East Himalaya

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Homestays, a tradition in East Himalaya

“Bans Paincha”, “Bans Huncha”, the mother of the house, an old women peeps out of the window and says “Paincha, Aunuhosh”. All across Nepal Himalaya and some parts of East Himalaya, when a tired traveller, not being able to pull himself anymore towards the destination, calls out from below or above a house “Can I get a place to stay”, the usual answer is “Yes, come in and make yourself comfortable”. Most of the houses in the area are lived by a joint family, where the mother, who is also the grandmother, makes the decision for the guest. If it is day time, the men of the house have gone out to work, the children at school or playing in the nearby empty space if it is late afternoon and the younger women in the fields.
The guest is greeted inside with some cool water to drink and some hot black tea and Bhuteko Makai (Roasted maize grains). He is given a place to rest and sleep towards the outside room and have to wait for the women of the house to return and cook some food for the house and the traveller. While the traveller leaves, he leaves some gifts or money for the family, which usually goes to the eldest unmarried girl of the house. This is often called locally as ‘Pewa’, where any extra money, gifts etc goes to the eldest unmarried girl of the house and the goes with her when she leaves for her inlaws after marriage. This wonderful homestay tradition has continued for ages till the time tourism in the region became a main stake.
ACT or Association for Conservation and Tourism transformed this tradition into a major livelihood for people, mainly from remote villages. Implementing model homestays through motivation camps and making conservation of the local natural and cultural resources through these tourism livelihoods have become a revolution in the region. With almost 600 member homestays, ACT has been able to give them a market linkage through Government Tourism websites and Help Tourism websites. Help Tourism has been able to attract several volunteering visitors and has established a new form of tourism in the region often referred to as ‘voluntourism’.  
Many points and policies have been discussed and been included in this blog before http://chautare.blogspot.in/2011/10/homestay-policy.html.

The 02 pictures used above are from a very authentic Limboo Homestay at Hee called Barsey Jungle Camp and the 1st picture is from Arunava Das, a famous travel writer.


Monday, September 3, 2012

North Bengal Pineapple Fest, a pictorial journey

Siliguri, 01st September, 2012. Happy faces coming out with hands full of the dream fruit pineapple from this happening Pineapple Festival at Bidhannagar, about an hour’s drive from Siliguri. The 03 days first time festival in the tea district of Darjeeling is an initiative of the Siliguri MLA, Dr.Rudranath Bhattacharya, who also happens to be the Chairman of the organizing institution, Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority. 

He wishes to take it to the next step of making this an International Tourism Festival bringing all the pineapple growing areas of the world together. This is a trend which was started in North Bengal, mainly in Darjeeling District, an effort to make value addition to major agricultural products like Tea, Mango and Orange by Help Tourism and Association for Conservation and Tourism. This is the first time that a single handed effort of this level has been made by any Government organization, specially in North Bengal.

 For the past 02 MCCS Gitanjali Mango Festivals, I was asked a common question by the media friends as well as the fruit loving community, “as North Bengal is the largest single pineapple growing area in India, when will there be a Pineapple Festival in North Bengal”. 
I remember from my childhood days, my mother’s family was a frequent visitor to Kathambari, a densely forested elephant area beside the River Teesta, when my mother’s Biren Kaka, he was then probably an MLA from Jalpaiguri, Mr.B.N.Katham, often announced proudly about his Pineapple processing factory for Pineapple juices, jams etc in this extensively pineapple growing North Bengal. Those were the days when pineapple was grown extensively in certain areas of Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling District.
I do not know if the factory had happened, but Dabur did come up with a factory. Gradually with time Pineapple patronage dropped and Tea replaced pineapple in several places of North Bengal. I do not know whether the process will be reversed or not, but with this Festival, it is nice to see the return of Pineapple with full respect in North Bengal.

All popular local sweets like Rasgolla, Sandesh, Rasmalai, Jelebi and Amritti are being available here at the Festival in Pineapple flavour. Even Pineapple Biriyani, Hotdogs and Pizzas are not behind at this Festival. Catfal and anaras are being sold in plenty at the festival ground and on the highway. 
Pineapple juices are a relief in the scorching heat of this season. Dr.Rudranath Bhattacharya, being a doctor by profession emphasised on the medicinal value of pineapple and said “if an apple a day can keep the doctor away, then a pineapple a day will keep your worries away”. So eat more pineapples and enjoy the 03 days festival being inaugurated today. There are several other stalls for food, handicraft, cancer relief, snake bite prevention and soil testing.

The question which I faced today “when is the Jackfruit Festival going to be held?” ___bless you dear Foodies.