of domestic violence. The homestay provides sustainable income to 6 women with the aim to grow further opportunities in the future. The homestay has recently been recognised for their efforts in women’s development and made the India Responsible Tourism Award’s shortlist for Best Homestay in India.
Related reading: The top 10 responsible homestays in India
The whole itinerary is carefully programmed to accommodate the inclusion of women and their families. One of the many highlights of the tour is the chance to lunch in a traditional Indian home, in a riverside village.
The home we visit is that of Sarita, a widowed woman and mother to 3 daughters. In rural Indian culture it is frowned upon for women to marry again after their husband passes away and so 3 years ago, after the passing of her spouse, Sarita arrived at the doors of the women’s shelter looking for desperate relief. At this time her 2 daughters were under the age of 3 and she was expecting her third child. The shelter provided temporary support but Poonam knew that Sarita’s life moving forward was going to be confronted with hardship. Knowing she wanted to do more for this women Poonam decided to include Sarita’s home as a stop for guests to experience the local flavours of this region in an authentic home.
“One of the main objectives of Fernweh Fair Travel is to provide livelihood to women by training them as travel guides and in other fields of our travel programs. The authentic home lunch allows them to earn an income without them having to leave their homes or their families.” – Poonam Rawat-Hahne, Fernweh Founder.
Through the Fernweh experience, Sarita is now able to gain a secondary form of income for herself and her family. But it’s not only Sarita who benefits from this experience. Through this immersive experience, guests are able to gain a glimpse of life in these villages and get a better understanding of the role that women play in the community here.
Through cross-cultural exchange and understanding, Fernweh Fair Travel is pioneering a sustainable tourism movement here in Gopeshwar that is inspiring all involved.