By Nimi Chengappa*
Contrary to what has been portrayed in the media, the recent unprecedented calamities in Coorg (Kodagu) have taken place only in a limited area that had experienced a tremor prior to the rains and calamities this August.
There are thousands of homestays in and around South Coorg where no calamity has occurred. That alone explains the fact that the catastrophic disaster was not due to homestays, but more due to the aftereffect of the tremors. The earth cracked and then the incessant rain followed into the cracks and pushed the land down.
In view of the disaster, there is need for introspection on the future of homestays in Coorg. Sustainable, regulated, responsible tourism has to be encouraged in order to preserve the fragile ecology of this region. A true homestay is the only model for this. If the local families are not supported and encouraged to stay and live in Coorg, the whole ethnicity of the region will be threatened for want of greener pastures.
Talking of homestays, one has to first understand the very concept of what a true homestay is all about and how the idea was born.
Coorg coffee plantations are mainly held by small growers with small holdings. With the fluctuation in prices and vagaries of nature affecting the crop output, the Coorg women had to find another income to supplement and sustain the family income. So it started as a ladies initiative. It is also a way for the ladies to use their talents and continue to live in Coorg without moving to the cities to earn.
It is said that there are around 3,000 homestays in Coorg, of which only about 500 are authorised by the Department of Tourism. An association called the Coorg Homestay Association was formed to keep a check on the code of conduct of those Homestays that become a part of the Association.
The main issue dogging the tourism sector in Coorg is the presence of over 2500 illegal homestays. How were they allowed to build on the hilly landsides and run with no norms and no legitimate rules and regulations? Who is answerable for this disproportionate mushrooming of so called homestays?
The norm for homestays laid down by the Department of Tourism include, provision for only five rooms; the owners must reside in the same premise; liquor is prohibited to be sold. Existing family homes, retaining the ecology, living on the premises sharing the culture and cuisine, was the whole idea, to supplement the family income in a sustainable eco system. Waste disposal is minimal, like any family set up and the ecology is not tampered with.
There are ever so many places called homestays that have more than five rooms with a manager or caretaker to manage. Pandi curry which is a Coorg signature dish would never be on that menu. Every Tom Dick and Harry can run a hired/rented/leased place and call it a homestay. They come from neighbouring States and build humungous concrete buildings and call it a homestay. All kinds of nefarious activities take place and it is called a homestay. Is this the true concept?
In conclusion, I would say that Coorg lures tourists with its natural beauty and if it is not retained, then tourism will die a natural death. Coorg does not need four-lane highways and railroads in the name of development and tourism. The beauty is in the narrow winding roads and the natural colors and sounds of the flora and fauna. Such a tiny insignificant little district, with an unmatchable distinct culture will just vanish if decisions are taken in the wrong direction. The time has come for the mistakes made, to be reversed and not create new ones. A true homestay is such a beautiful product in the true sense of the word, let’s not destroy it! Let’s encourage and regulate it!
*Nimy Chengappa (in picture) is the owner of a homestay in Coorg