The Himalaya gives me a new high every time I meet the MIGHTY. During the meetings, I observed that locals, especially in industrial raw material deficient areas, supplement their scanty agricultural and animal husbandry income with tourism-based income. This dash of entrepreneurial skill for the resource optimization creates an interesting backdrop for developing community and tourism simultaneously.
In the course of my two months stay in Leh district in peak (June-July 2014) and non-peak (September-October 2013) seasons, I felt that the district epitomizes both positive and negative impact of tourism on local community. The following examples illustrate my observations:
Visitor Accommodation: Largely Managed and Owned by Locals
Leh has neither national and international chains of hotels nor five star properties. Homestays and guesthouses account for a sizeable share of visitor accommodation. Therefore, locals directly benefit from tourism.
Sharing Tourism Rupee with Non-Local Labor
Labor serving the industry is not always local. It would not be an exaggeration if I say a large chunk of labor hails from different parts of India and Nepal. The tourism rupee generated in the district is, thus, shared with workers from far and wide.
Chilling Homestay: Good Food, Clean Room, High Tariff
I spent a night (less than 24 hours) at Chikpa homestay in remote ravishing Chilling, a seven-house village on the river Zanskar. I paid ₹ 800 per person, per night for a basic cozy room (₹ 500) and food (₹ 300). The fresh simple vegetarian food tasted good. But, the cost was very high.
The young owner equated the tariff with that charged by homestays and guesthouses in Leh town, ignoring wide gap in amenities offered (Figure 1).
Hemis Festival Stimulates Local Economy
On July 7-8, 2014, I enjoyed sacred mask dances at Hemis Festival hosted by Hemis Monastery. Sale of the tickets ranging from ₹ 50 (for sitting on the ground covered with a canvas sheet) to 400 (for a chair in gallery) per person, per day generated substantial revenue.
Some villagers offered camping ground with common washroom for just ₹ 150 per night, per two-person tent. They also served meals, earning a share of the tourism rupee.
Seasonal Income Creates Greed
Since tourism is a seasonal source of income for a short period, some hosts are becoming greedy. They quote exorbitant prices for handicrafts and basic rooms to earn their annual livelihood within three-month season. This discourages optimal development.
In September-October, ultrathin tourist inflow compelled shutdown of many tourism establishments. The handicraft shops charged high prices for silver jewelry. One of such shopkeepers told that he was charging me very less as compared to foreign travelers. This honest revelation was shocking and would have long term consequences.
Learning Languages without Formal Education
But, a positive change was also evident: The shopkeeper spoke foreign languages with ease. To my surprise, he had no formal education in these languages. He picked up the language from conversations with customers over a period of time.