With armed rebellions on the wane and people from the rest of the country evincing interest to visit the Northeast (NE) to see what this long-underrated hinterland looks like and what it has to offer them, there is of late a lot of hype as to what and how things need to be schemed for a vibrant tourism policy to take shape in this picturesque part of the country. More importantly, there have been spirited discourses as to what tourism as an industry can do to this region – and why indeed it must do. There is no gainsaying that endowed with a marvellous eco-diversity in terms of its uniquely rich flora and fau, breathtaking landscapes, and mesmerizing mix of ethnic communities with a unique plethora of cultures and traditions to showcase, NE as a tourism hub should have happened long ago, promoting the richness of this region as a pivot of tourist attraction for a whole lot of right reasons and at the same time – and most importantly – going a long way in cracking the huge unemployment problem among the educated youth. However, thanks to militancy and a myopic policy framework that did little to promote tourism as an industry in the right direction without endangering the region’s fragile ecosystem while also providing adequate safeguards to keep its indigenousness safe from any possible vested-interest migrant onslaught, the general discourse on tourism in NE has been nothing more than mere romanticization, let alone any solid task of propelling it to a new height of industry. Tawang in Aruchal Pradesh is a classic case in point. It was only after a film shot in the mid-1990s, starring Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, in Tawang that this seat of Tibetan Buddhism in the country began to capture tiol tourist attention. Now of course tourism enthusiasts are thronging the town despite the harsh terrains on the high-altitude meandering way to it, giving a big boost to its own revenue-generation mechanism by way of a boom in its hotel and luxury enterprise as also by providing the much-needed employment opportunities to its unemployed youth.
Luring the Tourist to NE
Having said that, it is imperative that we understand what is needed in NE so that it flourishes as a tourism industrial zone. Experts in the field – who have both academic and ground reality experiences to back their roadmaps, based on their travels around the world and the comparisons they have reasobly drawn with what is best for the Northeast for it to mutate into a tourism hub, both tiol and intertiol – have informed us of the need for an adequate infrastructure pertaining to roads, hotels and resorts, transport and communication, and very importantly, tourist guides who have a good knowledge of history, sociology, economics, and culture and tradition of the areas they would take their tourists to. This apart, not only should these guides be amiable, friendliness and a helping attitude should also be the hallmark of the public in general. This is well evident in some of the hill stations of the country such as Shimla, Kulu, Mali, inital, Almora, and near home, Darjeeling and Gangtok, to me just a few. The chief elements of infrastructure as just mentioned, except for the people of NE who are generally quite amiable, are unfortutely yet to be put in place effectively. This, as experts have opined time and again, has been the main deterrence to the possibility of evolution of tourism into an industry in this region despite its immense tourism potential.
What then are the kinds of tourism possible here in a big way? Many, indubitably. Of these, as has been pointed out in recent times at tourism conclaves and deliberations, some crucial ones are cultural tourism with heritage and history components attached to it, general ture tourism, tea tourism, and adventure tourism with aspects such trekking, river rafting, river cruises, and even fishing. Except adventure tourism, all other forms of tourism, apart from the existence of hard infrastructure in the form of communication and quality but affordable accommodation, the existence of soft tourism infrastructure is a must, which entails tourist guides with good knowledge as well as the required language skills and a warm and friendly general public. In fact there are tourism courses these days in some universities, with some being offered by private institutes as well. Students from this region may be encouraged to opt for such courses with additiol history-geography-sociology-economics knowledge and good communication skills to the required extent, who can then be easily roped in for tourist guide engagements – an excellent way to generate employment and help evolve tourism as an industry.
To drive home a point, heritage-pilgrimage tourism to heritage-pilgrimage centres like Tezpur, Sivasagar, Malini Than (at Likabali bordering Aruchal Pradesh), Parasuram Kunda, Madan Kamadev and Hajo (both in Assam), and of course Tawang famous the world over for its rich and pristine Buddhist culture and heritage, apart from a host of such hubs spread across the rest of the Northeast, can prove very enterprising and sustaible. Goa has an excellent record of a variety of such tourism with its ancient churches drawing huge crowds the year over. NE, with Christianity being a major faith here, can draw a classic clue then.
The fact of the matter is that tourism in these times, when people are fincially far better off than before and when many of them are taking to the path of being avid travellers, can definitely prove to be a big fincial breaking story by way of its meaningful evolution into a roaring industry. And what better place in India for that to happen than this beautiful and resourceful northeastern region as it aspires to evolve with times!