In most countries worldwide, there has been significant migration from rural to urban areas. This is mostly on account of an availability of more opportunity and many are attracted to what is considered a higher standard of living. If common aspirations are considered, the idea of ‘success’ is definitely not associated with a village setting; rather, it almost always brings to mind a ‘concrete jungle’ dwelling, a tiring schedule and a chronic ‘shortage of time’. But really, is this the accepted benchmark of success? Can mainstream success really not be found in a rural setting?
AirBnB perhaps sparked the off-beat travel bug
About 12 years ago, when the last economic recession struck, there was a company quietly making headway in San Francisco, US. Two young founders were actually selling cereal boxes when President Barack Obama was running for office. Operations were kickstarted with the purchase of a few air mattresses and a brand name – Air Bed and Breakfast. This was how the multi-billion dollar company AirBnB was founded. And soon, one could rent a travel trailer parked in an isolated oasis or even book a night in a quirky tree house.
AirBnB, like many other organisations currently, does find itself in turmoil but its troubles are only transitory. As the pandemic curve flattens, the majority of people will venture out; only this time the choice of locations may actually favour the off-beat. The usual resort town, shopping arcade, gourmet dinner itinerary is likely to give way to a more basic getaway – to a not-so-popular setting in a quiet location.
Homestays are perfect micro businesses
North Bengal, in particular, is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty. It is located at the foothills of the majestic Khangchendzonga, has several heritage hill stations and the region even boasts a few national parks. While towns such as Darjeeling and Kalimpong are popular among both domestic and international tourists, there has been a positive trend assuming definite shape over the last few years.
Homestays have sprung up across several rural areas in North Bengal and many are located against idyllic backdrops. Most are easily accessible by road and for the visitor who chooses to experience a homestay, he or she must be resigned to the idea of forgoing the usual vacation highlights.
One particular location that has stood out is Chegra. It is located in the Kalimpong subdivision and a couple of enterprising rural residents have built a little place using only locally available materials. It really wasn’t so much a quest in sustainability as it was in making use of available resources while bound by a shoe string budget. In a rather positive turn of events, their labour and resilience bore fruit and they are inspiration today for other rural entrepreneurs.
Chegra really is quite unlike any other
The key visionary in Chegra is a chirpy young gentleman called Ranu Tamang. Unlike many who would have otherwise considered themselves as victims of circumstance, Ranu chose to tread an entirely different path. He began his career in the tourism industry by working in hotels in the North Bengal area followed by stints in premium properties in New Delhi and Mumbai. The rich experience was topped off with a year’s tenure at an island resort in the Andamans. It was while working there that he realised he could really be working for himself. Even more, this would enable him to return to his roots and stay with family.
In November 2018, Ranu–and his younger brother Palzor–welcomed their first guests to their homestay called Kartiyog Sougar. While Ranu was the face of the business, his brother led the operations. It is common knowledge that an entrepreneur’s journey is mired in uncertainty and struggle but with these two souls, their positivity probably kept the struggles at bay and visitors were flocking to their little paradise from across the country.
Rural tourism is symbiotic for both visitors and hosts
Ranu and Palzor are ensuring self employment and they are also augmenting the local economy in the process. Their efforts have ensured that a vehicle owner is now able to earn an extra income by ferrying visitors, the lone grocer in the village witnessed a sizeable uptick in purchases and their families are content that the two able brothers are not based in some faraway city.
Once the pandemic curve flattens, there is definitely going to be an uptick in getaways to remote locations – primarily because they lend themselves well to social distancing protocols. Furthermore, there is a growing urge among city dwellers to sample the basics; there is also a strong desire to experience a slower pace. And when this too has passed, the off-beat might well be considered the mainstream.