A Paradise Unexplored

The North-Eastern States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, affectionately known as the ‘Seven Sisters,’ and Sikkim, the ‘One Brother,’ comprise lush green meadows, forests, waterfalls, rivers, wildlife and distinctive flora and fauna. The exceptionally rich biodiversity makes the region an ‘Unexplored Paradise’ and needs to attract a larger number of tourists.

All eight States have tremendous tourism potential and the national and local tourism industry needs to better exploit their prospects taking care to do so in a sustainable manner to preserve and maintain the region’s unique ecological and cultural balance along with increasing the prospects of its commerce and trade pan-India and with neighbouring countries.

Although there was a 40% increase in the number of Foreign Tourist Visitors (FTVs) to the region when it touched 119,000 in 2014 it is too small compared to the 7.6 million International Tourist Arrivals to India in the same year. The number of FTVs to the eight States was 84,020 in 2013, registering a growth of 28% in FTVs compared to a 12% increase in 2012 over 2011.

In 2013 Manipur, with 1,908 FTVs, recorded the highest growth rate of 154% among all the ‘Sister States.’ Arunachal Pradesh recorded 111% (10,846 FTVs), Tripura 51% (11,853 FTVs), Nagaland 32% (3,304 FTVs), Meghalaya 27% (6,773 FTVs), Sikkim 19% (31,698 FTVs), Mizoram 7% (800 FTVs) and Assam 0.5% (17,638 FTVs), as per the Ministry of Development of North-East Region (DoNER).

Some of the interesting things to do in the North-East:

  • Sample the tea grown in Assam’s famous tea gardens
  • Meet the one-horned rhinoceros at Kaziranga National Park
  • Pray at Tawang monastery, largest monastery in India
  • Romance at 100-metre-high Nuranang Falls in Tawang
  • Go river rafting in the Siang River in Arunachal Pradesh
  • Explore Nature at Meghalaya’s Cherrapunji, known for maximum rainfall in world
  • Boat in caves with limestone deposits at Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya
  • Snow-clad peaks in the winters, flower-filled meadows, chirping birds and colourful butterflies in the summers are a treat at Ravangla in Sikkim.
  • Experience peace in the seclusion of Sikkim’s Phodong monastery that is considered most religious by the Kagyu sect of Buddhists
  • Mystery in Nagaland’s Patkai range, with the foot-shaped Shilloi Lake surrounded by green valleys. Legend told by the people of nearby Latsum village is that the lake possesses supernatural powers and is one of the reasons why no one fishes or uses the lake water for drinking and irrigation.

 

Considerable work needs to be done to attract a larger number of domestic and foreign tourists the local cultural colours and ethnic flavours would be a discovery of sorts. This is possible when the tourism and related infrastructure is developed in an organized and sustainable manner. The current haphazard construction activity presently is turning the ‘Unexplored Paradise’ into an unorganized ‘Concrete Jungle.’

 

All the State Governments work on time-bound completion of the infrastructure and the Central ministries regularly monitor the progress of land acquisition, forest clearance, etc. and infrastructure such as road, rail, inland water transport, power, airports and air connectivity, telecom connectivity, etc. But the urban areas are being denuded of their local design and regional architectural characteristics. Strict adherence to conserve the ecological balance of the States is necessary to enhance ‘Visitor Experience.’

Accommodation-wise, there are hardly any upmarket hotels in the entire region except for one in Guwahati, the Radisson Blu. Facilities like good accommodation, hygienic food, and reliable connectivity at places of tourist interest would encourage a healthy inflow of visitors.

The North-Eastern States should get together and prepare a strategy for destination management with the objective to integrate tourism, heritage and business opportunities for destination development.

Each State should share plans for infrastructural development with each other as it would avoid duplication of facilities such as such as airports, Convention centres, etc.

They should work out the carrying capacity of each State so as to maintain the ecological balance and preserve their environmental sustainability by ensuring cleanliness of cities. The citizens need to be educated about the importance of maintaining and monitoring cleanliness. Promotion of the regional exotic cuisines is possible by incentivizing entrepreneurship.

This landlocked region shares international borders with Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Asian Highway Project needs to be completed soon. This highway will transform the North-East into an economic corridor linking India with other Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. This corridor will connect the north-eastern region of India with the world economy.

The highway will be an engine of growth and is bound to change the tourism scenario, strengthen human resource development and increase employment generation in the ASEAN region.

For management and operation of hotels and other travel-related activities, the State Governments should give land on lease for the creation of world-class hotels, Travel & Tourism colleges as well as Culinary Institutes besides expanding the scope of other skill development institutions.

The scope for development in the field of Medical Tourism with the opening of super-specialty hospitals is immense. Medical care would be an asset for people from neighbouring Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar as well for those of the region who presently travel to distant mega-cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai for specialized treatment.

The opening of centres of Ayurvedic medical care along with R & D and training institutes under the charge of the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India will help in usage and conservation of local herbs as well as traditional folk medicine. A beginning is being made with the upcoming North Eastern Institute of Ayurveda & Homoeopathy in Shillong, Meghalaya, an autonomous institute under the Ministry of AYUSH.

The ‘Paradise Unexplored’ elements of the region comprising the distinctive heritage, culture and traditional lifestyle need to be preserved, protected and promoted.

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