Where traveller and host learn from a trip
- Little Local was born out of a need to make a significant economic difference in the lives of locals
Travel is often complicated by a profusion of deals on booking platforms, Instagram-worthy locations, and the relentless drive to tick off items on bucket lists. With all this, it is easy to lose sight of how varied, fascinating and cathartic travel can be. So, when a new experience opens up, one should embrace it, and that is exactly what Antara Chatterjee, founder of Little Local, did.
Chatterjee’s journey—literally and otherwise—started in 2014, when she spent two and a half months in a community service programme in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand as part of the Tata Relief & Rehabilitation programme. She worked with NGOs, self-help groups and the government, everyone lumbering to get the state back on its feet.
It was during this time that the tribulations of the local women, and their sheer will to fight on, sparked something in her. “I could see myself looking straight at an idea that truly spoke to my heart. There was very little effort being made in the realm of immersive travel that impacted local communities directly," says Chatterjee. Little Local was born out of this need to make a significant economic difference in the lives of locals, while offering life-changing immersive travel for vacationers.
It wasn’t until late 2016 that Chatterjee was able to draw up a plan for the venture after doing research, detailed reconnaissance in far-flung villages and getting local partners on board.
“I wanted to go deep into the interiors, into villages that had not come on the radar of brochures and blogs. I was on the look out for NGOs and small for-profit establishments already based in villages such as homestays, guides and cab services as on-ground partners. Once the machinery was locked in, I was finally able to take the plunge," says Chatterjee.
Little Local set out to align travellers to a whole new world. “One of our first travellers was a lawyer who travelled to a remote village in Himachal Pradesh and helped set up a cooperative," says Chatterjee.
It was difficult to get meaningful travel to gain ground when only a handful of individuals had an inclination for it. “I eventually sharpened my focus to workshops, instead of curating experiences only for individuals," she says.
Little Local now runs about week-long, fixed departure and customised trips along with workshops to remote places in India, where peer-to-peer learning and exchange of culture is hinged around handicrafts, cooking and treks.
Apart from a service fee, all profits are steered towards the community in the form of payment for accommodation, cabs, trekking guidance and cooking or folklore workshops. For example, one of the flagship trips is anchored around rural and urban women spending a week together, and mutually learning through a mix of activities. This has been done in both, Uttarakhand and Ladakh.
“This year 35 students from CEPT University in Ahmedabad will be spending 10 days in Henasku in Ladakh to help build a cultural interpretation centre, which can eventually become a permanent asset for the village. This is being done with our local partner, Roots Ladakh," she says .
Other efforts involve a cultural exchange which opens the world for local women, as well the ones travelling to them. Folklore is an important part of this exchange along with food. Chatterjee fondly remembers how a two-way cooking class resulted in a colourful spread of sambhar, Mangalore egg curry and Kumaoni saag.
Each experience triggers something new. “On one occasion we trekked to a local water body in Uttarakhand revived by the local village women over ten years. The ladies told us about a legend about the lake, where a devta kidnapped girls and was wreaking havoc on the village. Later, in a theatre workshop our traveller scripted a version of the story in an urban setting.
It was heartening to see how involved the local women got, creating a new ending where the kidnapped girls took revenge," says Chatterjee. “It was a small but welcome shift in thinking for the local women."
The hardest part is convincing travellers from the city to spend money on a potentially life-altering trip that gives back to the community, instead of gathering miles on a flight to an international getaway.
One trip with a theatre person and a make-up artist on board ended with a small production with the village children. The animal-themed play was performed for the entire village. Having a make-up artist meant realistic whiskers, scales and spots and high energy levels. The play went on fabulously. “As we packed our bags to leave the next morning, we saw the kids running around the village with the make up still intact, waiting to say a heartfelt bye," says Chatterjee.
Women on Wheels explores stories of women travel entrepreneurs.
Antara Chatterjee, founder of Little Local, helps travellers experience a side of the country they would not otherwise see while supporting the local community.
FIRST PUBLISHED26.06.2019 | 04:36 PM IST