To experience the loud silence of nature, people often pick mountains to travel to. Signing off from the drudgery of everyday life, the lap of snow-clad mountains often offers an excellent and instant rejuvenation. Since hill stations in India are some of the most sought-after locations, they also naturally become vulnerable to exploitation due to increased footfall. Many local communities residing in the eastern belt of the Himalayan region are now taking it upon themselves or partnering with NGOs and different organizations to promote nature-based tourism. These partnerships are also creating employment while strengthening the conservation efforts.
The Eastern Himalayan belt stretches from the hills of Darjeeling in North Bengal to Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of eastern Bhutan. Being the richest in terms of biological diversity, Sikkim's forests are home to an abundance of flowering plants that includes about 30 species of Rhododendrons and nearly 400 species of Orchids. The fauna comprises around 144 species of mammals, along with 300 bird species. Besides flora and fauna, these woods also act as a home to different ethnic groups, including the 'Lepchas', 'Bhutias', and 'Nepalis', as well as Tibetan refugees.
Mining the Resources to Replenish the Resources
The region's rich flora and fauna will enable the harnessing of its potential for bird-based ecotourism. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and its national partners have implemented an initiative called HI-LIFE (The Landscape Initiative for Far Eastern Himalayas). This initiative aims to scale out such bird-based ecotourism within the landscape's three-member countries &ndash China, India, and Myanmar &ndash and possibly across other Hindu Kush Himalayan countries. Such nature-based tourism will link the local communities while strengthening the landscape's integrated conservation and development actions. Nagaland hosted its first-ever birding event- the Tokhü Emong Bird Count (TEBC) &ndash which saw a record of 178 species of birds being entered while and 84 checklists were uploaded to eBird, an online platform to record bird observations. Birdwatchers from across the state as well as the country participated in the event, the idea behind which was to get people interested in birds and create awareness to celebrate the rich bird diversity of Nagaland.
Home Stays and Handicrafts initiatives
The Machhapuchhre Agro-Eco Tourism Learning Center and Homestay (MALH) is located at the base of Annapurna Himalayan range in Nepal which is a homestay and agro-eco tourism centre. This initiative is helping local communities share their culture with the rest of the world as well as allowing them to have source of income. The program that began in 2018, took a major hit during the pandemic with many locals struggling for their livelihood. Now with travel restrictions removed, a lot of Nepali natives, especially women are being empowered through the utilization of their skills. With a lot of locals letting their homes to guests for an authentic Nepali experience, to cooking meals for them with fresh, home-grown produce, and even bee-keepers selling organic honey- this programme offers a plethora of opportunities for many people while also helping agri-eco-tourism.
Another example is at the village of Thembang of the Monpa Tribe in western Arunachal Pradesh. This hidden gem of a village is rarely found by travellers, but the few who do find it get the privilege of experiencing the culture of the tribe from close proximity by interacting with them and staying at their houses. A very unique aspect of the Monpa tribe is the lack of private ownership. All the local shops in the village are community-cared as a whole and the dividends are equally distributed. For the adventure-seekers, you can also participate in scenic treks with a diversified altitude ranging between 2000 m and 6000 m. The rainforests are breathtaking and rich with a lot of exotic and rare flora and fauna.
How Ecotourism Can Help
Since the various protected areas of the eastern Himalayas are biodiversity hotspots, it is important to put nature-based tourism at the forefront so that it can uplift the indigenous people by providing jobs that utilize their skills through tourism. Various NGOs and green tourism companies already involve locals in creating handicrafts and organic products to utilize their skills for tourism. Along with home stays, this will also empower them as well as improve the basket of livelihood options. Through such persistent sustainable practices, the dependence on forests as a primary basis of income will ultimately decrease to generate other employment opportunities.