Village life in Kalbansh, in West Bengal’s Howrah district, is shaped by the waters of the Damodar floodplains. The farmlands here are fertile and freshwater fish such as rohu are bred in local ponds. In the last decade or so, discovery of melanin jackals, water monitor lizards, jungle cats and the rare chestnut-capped babbler in and around Kalbansh has been piquing the interest of some wildlife enthusiasts. However, it wasn’t until an endangered fishing cat was spotted in 2015 that a conservation project was set in motion and the region came into its own as a biodiversity hotspot. Baghrol Basa—A Fishing Cat Heritage Homestay was born out of this.
In Bengali, Baghrol Basa means a fishing cat’s nest—essentially a 17th-century building that’s been restored into a functional heritage property, a collaborative effort between villagers and a group of fishing cat enthusiasts. On the face of it the boutique stay looks like a clay house, but is equipped with modern facilities. Guests can opt for angling, a tour of the village, or a night safari in a battery-operated e-rickshaw to (potentially) spot fishing cats. Other highlights include four on-site freshwater ponds, an organic garden, a butterfly garden, and a museum rich in its display of maps showcasing the region’s wildlife species. The revenue generated from the homestay is pumped into the Fishing Cat Conservation Project. What do you get? The satisfaction of having travelled responsibly—and Bengali food typical to floodplains in this part of India.
How to go:
Baghrol Basa (baghrolbasa.com) is in Howrah, about 50 km/2 hr from Kolkata. Rs19,000 for a minimum stay of three nights.
Volunteering at Sadhana Forest, an NGO devoted to reforestation and food security, is a revelatory experience. From staying in eco-friendly dorms to helping reforest its 70-acre land with indigenous species, Sadhana Forest is an alternative way of life. This is no eco-resort; it is a community that is committed to bettering the world through its sustainable choices. The whole area is powered using solar energy, everything from food scraps to firewood ash is recycled, and the bio-toilet is an experience in itself.
When you stay at Sadhana Forest, you contribute to its nourishment through sevas—tending to trees in its wilderness, cooking for other volunteers, working in the zero-waste hut, brushing the cows in the gowshala, serving herbal tea in the Chai Station are among a host of activities you can choose from as your seva. In return, Sadhana Forest will welcome you with open arms. There is no discrimination—all species, from foliage and humans to crawlies are loved here. You can discover the thrill of dips in the mudpool instead of hotel showers, experience vegan communal meals instead of restaurant food, read at the library, practise yoga and meditation, wander in the forest, or simply do nothing.
How to go:
From Puducherry, take an auto to Sadhana Forest, or get in touch with the community in advance to request a pickup. A minimum volunteering commitment is required: Two nights for Indians and 2-4 weeks for foreign nationals. Food is Rs600/day, subject to change. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call +91 413 2677683.
Children playing football in the rain, cows tailing shepherds, fishermen haggling in the local market: Life in West Bengal’s Belun village is untouched. And a few nights at the Belun Eco Village is perfect to sample this simple living, rooted in conscious travel. Owned by wildlife conservationist and filmmaker Tanmoy Ghosh, the sustainable stay is run in collaboration with villagers who are committed to conserve the wildlife in their region. Besides guided night trails to spot civets, foxes and owls, and nature and wildlife photography workshops, you can also participate in ongoing campaigns like the conservation of the Gangetic biodiversity.
How to go:
Close to Katwa, Belun Eco Village (www.belunecovillage.com, doubles from Rs7,000) is 175 km/4.5 hr from Kolkata.
Deep in the Roing forest lies Mishmi Hills Camp. The eco-lodge’s idyllic vibe belies the journey of its owner, Jibi Pulu, who grew up in the staunch Mishmi hunting community of east Arunachal’s Dibang valley.
He runs the traditional Mishmi Hills Camp with the help of local youth. Its four stilt cottages are built using wood, bamboo and thatch. Pulu’s nature walks open up the region’s rare biodiversity to visitors, from the endemic Mishmi wren babbler, to the Hoolock gibbon, India’s only ape species. Hear stories about Idu culture over the evening bonfire, or sip local rice beer—every moment spent at this camp is a step closer to supporting the conservationist’s vision for the region.
How to go:
Fly to Dibrugarh in Assam and drive to Roing (150 km/4 hr). Write to email@example.com to book ahead.
The Konkan coast is home to the Indian Ocean Humpback dolphin. The local dolphin-watching industry, with over 400 boat tours operating in North Goa’s Sinquerim bay, has caused a change in their travel routes. To watch them responsibly, head out to the Arabian Sea with ethical dolphin-watching tour Terra Conscious. It is led by a conservationist and follows international guidelines. Unlike other marine wildlife tours, Terra Conscious doesn’t chase the dolphins. Once in the ocean, boat engines are switched off or put in neutral. The safari functions on ‘dolphin time’—in short, no loud music and guests being encouraged to enjoy sightings of seagulls and brahminy kites in serene silence.
How to go:
Sinquerim Beach is 12 km/30 min from Panjim (www.terraconscious.com; Rs2,000 per head for a 2.5-hr safari, including a guide).
-Chryselle D’Silva Dias