SUBJECT :Eco-tourism Destinations in India 

A tourist in the Western Ghats, Kerala.

Kerala, March 22, 2019: ‘Ecotourism’, i.e. sustainable tourism that seeks to benefit conservation and communities, is the new buzzword for evolved travellers. However, with more people venturing out to explore green spaces, the threat to natural ecosystem increases. Therefore, governments are working with local authorities and non-governmental organisations to educate tourists of their responsibilities while vacationing in environmentally-sensitive areas. If tourists take sufficient care to minimise their impact on ecosystems, this growing trend can definitely be a boon.

Eco-tourism doesn't just mean visiting a forest or national park and leaving it litter or pollution-free; there's more to it. It also includes things like generating funds for conservation, educating visitors, and contributing to local communities. Indeed, experts believe that, if managed well, tourism is the best way to win the conservation battle and provide local livelihoods.

On the International Day of Forests, March 21, we have made a list of four beautiful forest destinations in India that are tourist-friendly, yet relatively untouched by human presence.

The Arunachal forests

View of the forest canopy in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh.

Arunachal Pradesh has the second-largest forest cover in India after Madhya Pradesh. Covering over 60% of the state’s total land area, it’s a treat for the eyes. There are five different forest types here: tropical forests, subtropical forests, pine forests, temperate forests and alpine forests. With elevation ranging from 300 to 4,500 metres, there is a rich variety of flora and fauna. This is also perhaps the only place on earth where four wild cats are found: tiger, leopard, clouded leopard and snow leopard. Tourists can enjoy game-viewing at one of the state's many wildlife sanctuaries, besides climbing, trekking and nature walks in the valleys. Homestays are popular and provide tourists with a unique, immersive experience. Some of the popular destinations include Namdapha National Park, Mouling National Park and Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuary.

Khasi Hills, Meghalaya

Khasi Hills, Meghalaya

The lush, green Khasi hills in Meghalaya are extremely picturesque all-year round, thanks to the high amount of rainfall in the region. This unexplored paradise in the northeast has a lot of cultural diversity and plenty of secluded green wonders. A key attraction in the East Khasi hills is the Mawphlang Sacred Forest, which comprises an interconnected network of plants and trees, some of them almost a thousand years old. The forest remains preserved by an ancient tribal belief which forbids anything from being removed, as it is protected by a local deity, Labasa. Tales abound of people who have broken this taboo falling sick and even dying. Other key attractions in Meghalaya include Nongkhnum Island in the West Khasi Hills, which is the second-biggest river island in Asia. Jakrem Hot Springs is another popular site. Located about 64 km from Shillong, Jakrem is famous for its hot water springs of sulphur water, which is believed to have curative medicinal properties. Mawlynnong village, situated 90 kilometres from Shillong, is also worth a visit. It has earned the distinction of being the cleanest village in India.

Silent Valley National Park, Kerala

Silent Valley National Park

Kerala was one of the first states of India to execute planned ecotourism. The state’s Western Ghats are counted among the top 18 biodiversity hotspots in the world and the Silent Valley National Park is one of its prized possessions. Located in the Kundali Hills, the Park is smaller in comparison to the other national parks, but what makes the Valley unique is that it is closed on all sides owing to high and continuous ridges and steep escarpments. The valley is thus shielded from climate extremities and is something of an ecological island with its own microclimate. Silent Valley is home to the largest population of lion-tailed macaques in the world, apart from rare birds and butterflies. This is one of the main reasons why entry to the Park is strictly monitored by Kerala Forest Department officials. They grant permissions at the entry point at Mukkali and visitors must return by evening, since overnight stays are not allowed. Silent Valley National Park remains one of the most well-preserved rainforests in the country.

Sundarbans National Park

Sunderban Tiger Reserve

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest of its kind in the world and the only one inhabited by tigers. It is located on the south-east tip of West Bengal and is part of the world’s largest delta formed by the rivers Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna. Gliding through the calm waters of the Sundarbans on a government-authorised boat is an unforgettable experience, made more memorable by a chance glimpse of the Royal Bengal tiger. The Sundarbans forest is home to more than 400 tigers. These tigers have developed a unique characteristic of swimming in the saline waters of the mangrove and are famous for their man-eating tendencies. Strict control is maintained by Forest Officers to protect people from the tigers.

How to tour sensitive eco-sites

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) encourages travellers to visit protected sites to help generate revenue for conservation projects. The IUCN provides useful tips for sustainable travel. For instance: travel light, don’t litter, eat local foods and pick nature-friendly accommodation.

To help first-time travellers navigate these unfamiliar destinations, certified tour operators are also recommended. Vaivhav Todi, Director of Greener Pastures, a Dibrugarh-based sustainable travel company says his company aims to uplift local communities while safeguarding the environment through sustainable tourism. “We help travellers understand the local customs and cultures in a progressive manner. This is because, at times, local people can be offended by a tourist’s behaviour, such as excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol or disregard for sacred places. We encourage interactions between the guests and locals. We also ensure proper waste disposal, electricity and water conservation, and, thus leave a positive footprint. Fortunately, travellers, too, are becoming more responsive to our efforts and contribute enthusiastically.”