Outreach-Districts: 2; Villages: 60; Beneficiaries: 135; Revenues: 190000/ annum.
Home to the spectacular Himalayas, the Garhwal region is blessed with prolific natural beauty, harboring sacred mountain peaks, life-giving rivers and bountiful forests. The allure of these serene, scenic habitats together with the mass appeal for some of India's holiest shrines, gives this region enormous potential to develop a sound village based eco-tourism industry. At the state level, there is considerable interest to invest in eco-tourism. Yet, there is a dearth of genuine initiatives that truly live up to the 'treading lightly' ideals of eco-tourism. Specifically there are next to no eco-tourism enterprises attempted in interior parts of the state.
AT India initiated this pilot activity for promoting village based eco-tourism in 2004 to gauge its potential as a livelihood option in the region. It has been functioning along the lines of the "bed and breakfast" model where food and lodging made available to tourists by participating village households. Ultimately, the idea was to link several eco-lodges to interpretation centers established by AT India in the area. Over the years two approaches have been tested. One based on working with interested individual households and the second, working with a village based Self Help Group (SHG) that would jointly take up eco-tourism as an income generating activity.
After analyzing the opportunities and constraints the initiative had contributed in several ways:
. Selecting sites for nature retreats and camps on the basis of location, potential for attracting tourists and; interest and motivation of the villagers.
. Identifying potential tourist activities around the nature retreats and developing camp curriculum in the case of nature camps.
. Designing and implementing a thorough training program wherein local stakeholders are trained on hospitality and hygiene, culinary skills and camp maintenance, together with business aspects of running a successful eco-lodge. Further, they are trained to guide their guests on the socio-cultural and natural features of the area. So far 71 BSPs (Business Service Providers) 13 anchors and 29 guides) have been imparted such training. Few of the local stakeholders were also sent to Sikkim for exposure on sound eco-tourism practices.
. Credit for participating households to upgrade their facilities to tourist quality had been facilitated which had involved construction of toilets, bathing facilities and renovation of sleeping quarters and outdoor spaces along with investments in furnishing.
. Publicity and marketing of the eco-tourism services is done through posters, travel exhibitions, on the ground agents in key cities. The Initiative thus aimed to create a synergy between local ecotourism entrepreneurs, the conservation minded traveler, and the community as a whole.
Consequently in 2005, AT India, under the aegis of DNPCL, launched 2 categories of services under its eco-tourism mandate:
1. DevBhumi Nature Retreats: to cater to middle to upper-middle-class nature lovers; who enjoy proximity to nature with a modicum of comfort. It is aimed at persons who wish to enjoy the tranquility of the mountains through short nature walks, rather than long treks.
2. DevBhumi Treks and Tours: These are designed for the trekking enthusiasts who are open to village home-stays and experiencing the extremes of nature. They are led by trained guides along mountain trails of varying intensities. So far AT India has established 3 camps, Lachmoli, Pothibasa and Guptkashi under DNPPCL and 1 camp / lodge at Sari village are currently operational.
An integral component of ecotourism activities is interpretation centers. If properly delivered, interpretation not only enriches the ecotourism experience but also provides the basis for remembering and reliving it. Amongst the underlying causes of the threats identified, for the loss of biodiversity in the Central Himalayas is the lack of public awareness. Interpretation centers as an awareness building strategy have proved to have dramatically positive effects in several such contexts. AT India in collaboration with BVIEER, Pune and consultation with the department of Botany, Kumaun University, had thus established two interpretation centers: Lachhmoli village (approx. 14 kms before Srinagar; on the main Rishikesh -Badrinath highway) and Guptkashi (23 kms from Kedarnath, on the main Rishikesh- Kedarnath route)
These centers offer the following informational features:
. A detailed bio-geographical profile of the region in terms of its biological significance, endemic species and eco-system services performed as well as the major ecological threats to the region. The information has been presented in innovative easily interpreted formats.
. The centers also provide information on the history, culture and economy of the region with an effort to show how these have impacted the environment, and the changes that it has wrought.
. Information has also been provided on the solutions that the initiative is working on and its expected impact over a 10-15 year time frame.
. Ultimately the centers are expected to emerge as focal points for dissemination of regional information and raising the awareness of lakhs of tourists and pilgrims visiting the area each year.
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