TERRATALES

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Overtourism held its unlucky head high all of last year, as several tourist spots temporarily closed down or imposed restrictions. To avoid such pressures on local populations in India—especially Himalayan settlements—an organization called GreenPeople is working to rejig old ways of sustenance. Focusing on grassroots travel that gets your hands dirty, GreenPeople engages in bee farming, harvesting vegetables, building using traditional architecture, and goat rearing

Out of all these initiatives, their ‘Bakri Swayamvar’ event is what grabs most eyeballs. And this symbolic event goes much deeper than just being an intriguing headline.

Several villages in Uttarakhand are in areas that are infertile or unirrigated, making livestock the most viable option to keep local economies running. Goats far outnumber sheep, with most owners being marginalized farmers who let the animals graze and roam free. While this provides postcard-perfect vistas for the odd backpacker passing through, there’s not much systematic growth here in terms of broadening gene pools. There’s also not enough awareness of healthy breeding practices. GreenPeople, thus, will be holding the third edition of what they call ‘Bakri Swayamvar’ on April 13, 2020. Now their signature event, it helps boost genetic diversity for goat populations in the area and educates farmers about a higher grade of livestock rearing.

Remember your middle school science lessons? How about a bit of history? Adaptation and evolution are necessary steps for any species to flourish. This resilience-building in species—be it human or bovine—is what helps them last generations without defects. At the ‘swayamvar’, female goats will be allowed to pick male bucks of their choice. This random selection will lead to gene pool improvisation, and thus long-term patterns of positive traits in future generations in the area. If only Europe’s Habsburg family—infamous for inbreeding—had followed the same idea. Their centuries worth of royal intermarriage caused a severe lack in genomic diversity, leading to genetic disorders that eventually ended their powerful legacy.

The Bakri Swayamvar is a simple, scientifically-backed idea dedicated to local patterns of production, and GreenPeople’s efforts to elevate indigenous Indians won them the Indian Responsible Tourism Awards (IRTA) in 2019. Their work has been part of many case studies, with researchers and travelers opting for curious visits. The fun names of each ‘bride’ sure help.