Earth has not remained as beautiful as it used to be. But if you are generous enough to rejuvenate your love for environment then what can be a better than an Eco tourism vacation. Eco tourism is a nature based practice which imparts knowledge about sustainability and ensures economic prosperity. A far sighted view ascertains how you will see some extremely remote and serene locations on earth, all while making sure you preserve them for those who follow.
Mesmerizing landscapes, lofty forests, stunning coral reefs, rib tickling adventure sports, there must have been a time you have daydreamed of these. And this comes as no surprise that Eco tourism and adventure travel are the fastest growing segments of global tourism trade. In 2001, India had more than 2.5 million inbound visitors and 234 million domestic tourists every year. The travel and tourism industry accounts for nearly 6% of India’s jobs and 4.8% of GDP, taking into account direct and indirect employment. Western Ghats making it to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites has helped accelerate Eco tourism in the Indian subcontinent.
India is a crucible for major resources of Eco tourism. The seven major bio-sphere reserves Nilgiri, Nanda Devi, Nokrek, Great Nicobar, Gulf of Mannar, Manas and Sunderbans, mangrove forests of Northern Andaman and Nicobar, Sunderban, Mahanadi Delta, four coral areas Gulf of Mannar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep Islands and Gulf of Kutch are a few of them. The country has a great variety of fauna, numbering a little over 65,000 known species, including 1,228 species of birds, 428 species of reptiles, 372 species of mammals, 204 species of amphibians and 2,546 species of fishes. There are also about 45,000 species of plants, including shrubs.
India has created 75 national parks and 421 wildlife sanctuaries in different parts of the country in order to protect and preserve the genetic resource. There are quite a few trek routes of varied difficulty in the Himalayas conferred with camping sites, trekkers’ huts to encourage the activity. Recent demand of global tourism resulted in the establishment of numerous resorts like Coconut Grove at Kumarakam and Spice Village at Thekady in Kerala. One of the initial projects taken up in this field was the Gulmarg Winter Sports Resort. Initially, the development of Himalayan ranges was emphasized but with the improvement in tourism sector landscaping and upgrading the environment of parks, gardens and other natural areas has been another stream of developmental activity associated with Eco tourism.
There have been few interesting Eco tourism promoting initiatives in the recent times. Madhya Pradesh Eco tourism Development Board started a ‘jungle caravan’ package tour to natural spots on the outskirts of Bhopal. More than 80 per cent of tourism in Madhya Pradesh is centered on nature and wildlife. The state has the largest tiger population housed in five world famous tiger reserves. It is also home to several endangered species including the Gangetic Dolphin, the Ghariyal, the Great Indian Bustard and the Kharmor amongst others. The tour involves activities from boating to bird watching to tiger spotting. This also encompasses an element of education about natural conservation.
Another magnificent project incepted in the ranges is called the ‘girdle of earth’. The Sahyadri or the Western ghat is a major mountain range running 1600 kms north to south, the Kerala Forest and Tourism Department has begun the process of developing 12 wildlife sanctuaries under Eco tourism and will offer Eco lodges for tourists in the Western Ghats. From Satpura in north to Ponmudi in south, this stretch is gaining momentum for Eco tourism and adventure sports like rock-climbing, hand- gliding, river rafting etc.
Eco tourism, if properly implemented, can incorporate rural development and conservation by protection of valuable natural areas, stimulating economic development through tourism expenditures and providing jobs and market for local goods. The effect on the local level can be anywhere from minimal to substantial, depending on the scale of Eco tourism relative to the size of the local economy. Eco tourism provides an all round alleviation to the area as it helps develop a stronger economic base with inter sectoral linkages. Increased economic benefits from intact environment gradually increase community support for habitat conservation. “We can interact with all the tourists who visit the national park. They will understand our culture and tradition and with Eco tourism our culture and tradition will move forward.” says a local at Mahanada Wildlife Sanctuary, West Bengal. Entrepreneurial activities are encouraged by Eco tourism and profits earned can be utilized for conservation purposes. The destination also educates tourists, often on a sophisticated level, about the local environment, and minimizes the impact of visitors on the environment.
Vacationing in the jungles doesn’t make you an Eco tourist, rather it’s the environmental conscience which drives Eco tourism. A less demanding, co-operative individual who takes interest in not just local sightseeing but interacts with the residents to know their environment makes an Eco tourist. He develops an emotional investment in the places and the species he visits and lends support to the conservation actions. A good Eco tourist can surely take an expedition to search a virgin destination. Lately, Eco tourism is not just about following the trend but bestowing some love to the mountains, trees and animals!