Nestled in the Himalayas along the international borders of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, the picturesque State of Sikkim could be an inspiration for the other 7 Northeastern States for promoting tourism as an industry and maintaining perfect ecological balance.
A trip to this Himalayan State by a team of journalists and IPR officials of Nagaland provided us the picture of this tiny State with a population of less than 7 lakhs, that tourism can be built on the basis of what nature has provided to the State and thus it can be converted into an industry, which in turn provides income to the people and generate revenue for the Government.
Sikkim is inhabited mostly by Bhutias, Nepalese and Lepchas.
It was not just a visit to the high altitude mountains at Nathula, Zero Point or Kala Pathar that mesmerized the Nagaland team, but the way everything has been planned for tourists visiting the State and how the State Government generates revenue through tourism that kept us thinking whether Nagaland Government could emulate the ‘Sikkim Model’.
No doubt, tourism in Sikkim has emerged as the new profession for the Sikkimese people with its vast natural potential, Nagaland does not lack the same if it utilizes it potentials to promote tourism as an industry. When people are crazy to visit Yumthang valley in Sikkim to enjoy the natural beauty of Rhododendron flowers blooming in a particular season and feel the warmth in hot springs, Nagaland too can attract thousands of tourists to the Dzukou valley, which is situated just 2,452 meters above sea level compared to Yumthang valley, which is popularly called the “Valley of flowers” situated at an altitude of 3,564 metres.
As per the statistics provided by the Sikkim Government, the footfall of tourists in October 2021 was 5000 people per day and this was witnessed after the Government reopened the State for tourists in June 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 affected the tourism sector, but post-COVID domestic tourism has helped to restore what was lost during the pandemic and now the Sikkim Government has taken “impressive immediate action to restore and re-activate the sector, while protecting jobs and businesses”.
The Sikkim Government is focusing on having tourists for the whole year, instead of the otherwise practiced season-based tourism. According to the Government, the move is aimed at reviving the tourism industry ailing under the impact of COVID-19 pandemic with “aggressive marketing of Sikkim tourism”. This is what Nagaland Government too could think of.
The post-COVID scenario in Nagaland does seem good for the tourism sector as flow of domestic and foreign tourists have declined considerably. Nagaland has only banked on tourists during the 10-day Hornbill Festival, but the number of tourists has been declining due to lack of promotion.
One amazing aspect of tourism in Sikkim was that the Government has emphasized on “rural tourism” which has enabled tourists to visit rural Sikkim, enjoy the beauties of nature, mix with the rural people and be a part of traditional Sikkim. We too experienced the same when we left Gangtok and visited Lachung and Lachen in North Sikkim. The sparsely populated rural Sikkim not only presented a serene atmosphere to us, but also made us feel comfortable in the lap of nature.
What Sikkim Government has done to promote rural tourism is that it has been emphasizing on ‘home-stays’ to make one “feel at home” while in rural Sikkim, dine at the kitchen of the rural people and enjoy their delicacies. In fact, this has given opportunities to the rural populace to mix with outsiders, earn livelihood and promote their tradition and culture to people who are foreign to them. The hospitality of the tribals in Sikkim is amazing as they left no stone unturned to entertain their “guests”, although the visitors stayed for a day or two, before moving to the next destination.
According to official sources, Chief Minister of Sikkim, Prem Singh Tamang has announced the “Mega Home-stay Project” through which 1000 home-stays would be constructed by the State Government and given to beneficiaries in various parts of the State, especially rural Sikkim. This step is seen as a measure to boost tourism in the rural areas and also to keep the rural people occupied in their own villages and prevent them from migrating to towns and cities in search of livelihoods.
While Northeastern States of Assam and Meghalaya attracts thousands of tourists every month from different parts of the country, Nagaland is yet to take it seriously to convert tourism as an industry. The Nagaland Tourism Department’s website described Nagaland as “a land engulfed in mystery, inhabited by vibrant people zealously guarding their culture – dancers, warriors, head-hunters; mountains, valleys, forests”, but the mystery will remain unfolded unless the Government vibrantly promote this sector and opens it up to domestic and foreign tourists throughout the year.
Whether it is Kapamodzü Peak under Phek district or the picturesque village of Dzulekie near Kohima, the State Government can open them for tourists throughout the year. No doubt, the Naga Heritage Village, Kisama, has been developed over the years and has become synonymous with the annual Hornbill Festival, but the state Government cannot rely on this event only.
The Government of Nagaland can promote Chahaku Pu in Khezakhano village; Mount Khelia Khing at Choklangan village in Noklak; Tizu River, Doyang and the famous World War II cemetery which are already on the tourist map. More exotic places can be explored and developed for tourists. How Nathula Pass in Sikkim attracts tourists as it is located near Indo-China border, Lungwa in Mon district, situated along Indo-Myanmar border, can turn into a major tourist attraction, if vigorously promoted and facilities are made available.
What attracts tourists most in East Sikkim is the famous Nathu-La at the Indo-China border situated at an altitude of 14,450 feet. The Old Silk Route has thousands of visitors on a daily basis during the peak season. The Tsomgo Lake at an altitude of 12,313 feet is another attraction in Sikkim. In the North, Yumthang valley and Zero Point (15300 feet above sea level) have similar number of tourists who enjoy the beauty of nature, snowfall and picturesque valley. While in the same zone, Lachen is termed as ‘heaven on earth’ due to rocky mountains and snow.
The West and South Sikkim are no less, according to the Sikkimese people, but one needs longer stay in Sikkim to venture out to the length and breadth of this Northeastern State.
People are awestruck at the number of waterfalls on the way to Gangtok from Siliguri in West Bengal, while the rivulets and natural vegetation gives added essence to the scenic beauty. Interestingly, to attract tourists, waterfalls have been named as “7 Sisters Falls”, “Naga Falls” near a Naga village; “Amitabh Falls” as it falls from great heights and named after Bollywood actor, Amitabh Bachchan. These waterfalls are main attraction for tourists and are found en route to North Sikkim from Gangtok.
The Nagaland team also visited “Naga village” on the way to North Sikkim, which is said to have been established long ago. While the history of the village was not known, but a signage with “Naga village” written on it was clear enough to raise curiosity amongst people from Nagaland. The village is presently occupied by Lepchas, indigenous inhabitants of Sikkim, who are also believed to have some connections with Naga tribes of Nagaland.
The people of Sikkim are not only friendly to outsiders but are equally friendly with nature and environment. The fact that use of plastic is totally banned in entire Sikkim took us by surprise as water bottles carried by people in transport vehicles were checked thoroughly and taken away by the security personnel at many places. Over and above, packaged water bottles are not available in Sikkim, except 5 litre cans, which again cannot be transported by tourists to tourist destinations.
Amazingly, the streets are clean, towns are clean, villages are clean indicating that people are conscious about their surroundings. Locals informed that the community has taken it seriously to keep the area clean and conduct cleanliness drives from time to time on their own expenses. Dustbins are kept in every corner of the town, villages and shops, while transport vehicles carry “trash cans” to keep the waste. Throwing of waste on roads is strictly prohibited, while smoking has been banned in public places.
Whether it is done at community level or Government level, garbage collection in villages and towns is done on regular basis, thus keeping the surroundings always clean.
Interestingly, when one comes back from Sikkim and enters West Bengal, things change and you land in a different atmosphere. People need to learn from Sikkim how to preserve the environment and keep it clean.
Will people of Nagaland adopt similar measures to keep the environment clean, especially when cities in Nagaland have already been tagged the “dirtiest” cities in the country? Wake up Nagaland and take a cue from Sikkim!
Locals in Sikkim informed that though the State is rich in natural vegetation, animals and birds, people avoid destroying them. There is no ban on hunting and fishing, but people do not hunt animals or go for fishing. When enquired as to why they do so, they said it has been done to maintain ecological balance.
On fishing they informed that people consider rivers as sacred and therefore avoid fishing.
Sikkim presents a perfect example of eco-tourism, which can be adopted by various Northeastern States, including Nagaland, not only to generate revenue, but also to protect the environment.