River running through the Himalaya Mountains.

Village Ways Is Bringing Responsible Travel to Life in India’s Himalayan Foothills

Travelers wanting to visit India, listen up. Leave the crowded Taj Mahal behind and head to remote villages in the Himalayan foothills instead. Village Ways is a community-run tourism program that can help you do just that. Their village-to-village tourism packages promote walking vacations that will immerse you in traditional life without displacing the locals’ traditional agricultural practices.

Note: Village Ways didn’t pay or offer perks to A Piece of Travel for writing this article. Our mission is to spread the word about businesses that practice responsible tourism, no strings attached.

How Village Ways Got Its Start

Fifteen years ago, the villagers in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand State faced a big problem: They were losing their population to people migrating to larger cities.

The residents who remained in the villages feared their population would die out unless they found an additional way to generate income. That’s when Village Ways stepped in, a program offering responsible walking tours to guests wanting to experience traditional Indian life.

Tourism Without Displacement

A mountain village in India.
Photo Credit: Cathy Cooper.

Village Ways designed their walking holidays with responsible tourism in mind, setting them apart from many tour companies. Manisha Pande, co-founder and Managing Director of Village Ways, explains.

“Working in partnership with the villagers, we have encouraged low-impact tourism that runs alongside, but does not displace, traditional livelihoods. So the farmers keep farming and do not abandon it to devote themselves to tourism.” Pande adds, “It can be a delicate balancing act, but we have worked hard to get it right. The result is a privileged and rewarding experience for guests and a sustaining, secondary income for the community.”

A Walking Holiday To Remember

Woman carrying logs in India.
Photo Credit: Village Ways.

Village Ways has partnered with many rural villages, supporting locals with creating guesthouses for tourists. These mini-hotel-like facilities offer a comfortable and immersive experience for guests as they walk from village to village.

A trained village team takes care of guests from the moment they arrive until their departure, cooking them scrumptious vegetarian food and introducing them to authentic rural life.

At the moment, Village Ways offers seven different itineraries in the Himalayas. They’re also expanding their program to communities in Kerala, Karnataka, and Rajasthan.

Guests get to witness local farming methods in action and, depending on the time of year, may be able to participate in harvesting. Regardless of which village-to-village walking experience tourists choose, a 3-night stay at the mountain hotel Khali Estate is included. Khali Estate is a must for history buffs, offering historical insight into the Kumaon region.

A Community Affair

Indian women dancing.
Photo Credit: Village Ways.

Village Ways works with communities who want to work with them. They compensate village members fairly and offer hosting guidance. This translates to an experience that tourists can feel as they walk from village to village, with locals genuinely happy to host them rather than putting on a show.

Pande explains. “The importance of [Village Ways’] model is that a large proportion of the village community is involved in hosting the guests in each village. Whether each individual is involved in preparing meals, guiding, portering, demonstrating agricultural techniques or running the accounts, the income from tourism becomes broadly spread through the community.”

The community-based experience that Village Ways offers is incomparable to many tour operators. Pande says, “In many instances, the guesthouse itself is owned by the village community, along the lines of a mini hotel.”

Waiting With Open Arms

If you’re ready to book a trip to Village Ways, you can visit their website for more information. You can also view a walking holiday itinerary example here.

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