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Saturday, December 3, 2022

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Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Making of a DESTINATION

Meghalaya is known for its undulating valleys, deep gorges, and stunning landscapes. While some locations are celebrated for being the ‘cleanest village’ or for ‘highest rainfall’, many remain undiscovered. Tanisha Das explores the potential ways in which tourism can develop through collective action, ahead of World Tourism Day on September 27.

By Tanisha Das

As a tourist destination, Meghalaya offers various waterfalls, national parks, sacred groves and other tourist spots. Some of the most famous tourist attractions of Meghalaya are Sohra (erstwhile Cherrapunji), Mawlynnong, Dawki, Mawsynram in East Khasi Hills, and national parks such as Nokrek Biosphere Reserve and Balpakram National Park in the Garo Hills.

Known for its high tourism potential, this place has always been a tourist attraction, one of the reasons for leading the state toward prosperity and development over the years. That said, there are spaces still unexplored and untapped, making for a potential that goes unused.

This has resulted in fewer visits to these tourist spots, mostly caused due to abandonment and under-development. They are not looked after, coupled with the lack of facilities for the visitors. Most of these spots do not have proper air or road connectivity and infrastructural facilities in terms of accommodation, transport, banking, drinking water, sanitation, and health care.

Often, tourists do not find themselves at ease with the local people where communication is concerned – reasons that stop them to visit these places. Although most of them desire an authentic travelling experience, many are difficult to access, as most of them are hilly or deep within the forests.

What, then, is the solution?

The workforce in transportation and road construction needs to be developed to make roads accessible. With sustained efforts, including maintenance, such spots are transformed into more tourism-friendly spaces. Once easier to travel to, the real potential of Meghalaya will be fully utilised, keeping in mind sustainable eco-tourism that safeguards these sensitive spots.

We visit picnic spots, caves and hilly terrains and don’t realise how blessed our state is; as a result, have underestimated its tourist potential. Consequently, these places lose their attraction, hence visitors.

Why blame the lack of management and carelessness when we, as tourists, litter our own place and don’t do enough to look after such spaces?

The situation on the ground has a ripple effect on the tourism industry. These include the availability of basic hospitality services, the contribution of communities, and the management of such spots. Every other aspect is, therefore, connected.

Only sustained efforts can improve the proper running of this big industry, leading to the success of any tourist spot, which is missing in most cases in Meghalaya.

Unfortunately, we have forgotten the spots in our own state, travel all around the world, miss out on exploring our own places, and forget to appreciate the beauty so close to us.

This lack of exposure is one of the reasons why Meghalaya is lagging in tourism despite its potential. There are so many locations in the state that are still hidden and unexplored. Even small hamlets fail to achieve the exposure, compared to big cities and other countries.

While social media has been successful in reaching out to the masses vis-à-vis the tourist attractions in our state, we still have a long way to go.

Culture and food also play an important role in attracting visitors. Meghalaya possesses a rich authentic cuisine and culture, which needs more exposure, tempting people to not only visit the state for its scenic beauty but to experience its culture, history and cuisine.

Management, exposure and accessibility can make tourism in Meghalaya easier. Along with the government, the citizens of the state must also participate in looking after the tourist spots.

This is not to say that the picture is entirely grim. One only needs to see how some local communities look after certain sacred forests (law kyntang in Khasi).

Over the years, tourists have come to know about the Mawphlang sacred grove, home to over 500 species of flora that include varieties of orchids and trees with medicinal values, among others, and is considered to be a primal forest of tremendous ecological significance.

As the footfall keeps growing, the local people have set up rules for its tourists/visitors. This goes on to show that even though they are based on their lores, beliefs, and reverence toward the forests, they are protecting them.

More importantly, community leadership, as in the case of Mawphlang, shows the value of community responsibility to protect tourist spots by working alongside the government.

The government’s tourism policies and the participation of the local citizens have to go hand in hand. The citizens should not only be in charge of the tourist spots but also work toward hospitality, ensuring that bullying is checked and making visitors, feel at home.

Slowly, things seem to change. The Meghalaya Tourism Department (MTD) has formulated plans and tourism policies, with a view to attracting more domestic and international tourists, which would lead to economic development and the generation of ample employment opportunities in the state.

Meghalaya aims to keep its capital clean. In Shillong, people are ordered to maintain roads and tourist spots; any obstruction, injury and annoyance to passersby and littering of roads and tourist spots can lead to arrest, along with a fine of Rs 5000. Just the development of transportation and facilities is not enough, it has to be made sure that they are maintained the same way.

An industry that promotes development requires collective action. The time is now to shape tourism in the state, one that achieves a balance between revenue and sustainability, and becomes a model, for other tourist spaces in North East and India.

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