This tour travels through some very remote regions, many of which have barely been touched by the presence of humans, and we strongly believe in maintaining their pristine nature. The nature of this trip means that many nights are spent camping. We strive to ensure that we leave these areas as we find them and our team have been trained in strict no litter policies, meaning that we take all refuse to either be recycled or properly disposed of in nearby towns. We use gas for cooking, but on occasions may use firewood – but only where this does not deplete natural resources and deprive local communities from using this themselves. Washing of dishes is carried out well away from any water sources so as not to contaminate them.
Much of this trip is spent travelling through the desert. We stick to whatever tracks exist so as to avoid damaging any desert fauna. We also spend time in Kugitang Nature Reserve, where again we stick to the trails when walking – the entrance fees that we pay here help to maintain this vital habitat for Turkmenistan’s wildlife, some of which is endangered, and the fact that we our visit helps to provide employment for local communities means that it is more likely that the wildlife is seen as something to be preserved rather than a short term resource to be exploited.
We work to educate our drivers and other service providers so as to avoid contributing to the litter problem. We ensure that all litter at the yurts is disposed of properly – this means working with the owners to educate them about recycling, and taking waste back to proper disposal sites where possible.
Similarly, in conjunction with our local team we work with hotels and guesthouses to implement best practices when it comes to environmental matters – in some places this is far behind what we might be used to in other parts of the world. This includes basic things like not replacing towels each day, as well as saving electricity and turning lights off – small things but Central Asia is not as used to tourism as countries in western Europe.
On all of tours we strive to include a strong focus on local communities and we are firm believers that tourism should have a positive impact on the places visited. On this tour we try to allow our travellers to gain a real insight into the traditional customs of the country; a good example of this is when we stay overnight in the village of Nohur, in homestay accommodation. Not only is this a great experience for travellers but it means that small scale community based tourism projects, often ignored by mainstream tourism, are able to benefit from our visit. Another example is when we visit the pilgrimage site of Gozli Ata. We join local people and travellers are explained the complex customs here which intertwine Islam with older beliefs. We ensure that our travellers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities. This also applies to the mosques and that we visit on this trip; it is important that we respect the traditions of the places that we visit.
Some of the sites that we visit are popular attractions, others less so – an example of these is the Parthian fortress of Ygdykala. Relatively few tourists visit here and so the entrance fees that we pay are more critical than in other places in contributing to the preservation of their heritage. These sites are quite fragile, being made mostly of mud brick, and we ensure that our travellers do not unwittingly contribute to their degradation by briefing them on appropriate behaviour.
Parts of Central Asia are very traditional with certain codes of behaviour, and the people here are not always that accustomed to outsiders. We ensure that our travellers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities. This also applies to the numerous mosques and mausoleums that we visit on this trip; religion is important here and it is important that we respect these traditions.
We use locally owned suppliers and our partners here are deeply involved with the preservation of the culture and heritage of the country. Where possible we encourage our travellers to spend their money with local businesses; for example when stopping in small villages we encourage our travellers to make purchases from local shops and businesses – a small thing but it helps to spread the economic benefits of tourism. Where possible we buy supplies for our camping expedition from such villages.
We also sometimes offer donations to settlements and family groups – not financial but rather material goods which they may need and appreciate, and which can be hard to come by in the desert regions, such as tea and sugar.