(The writer is the Faculty of Geography in Biswanath College, Chariali. He can be reached at email@example.com )
Tourism is a widespread and fast-growing industry contributing significantly to the world GDP. According to the report published by World Travel and Tourism Council in 2018 the industry accounted for 10.2 per cent of the global GDP. It is a major source of foreign exchange, domestic products, income and employment. Tourism entrails various categories such as - Cultural Tourism, Religious Tourism, Medical Tourism, Adventure Tourism, Sports Tourism, Eco-tourism etc. Among these Ecotourism is one of the very important ones for the nature lovers. It has emerged as the strong segment of tourism over the past few decades all over the world.
As defined by the International Tourism Society, Ecotourism refers to 'Responsible travel that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of the local people'. It is also called 'Nature Tourism'. The objective of the ecotourism is to minimize the impact brought about by the tourism on the environment. The idea is to focus on uniting conservation, communities and sustainable development through the means of travel. The people who are engaged in ecotourism need to abide by certain guidelines. The principles of ecotourism are beneficial for the world as a whole, given the constantly deteriorating climatic conditions.
The tourism as a whole, has adversely affected the natural beauty of certain places. In the face of this adversity, nature tourism has come as a blessing. The impact of ecotourism is positive and beneficial for hosts, travelers, as well as the world in general. Ecotourism as a carrier, presently professional with the opportunity of looking at the world with a different perspective, and working towards achieving 'better environment' to live in.
The ecotourism is not only intended to have less environment impact than traditional tourism, but it is also holds the potential to improve the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of travel destinations, and local communities across the globe. Fortunately, ecotourism seems to be gaining coverage and popularity among tourists day by day.
Ecotourism is a conscious and responsible travel to natural areas in order to enjoy and appreciate nature, that promotes conservation, has a low visitors impact and provide for a beneficially active social, economic involvement of local people. Ecotourism involves travelling to relatively undisturbed natural area, with the specific object of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as enjoying the exciting cultural aspects (past and present) found in the areas of ecotourism. The concept of ecotourism is booming up as the fastest growing sector in the International Tourism.
The north-eastern region is commonly known as 'Land of Seven Sisters' is situated on the foothills of the mighty Himalayas, surrounded by hills and mountains on all sides. Thus geographically the region has vast green cover and together with multiple ethnic and religious groups making a colorful picture and cultural melting pot.
Since the time of immemorial the north- eastern region, including Assam is inhabited by both tribal and nontribal community living harmoniously with their unique cultural and traditional values. The warm hospitality of the people and their mouth-watering ethnic delicacies always offer a warm welcome to any outsider.
The state of Assam is the central state in the north-eastern region of India and is a jewel in the crown of the Eight Sister States, the land of red rivers, blue hills, and lush green tea gardens. Assam comprises three geographical areas- the Brahmaputra valley, the Barak valley, and the intervening Karbi plateau and North Cachar Hills.
The awesome landscape of the state of Assam painted with the lush green garden tea gardens along with the roads, the hillocks, the bountiful flora and fauna, the dark green forest, the streams, lakes, blue hills, flowing streams, rivers, and the mysterious clouds that bring rain to the river valley, the rich bouquet of cuisine of the different community etc., will never fail to be beckon tourists to this beautiful area throughout the year. The state is nature's paradise and one can certainly cherish the beauty of God's creation in this heavenly abode.
The state is rich in variety of natural resources. Famous for its freshening world class tea, the Muga (golden) and Eri (Ahimsa) silk, natural resources like coal, petroleum products and minerals, Assam can be truly be described as a state bestowed with breath-taking beauties, vast reserves of natural resources and a rich biodiversity.
Assam is also home to the endangered one-horned rhino species and Kaziranga National Park is home to two-third of this species of the world. The river Brahmaputra flowing across the heart of the state is a lifeline to the people of Assam just as Nile to Egypt. The Brahmaputra river of Assam also host to world's largest inhabited river island 'Majuli' and world's smallest inhabited river island 'Umananda'.
In addition to the various tourist spots and places of historical and cultural interest, the state of Assam is the perfect destination for birds watching. During winter season migratory birds from across the planet come to the serene water bodies across the National Parks, lakes and beels of Assam. The National Parks like Manas, Nameri and Dibru-Saikhowa are excellent spots for bird watching where ornithologists flock in hordes. The state is famous for 'Jatinga Valley' in Halflong of North Cachar Hills district where every year during the month of October, migratory birds come and commit, people call as mass suicide.
The State of Assam is the home to five of the National Parks of India. The state also has a total of 19 wildlife sanctuaries in its land segments. These wildlife sanctuaries are located in different districts of the state. They are especially famous for animals, birds, and reptiles. The eco-tourists have destinations to these natural and protected reserve forests. The National Parks are home to the famous and endangered one-horned rhinoceros of Assam, the big four cat species, a variety of primates, herds of elephants, deer, various species of birds, etc. The Manas National Park is situated at a distance of 176 km from Guwahati.
The state of Assam, in addition to being bestowed with wonders of nature is also rich in culture and heritage. The state is the land of the famous 'Muga' (Golden) and 'Eri' (Ahimsa) silk. These silks are indigenous to Assam and the originals cannot be found anywhere in the world, as the silk-worm survive only in the natural conditions of Assam. In addition, the world largest inhabited river island 'Majuli' and world smallest inhabited river island 'Umananda' have made Assam their home.
The island of Majuli has a very rich heritage and has been the abode of Assamese 'Vaishnavite' culture with tremendous option for spiritual and eco-tourism. The island has been the cultural capital and cradle of Assamese civilization for the past five hundred years. The handloom work of the tribal people of Majuli, mostly the Misings are renowned internationally. Although, handloom is a major occupation of the people of Majuli, it is mostly a noncommercial occupation. Weaving is exquisite and intricate with the use of variety of colours and textures of cotton and silk, especially Muga silk. Fishing, dairying, pottery, boat-making and musk making are the other important economic activities of this island.
With changes in time and rapid globalization the prospect of 'eco-tourism' is gaining wind. The state of Assam with perfect flora and fauna and cultural melting pot provides a good degree of possibility for its development. The implementation of the 'Act East Policy' is the key to development of the whole Northeastern Region including Assam. The Government of India should move 'Act East Policy' to strengthen the business opportunities, and tourism in the north-eastern region. Ecotourism is sustainable for the region's vast green cover and Tribal Belts, as it thinks about development via people-to-people connection.
The rich natural beauty and its diversity, exotic cultural and ethnic diversities, unexplored rich biodiversity, provide tremendous potential for development of ecotourism in the region.
The opening of the Bogibeel bridge over Brahmaputra near Dibrugarh, the Bhupen Hazarika Setu between Dhola and Sadiya in Upper Assam has given a boost to connectivity. The India-Mayanmar-Thiland trilateral highway project is need of the hour. It will develop the infrastructure that can support other things.
The infrastructure, lack of skilled manpower, absence of environment friendly hospitality sector etc., are hindering the development. The geography of the place hinders normal construction. Also lack of proper connectivity hinders the prospect of tourism development.
From the above discussion it is clear that, the state of Assam has lots of strengths to attract domestic and international tourists towards the ecotourism potentials of our state. Due to various weaknesses and threats, the development of ecotourism in Assam is not satisfactory. Ecotourism can be made successful only when there is consent and active participation of local people as well as the State government in planning and management of the ecotourism programme.