It’s a long way to go before travelling in India resumes for good. Even if the cases are coming down, vaccination is moving at a snail’s pace. So it’s highly unlikely for popular tourist places in the country to expect footfalls.

In the meanwhile, India can look forward to developing sustainable travel in the country. In fact, they can learn a lot from Italy – one of the worst-hit countries in the world by the virus. Just a year ago, Italy was the epicentre of the raging pandemic in Europe. Certainly, its travelling industry took a hit.

While Italy will look for its iconic destinations to help the country recover from the loss, it is also developing a unique hiking trail in the country to boost the rural economy and sustainable tourism. It’s a long term plan with ‘sustainable travelling’ as the main theme. And I strongly believe that travelling in India can improve if it decides to follow in Italy’s footstep.

The Italian Job

The general perception about Italy is the popularity of its historic locations, pizza, cities, and beaches. However, not many people know but 70% of the country is mountains and hills.

So to leverage the vast network of mountain trails, the country’s rich biodiversity and heritage, the government has decided to extend Sentiero Italia (Great Italian Trail, world’s longest mountain trail) by roughly 1000km.

This will connect 25 national parks of the country.

Once completed in 2033, the 8000km trail will pass through 20 regions, 6 UNESCO world heritage sites, and will be called Sentiero dei Parchi (Path of the Parks).

Sentiero Italia

Back in 1983, trekkers from the Italian Alpine club decided to develop this route for a holistic trekking experience for travellers.

Through this approach, Italy’s wildlife and historic villages got the spotlight, along with its hidden secrets. This also kickstarted the slow and sustainable travelling habit amongst Italians.

Trekking in Italian Alps
Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Today, a trekking organization named www.vasentiero.org is working towards documenting their expeditions and giving people a chance to explore the Italian wilderness. By collecting technical data they are also in the process of creating a digital guidebook.

It consists of cultural information in the form of photos and videos. Furthermore, travellers can plan their expeditions through the different stages which Va’Sentiero have created to help trekkers navigate easily.

Documentary by Va’Sentiero

In a recent interview to BBC Travel, Sara Furlanetto (co-founder of Va’Sentiero) said,

“The Grand Italian Route is also a symbol for environmental protection, so it must be promoted with a slow approach. Right now, the trail crosses 16 out of the 25 national parks of Italy. I believe the idea of expanding the trail in order to reach the totality of the parks is of great value, and… can represent an important boost for the promotion of Italian natural areas.”

Since 2016 the brand has grown significantly. Today, there are more than 2000 hikers who are a part of this new culture.

So what sparked this adventurous movement amongst Italians?

A man standing on a mountain ridge in Italy
Credit – www.vasentiero.org

It’s the urge to connect with nature. According to Italian National Tourism Research Institute, the summer of 2020 saw more than 27 million Italians wear their hiking shoes. Secondly, people chose open spaces and nature, specifically to maintain social distancing and to avoid congested places.

Eventually, they’ve found peace a kind of travelling where they can interact with their rural culture and its biodiversity.

Can India or its states can replicate the model?

From what I understand, India has enough mountain ranges and trekking circuits that can be developed. Along with the help of established organizations like India Hikes or Zostel, the government can certainly look at drawing a sustainable travel plan.

People trekking in Ladakh
Credit – flickr.com

This not only allows a convenient trekking experience but gives people from urban India to explore India’s rich rural culture. Secondly, sustainable travelling is getting a lot of attention in India right now. Many startups are promoting it through their immersive approach. You can read about some of them in one of my recent articles.

While post-pandemic travel won’t see a drastic change but certainly it will boost the local economy if Indians decide to give slow travelling a chance.

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