Real-life Warriors Lauded for Ecotourism in Sikkim

ON 02/29/2020 AT 18:04 PM

Recognizing the why behind its distinction as a prime tourist destination, Sikkim has proven skillful in developing warriors truly dedicating their lives to protect and conserve nature for better sustainability.

Located within a 20-minute walk of Palzor Stadium and 1.7 miles of Enchey Monastery, Gangtok’s Tagalong Hostel has continually reinforced its dedication to ecotourism. Tagalong isn’t luxurious, but there’s a reason the guests have chosen as a great stay option - property is clean and comfortable, water is poured from glass bottles, and there’s hardly any plastic in the cafe. For many millennials, it's an immersive experience that will shift your perspectives while experiencing new places.

"The hostel was started with the vision of bringing sustainable practices," says Bhavana Sharma, 29, who co-founded the café and hostel with her sister Manisha in Gangtok’s busy Development Area in 2017. “Even our guests support our efforts of nature-based activities as an alternative type of sustainable development," she added. What’s appealing part by them is ride the silk, an annual-long cycling trip along the Silk Route in East Sikkim to Nathula.

It’s the kind of story that appeals to millennial travelers - a concrete expression of sustainable tourism. Since cycle rides are slower and riders make more overnight stops, the Sharma sisters persuaded residents along the 160km route to open home-stays. For the ride and other treks they organize, Sharma sisters are leading the tourists by incorporating sustainable alternatives such as replacement of Maggi packets with home-made snack packs, pet water bottles with steel sippers, and carry back bags to stuff the garbage.

The tiny state of Sikkim nestled in the Himalayas in northeastern India is a popular tourist destination. According to the data released by the Sikkim tourism department, tourists visiting Sikkim shot up by nearly 77 percent to 14.25 lakh during 2017. “We need to ensure smooth conduct of tourism that would conserve nature including biodiversity and ecosystems as well as local people's culture and tradition of Sikkim," says Pema Gyaltshan Bhutia, General Secretary, Khanchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC).

Waste management is an issue, especially in Yuksom, situated in West Sikkim, district of Geyzing. This remote hamlet is known to be a place to enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of nature, surpassed by the tourist population during the peak season. “Yuksom gets an average of 4,000 tourists a year and also being the base camp for those trekking to Khangchendzonga National Park. The treks lead to deforestation and garbage dumping. 

KCC started raising awareness about the social conditions surrounding a travel destination in 1996 and organized training for locals to bring employment to the region. They trained locals, especially the boys who’d dropped out of school as naturalists, guides, trekking cooks, porters and pack animal operators in an attempt to make the state an ideal ecotourism destination. As tourist numbers rise, young people broke off their studies early to guide treks. They see easy money as a solitary source of income and do not finish their education. So, Sewaro Youth Club has come together intending to raise awareness about a range of issues from the importance of education to garbage recycling.

“We are breaking down the barriers by creating awareness among locals," says Gopal Limbu, 34. He’s been volunteering as a ‘Himal Rakshak’ or voluntary mountain guardian program since 2014. Himal Rakshak, an elite patrolling group, was piloted in Sikkim in 2006 for on-ground conservation.

As a ‘Himal Rakshak’, Limbu and others run awareness campaigns, contributing to conservation initiatives for important wildlife areas of the state. “At panchayat meetings, we talk to villagers to help them understand the fragility of our environment and the importance of its protection," he adds. 

In an attempt to protect the natural treasure trove under threat, the northeast Indian state of Sikkim has appointed 21 persons as Himal Rakshaks. Training like this has been important in promoting Sikkim as an ultimate and unique ecotourism destination.

The Sustainable Sikkim respects individuals like Limbu and Sharma whose every little step is geared towards a bigger goal - making Sikkim the model for ecotourism, which will inspire other areas in the country. Such, small changes can make a big difference to create sustainable prosperity despite rising climatic challenges.