Summer holidays, summer vacation, summer break—all highly-anticipated yet this year, with temperatures averaging over 40°C in most places, it hasn’t been quite the same. We have been served headlines about climate change and the need to conserve and protect is the highlight. Yet, a friend who recently travelled back from northeast India spoke of how his friend running a homestay in Shimla and his peers are reeling under excessive pressure from hordes of guests, demanding hot water twice a day for baths when the locals are desperate for water for consumption.
The pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 have led to the birth of ‘revenge travel’, a phenomenon which, as the title suggests, is the fever-pitched need to make up for the time lost during covid-19 restrictions. Many tour operators and aggregators proudly cheered, “Come get your revenge”. And people did. Srinagar’s passenger footfalls almost doubled to 340,902 in December 2021 from 171,942 two years earlier, according to media reports. Footfalls in Leh and Jammu grew 54% and 31.7% in the same period. In September 2021, when I visited Leh—hoping to find fewer fellow travellers since it is the end of the season—I had a front-row perspective to this terrifying phenomenon.
“We have never experienced crowds like this before,” said one tour operator, echoing what others told me. “We are booked right up to December, this has never happened before.” My ten days there in the company of quiet mountains and playful skies were marred with traffic jams on every route, fresh piles of trash like snow, people dancing and driving along the banks of Pangong Tso, and several motorbike travellers recording off-trail adventures on an ecologically sensitive landscape. The local driver, who accompanied me and patiently answered my questions on over-tourism and its impacts on Ladakh, said he missed working as a hiking guide. “It was just a guest or two, the mountain and I. All I knew was peace. This over-congestion and noise pollution make me want to get back to my apple farming.” He plans to retire soon and grow enough to sustain his family of 3, not caring for the additional income from driving.
The revenge was everywhere: Rishikesh saw over 8,000 water sport enthusiasts crowding its rivers within 10 days of reopening post-lockdown. In February 2022, the owner of a local establishment in Agonda said, “Most of Goa is now open for tourists round the year; the business is no more seasonal thanks to the upturn in domestic tourism.” According to a recent study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, revenge tourism has gifted Goa beaches in heaps. “The per capita litter reduction during the lockdown in comparison to the post-lockdown period was found to be highest for Palolem (1032.60 per cent), Calangute (558.62 per cent), Baina (276.92 per cent), Miramar-Caranzalem (229.03 per cent), Morjim (226.66 per cent), Velsao (137.47 per cent), Colva (135.06 per cent) and Siridao (6.77 per cent),” it observes.
The good news is that not everyone is on this vengeance trail. According to the 2022 India Sustainable Travel Research report by Booking.com, 91% of those surveyed say they want to travel more sustainably and 68% said that recent news about climate change has influenced them to make ethical choices. This is where slow travel comes in.
Slow travel, even for a few days, warrants a feeling of belonging. You take time to interact with its people, you embrace the landscape, spare time to learn something new, and contribute to the local economy.
Slow travel also helps us fight one of the biggest threats—misinformation or fake news. If you’re wondering how serious the reports about climate change, melting glaciers and fluctuating weather patterns is, take a trip to any place and interact with the locals, and you will find answers. In September 2021, the owner of a homestay in Coorg said, “I have never seen so much rain. It felt like entire season’s entire rainfall poured out in just five days. The rainy seasons seem short but the downpour is enough to destroy all our crops. It happened last year too.”
As things get more challenging, it’s only simpler and easier to explore the truth for ourselves. Isn’t travel all about unlearning and opening ourselves to what’s out there? When we are given that opportunity, shouldn’t we should head out not just for leisure, but also in search of those little truths? We could be active agents in promoting and safeguarding our natural landscapes, and engaging with the locals to support them. There is a lot more we can do with this “privilege” called travel—to heal ourselves, our fellow humans and the ailing earth. Revenge travel is its nemesis. Overtax the ecosystem and pay the guilty tax or embrace slow travel—the choice has always been ours.
Gana Kedlaya is a freelance travel writer based in Bengaluru.