My first attempt at stringing together a few words about my stay in a foreign location begins below. Since I’m going to be writing a lot, I thought I’d start off with a little bit about myself…
I pride on being the typical Indo-Brit-Yankee culture influenced teen. I, like many others my age love showing off the ‘I don’t give a damn about old traditions’ culture my generation has slowly acquired. Which means typically, to show that I’m ‘cool’, I have to parade around with heavy metal music blaring in my ears, jeans that just cannot hold on to my waste and a Jimmy Connors like perpetual swagger, to show off my utter contempt for anything thirty and above.
I don’t really fancy the look that I acquired just to make myself fit in, but it grows on oneself. Till the tenth and secretly even now, my honest choice to spending a day would be an R.K Narayan novel, a Satyajit Ray movie and a game of tennis as a cherry on top. Of course, I have to twist this choice to Playboy, American Pie and a night of immersing myself in alcohol to convince my lot that I’m worth associating with.
I don’t know why I chose Himachal as a place to complete my mandatory internship. I could have spent a month and a half wasting my life, and probably convinced myself that I took the right path by working in any Indian metropolis. I guess something in me gave me a kick while submitting my choices and a week after my exams, I was on my way to the north, a part of India I had never been in.
Well, it’s been a week and a half now. My first three days here, I admit, were unadulterated terror. The thought of being somewhere where canned juice is a novelty seems hard on any city boy. The fourth day however, I felt so brain clogged, that I decided to do what I used to on a regular basis earlier, go for a nice long jog. After 2 kilometers of panting, I stopped at the edge of the valley and looked down.
And I’ll be frank, it was a high I’ve never ever had before. All my worries, tensions from college, issues with girls, my biting conscience, all of them just dissolved into nothing. A river gushed in full flow down, unperturbed by everything around it. The thousands of trees surrounding me flanking its borders. Every breath of air I took in sent oxygen of a quality whose worth was unquotable. And I loved every moment of that moment. I sat down and just stared in space for an hour. Just thinking about what an idiot I had been for the past one year, and how I had let my identity run away. Being here for a month has given me that little chance at change, and I’m grateful.
I know I must sound dramatic, but there are things in life that no one can teach you, which you just figure out. In my case, I had to return to the most primal friend a human can have for advice-nature. I’m glad Himachal gave me that opportunity. In the week I have spent with My Himachal here, I have learnt a LOT.
I plan to write a lot about how much this state continues to make me think, about how different the culture of the people is, about how the nature here can give you an inferiority complex unlike any other and lastly but not the least, my experience with the varied work I’ve been doing with MH. I’ve never been this alone for a long time. I wish to give everyone my age(and everyone else who might consider by opinion a little something) my view on the impressions of this beautiful place, its people and its culture.
I’m not a particularly modest person, and I can pompously declare that I’ve travelled a lot over the world. I’ve seen all those places dear old Bollywood has advertised more than the tourism department of those countries itself, right from Switzerland to New-Zealand.
I’m not going to say Himchal is more beautiful, that would be unfair to Mother Nature.
But I can definitely say that for any person in the world, Himachal is by far, the most charming.
I’m a very social person. This feeling of loneliness makes me feel strangely sad….
Not many of you have ever heard of Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). A piece of 765 sq-km area of land offers a vast range of tourism varieties to those seeking refreshing and adventurous break from their routine work. Far from busy and noisy life of cities, about 60-km from Kullu town, GHNP is a perfect place for getting feel of well deserved outing. Ironically even after its existence in 1984 the park has failed to witness desired attraction, as far as tourism is concerned.
GHNP, comprising the area of watersheds of Jiwa, Sainj, and Tirthan rivers was selected under the eco-tourism policy in May 2001 with other 5 locations in state. The policy was launched with much hope but with little result. Observations showed that the eco-tourism attraction has not much helped to enhance the tourist influx here. In fact the lack of publicity and soft approach in implementing the policy has failed to serve the desired result.
Initially when GHNP was created the major goal was to develop it as a national park. The goal was to convince the locals to preserve the environment and develop a sense of self conservation among villagers around the park.
The eco-tourism has not achieved its potential at GHNP despite it offers various attractions ranging from adventure sports like rock climbing, rappelling, river crossing, and fishing in the eco zone and long treks into the GHNP for bird watching, wildlife spotting and long nature trails. The treks are selected on the basis of the capabilities of tourists. Interestingly the tourists can have the feel of local culture and customs thanks to local fairs galore which are celebrated by villagers with much fanfare and enthusiasm.
No doubt, GHNP is an ideal location for eco-tourism. The 25 trekking guides who are locals are professionally trained for the eco zone. All the porters and cooks are also locals. There is a nursery which grows medicinal herbs so that the villagers who depended on the forest resources of the now protected area of the park can actually use the plants from nursery and grow their own medicinal plants for sustenance. In addition to this, entry in GHNP is permitted only with a local guide. This is done to restrict the number of people entering the region and also so that the local residents benefit from tourism in that area.
Moreover the home stays the main catchy feature of eco-tourism, is another untapped potential here. Inquires shows that many tourists want to experience the local culture and accustom and in that case there is no better way than home stays.
But despite all this, only a few locals are being benefited from the tourism that is being generated in the area. There is urgent need to build a model in which locals should have an opportunity to sell home made products like shawls, handicrafts and medicinal products to the tourists. Also building on the business model for home stays in the area will bring a tremendous benefit. Currently there is only one home stay which always remains overbooked. The eco-tourism will really be viable in park if a single governing body is created which has the authority to take the decisions for the park. Ironically, the BTCA model is not working as it was supposed to be. BTCA formerly known as SAHARA is formed for the betterment of locals.
In fact the progress has been slow and the true potential of GHNP is really not being exploited. Although responsible tourism is the key to eco tourism, awareness levels of GHNP have been very low which is a major problem here.
Interestingly, Divya Sawant and Gautam Bhatia the students of SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai, currently on their Development of Corporate Citizenship program with My Himachal, a NGO are working on a plan to develop a sustainable model for eco tourism in the GHNP area. Their immediate plan is to develop a marketing strategy for eco-tourism in GHNP.
Says Divya and Gautam, there has been hardly any promotion for this location and also the present efforts are towards treks inside the park for the extreme trekkers when there is actually scope for the park to be a family retreat also with activities in the eco zone. Accessibility to the region is another issue. The roads are poor due to persistent rain and poor maintenance, points out Divya and Gautam who are currently doing extensive field survey and analysis of situation on the hand involving interactions with villagers residing there.
They have met the locals staying within the eco-zone the western boundary of the park inhabited by 160 villages. While disclosing their plans the students say, we talked to the villagers living there in order to gauge what they feel about their source of sustenance being converted into a protected park. We wanted to know on how they have adapted to this change and in what way have the local governing bodies helped their employment opportunities and income generation activities.
The villagers in the area were used to depend on medicinal plants from the park for their livelihood but since the park have become a protected area, they now have to rear goats for their living. Most women are part of the Women Saving and Credit Group an initiative by BTCA. The villagers outlook towards life in the valley was quite defeatist and they were resigned to the belief that their life would not improve. On further probing about the initiatives taken by the successive state governments, they seemed sceptical and have lost faith in governing bodies.
Judama Devi, a member of the Women’s Saving and Credit Group was used to depend on medicinal plants from the park for her family’s livelihood. However since the park has become a protected area, she along with her unemployed husband now rear goats to make their both ends meet. The family have lost faith in state government and BTCA as well. They seem to have the opinion that nothing is really being done to support them and even the initiatives being taken by BTCA are not working well. Judama Devi further says, BTCA currently offered locals the option to purchase medicinal plants from the nursery so that the villagers could grow them on their own. But the soil was infertile and the plants were not really growing in and around their house. So finally the benefit was nil, she rues.
Another sufferer, Harilal from Dhar village is pessimistic over the present initiatives. The BTCA members have not visited Dhar which is one of the more accessible villages in the area, he laments. According to Mr. Gopal the current in-charge of BTCA, despite some of the initiatives taken so far, the time to get approval for each initiative is very long. The most proposals are lost in government offices and the proposals are actually never implemented, rues Gopal who is also the Panchayat Pradhan.
Awareness about GHNP is another major roadblock, inform Divya and Gautam. GHNP is not even listed as a tourist destination on the Himachal Tourism Website. Being one of the largest national parks in the country one would think that it would be given the necessary importance to bring responsible to tourist to the area.
Providing alternate means of sustenance to locals who previously depended on the forest also is an uphill task especially since most villagers are losing faith in the present system and further time passing by without any action is not helping, point out Divya and Gautam. The handloom, handicrafts, medicinal plants in the eco zone etc are few of the employment opportunities which are being explored, but some strong decisions need to be taken accompanied with an implementing action plan is the need of the hour, they suggest .
Developing small scale tourism in GHNP while striving to have as little impact on the fragile and pristine protected areas of GHNP is one of our primary objectives, they reveal. Educating the travelers while directly benefiting the social stability, economic development and political empowerment for the local communities (Community Based Ecotourism) will be another key objective of our study, they inform.
Based on their surveys and study, Divya and Gautam suggest few measures to improve the situation at GHNP. They Say, improving accessibility to the region is most crucial one. The state government should look at starting a special bus service for travellers to the park which would provide convenience, comfort and ease of luggage space for the tourists. Improving awareness is another thing that can help lot to popularise the park all over. The developing of comprehensive and extensive website as the internet is the major source for information for most tourists these days. The need is also there to create new independent governing body comprising of government officials, local NGO and representatives from local villages to act as the decision maker for the region and help the overall development of the region.
This independent governing body which would not only provide a channel for local villagers to raise their concerns but having locals on the board may build trust in the villages. It will also ensure the training and skill development of the locals; provide avenues for locals to sell their home made products and co-ordinate home stays etc to bring direct benefit to the locals.
Ironically, Divya and Gautam have also done awareness survey on GHNP, in which only 23 people out of 80 were heard about it.
Not many of us know that just 60 kms away from Kullu town lies a 765 sq km area known as the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). As management students we were given the task to build a sustainable model for ecotourism in the park but when we started our project on the its promotion of we were clueless about the complexities of the issue at hand. Two weeks into this project and we realized that there are three main issues that plague the GHNP accessibility, awareness and improper flow of information among concerned authorities.
The poor condition of the roads leading to the park which is aggravated by other uncontrollable forces such as persistent rain is a major obstacle in the way of tourism in the Great Himalayan National Park. The lack of available transport on this route is another major issue. The government should look at starting a special bus service for travelers to the park which would provide convenience, comfort and ease of luggage space for the tourists. Currently the GHNP is targeting only the hardcore adventure trekkers and the Eco-zone treks are not really highlighted or given any importance when they can attract a large set of tourists looking for a family getaway with a little adventure. The Eco-zone treks provide the right mix of small treks and a few adventure activities for the complete family trip.
One of the most important issues for the GHNP is the lack of awareness about it among people in and out of Himachal Pradesh. Internet being one of the most used avenues for travellers to research their planned destinations, it is a shame that GHNP being a national park is not even present as a tourist destination on the HPTDC website. Most Indian ecotourism websites have no mention of GHNP as an ecotourism destination. Even the Lonely Planet – India ( a travel guide) which is considered the bible for tourists has just a mention about the park with no contact information or website information about the park. The lack of sign boards on the road leading to the park – only two sign boards from Sairopa up to the GHNP Gate doesn’t provide a pretty picture. Boards providing interesting facts about the park and eco tourism need to be put along the trek to at least keep the tourist focussed on the eco tourism and the idea behind the concept.
The need of the hour is a new and improved comprehensive website with information such as varied packages for the varied consumer (with prices), a reviews section, a query section and one which is regularly updated with the latest happenings in and around the park. Brochures, posters and postcards need to be made available to key locations (Shops, HPTDC hotels, other key tourist destinations) in Himachal to make the traveller aware that such a destination exists. A documentary about the GHNP on travel shows on television channels like Discovery, National Geographic and NDTV will go a long way in making tourist all over the country aware of such a location in Himachal.
People need to be aware that such a park exists in the country which houses many an endangered species. Ecotourism itself in India needs to be encouraged. Responsible tourism which boosts the local economy while conserving the pristine environment of the park needs impetus.
The key factor in an ecotourism model is to bring an overall positive effect to the locals of the region. The GHNP has the potential to develop an ecotourism model which can then be followed by many around the country. Presently the governing bodies as well as the BTCA group are ineffective and are struggling to bring any improvement to the region. Any suggestion (either from BTCA or the locals of the region) has to go through so many levels for approval and most of the time is lost in the paperwork of the governing offices that hardly any improvement has been brought to the region. A new empowered governing body is the need of the hour. This would not only provide a channel for local villagers to raise their concerns but having locals on the board may build trust level among the villagers. This body should be a non profit organisation consisting of representation from locals, government as well as the local NGO and it should be given the authority to act on behalf of the government. It will also ensure the training and skill development of the locals; provide avenues for locals to sell their home made products and co-ordinate home stays in the region to bring direct benefit to the locals. The information flow would be quick, effective and this body will work towards bringing about the quick development of the region.
Currently there is no fixed structure to either make your bookings or to raise your queries about the park. Most queries are lost in a chain of mails going from one person to another before finally reaching the concerned person after two weeks. An attempt to make the bookings by phone is struggle as there is no fixed price list nor is there a single person handling all the queries. It is quite possible for duplication of information or even inconsistent information passing to the same customer. This ineffective and inefficient operating model must be changed immediately. Allocation of at least two resources for bookings/answering queries is very important and their contact information should be available on the website as well as any other mode of communication to the traveller. Making a standard price list and bringing about consistency in the information been given out to consumers is the least one expects from any service.
The problems in the GHNP are vast but solutions exist to bring about a quick change. It is up to the concerned authorities to take up the challenge and take the necessary strong decisions to bring about the change. A lot of people have come before us and highlighted the problems and most people working in the park are aware of these problems but still no action seems to be taken. The road ahead for the GHNP has to be carved by the concerned authorities; it can be one leading to becoming a key tourist destination in India or one in which GHNP remains an unexplored paradise.
The above article has been written by Divya Sawant and Gautam Bhatia. Both of them are students of SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai. They are currently on a 6 week internship with My Himachal as part of their DOCC (Development of Corporate Citizenship) program. They are presently working on a plan to develop a sustainable model for eco tourism in the GHNP area. Their immediate plan is develop a marketing strategy for ecotourism in GHNP.
For tourists from across the globe, the hilly terrain of Manali-Shimla is a shoppers’ paradise for woollens. The heart of the weaving industry is in the small town of Kullu, 40Kms away from Manali. As one enters this scenic valley, colourful traditional Kullu shawls dot the sideways of every market street and one can see huge signboards atop tiny shops flashing ‘Traditional Kullu Shawls’. This is bait to the blind crocodile. Many of these shawls are not handcrafted, sometimes not even made in Kullu. They are mostly machine made shawls sourced from other towns in the country.
Is it that one doesn’t care enough to make an informed decision while buying or is it that one fails to see the value in a handcrafted product?
I am afraid it’s both. On one hand, tourists have little or no time on their itinerary to go searching for an authentic store and are more often than not directed by their local travel guides or the rickshaw drivers and cabbies to one of the numerous bogus shops that sell machine made shawls at hefty discounts (sometimes as high as 50%). A setup of a few handlooms in the periphery of the store serve as a perfect backdrop to disguise the machine made shawls as handmade shawls. While the tourist walks out of the store with discounted shawls, the local guide walks away with his share of commission, thus making this whole money making act a farce in the name of tourism.
On the other hand, as consumers, we fail to recognize the value of a handcrafted product. The value of art does not reside in the price we pay for it, but in the efforts that have gone into making that masterpiece; that masterpiece which is born out of the dexterity of the weaver, his eye for weaving an intricate design from his own palette of colours, the long hours of adeptly crossing the warp and woof to create kaleidoscopic patterns on the fabric, creating designs which by no means can be replicated on a programmed machine that churns out batch after batch of immaculate shawls at the press of a button. The power looms can produce a shawl in a couple of minutes while the weaver spends an average of four days to weave an elaborate design on his handloom. We must learn to appreciate the beauty of inherent imperfections in a handcrafted product that renders it it’s exclusivity. No price is too high to pay for unadulterated art, be it for the purity of the wool, the sanctity of the natural organic dyes or the simplicity and genuineness of the heart of the person who is making it.