Passion Points: Green/Eco
In 2007, Hitesh Mehta left his full-time job as a successful landscape architect and environmental planner, embarking on a journey to scout and uncover the world’s best ecolodges. Three years, forty-six countries and six continents later, his travels have resulted in a gorgeous, oversized book called Authentic Ecolodges (Collins Design, $50). In its pages, Mehta reveals the world’s thirty-six most authentic ecolodges, based in expected—and unexpected—places, from Kenya, South Africa and Namibia to China, Chile and Indonesia. Mehta, who was raised in Kenya in an Indian family, is considered the foremost authority on ecolodges, which he defines as “low-impact, nature-based accommodations of five to seventy-five rooms that protect the surrounding environment; benefit the local community; and are designed, constructed and operated in an environmentally and socially sensitive manner.” Indagare spoke with the author about his new book, why visiting and supporting these lodges is crucial, and his hopes for the future.
What was the inspiration behind this book?
There were two main inspirations: to create an environmental and social awareness amongst travelers, professionals and researchers, and to celebrate the brilliant work of people on the ground—craftspeople, lodge owners etc.— who would normally not be featured in magazines and books. And in my own small way, I also want to be, as Gandhi said, “the change I want to see in the world.”
What were the main criteria you were looking for in selecting which properties to include?
Over the past decade, I’ve developed eleven basic criteria of what I believe constitutes an ecolodge. Today they are widely used as the definitive guideline for the ecotourism industry. They include such important factors as sustainable construction and making use of environmentally friendly materials; taking steps to reduce water consumption and meeting energy needs through passive design and renewable energy sources; actively helping to conserve the surrounding flora and fauna and contributing to sustainable local development through educational programs and research.
What does each chapter of the book represent?
I wanted to break down the chapters in themes that best represent the current trends. It basically shows that every ecolodge is specialized in one aspect. Chapter themes include Sustainable Building Material; Creative Design; Community Owned and Operated; Biodiversity Conservation; Culinary Experiences; Art as Architecture and Recycle and Reuse.
What are some of the highlights of your trips that stand out?
So many, including camel riding at sunset on the sand dunes of the Gobi desert in Mongolia; taking photographs of the Aurora Borialis at 2 a.m. at a temperature of minus-forty-six degrees Celcius in Northern Ontario, Canada; filming elephant babies in an intense downpour on the Maasai Mara plains; tracking leopards at the Phinda Reserve, in South Africa; watching a Sumbanese stone-fighting competition in Indonesia; gliding through the backwaters in a houseboat in Kerala.
What do you think the general public has yet to learn about ecotourism?
As regards Ecotourism, the public still looks at nature tourism as the same as Ecotourism but there are big differences. For instance, in Ecotourism money from the visitors is used to protect the environment, to help local communities and to provide a rich interpretative experience for visitors.
What are the biggest changes you’ve observed in the last few years?
There has been an emergence of luxury ecolodges, some of which come with extensive wellness centers. There’s also an increasing number of community-owned ecolodges. Other encouraging trends are projects that respect the local cultures and architecture; a growing number of eco-refurbishments and expansions at existing lodges; more use of Alternative technologies such as increased efficiency solar and wind power. And finally, more traditional hotels seem to be inspired by these trends and are also becoming more environmentally and socially friendly.
If you had to choose a handful of lodges that impressed you the most, which ones would they be?
My experience is that every ecolodge has its own beauty and what impresses me may not impress others. I have chosen the best-rated ecolodge in each of the twelve chapters: Crosswaters Ecolodge, in China, for its use of sustainable building materials. Chumbe Island Ecolodge, in destinations/60/departments, for its creative design; the commuity-owned and operated Il Ngwesi Lodge, in Kenya. Ranweli Holiday Village, in Sri Lanka, for its holistic wellness programs. Egypt’s Adrère Amellal, for its indigenous construction techniques. Kenya’s Campi ya Kanzi, for its commitment to biodiversity conservation. Lapa Rios Ecolodge, in Costa Rica, for its incredible food. Moazambique’s Guludo Beach Lodge, for its innovative use of technology. Las Torres EcoCamp, in Chile, for an incredibly artful architecture. Basecamp Maasai Mara, in Kenya, for delivering a truly transformative travel experience. Morocco’s Kasbah du Toubkal, for its dedication to recycling. And Jalman Meadows Ger Camp, in Mongolia, for offering an incredibly unique experience.
You spent three years on the road: is there a place you’d love to return to?
For me, the spiritual energy of the African savannah is irresistible. Quite often, I fantasize about laying on the African savannah floor, watching the amazing stars dance in the dark night with sounds of hyenas and lions providing the background vocals.
What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?
I hope my book will raise awareness about low-impact and conscientious travel, and that it will inspire travelers to choose these places during their future trips, helping to save the planet. I am also hoping that professionals, like architects and landscape architects and students will be educated on more sensitive ways of planning and designing future lodges.
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