Recently, I visited Darjeeling, the famous hill station nestled in the lap of Kanchenjunga. Though the town is blessed with striking natural beauty, it’s chequered with heaps of garbage, plastic wastes thrown all-around, which certainly is a far cry for Darjeeling which takes pride in its serene and tranquil respite. However, this is not specific with Darjeeling, rather it is ubiquitous to almost all other tourist destinations across the country.
End of the pipe solution are numerous, however one that pans out is Ecotourism, a perfect solution that can act as pressure valves to the places which are unexplored and pristine.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines Ecotourism as “Environmentally responsible travel to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features – both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations”.
One such consecrated destination for Ecotourism is Parasnath Hill, which has been blessed with all the pre-requisites. Parasnath Hills are located in Giridih district of Jharkhand. Being the highest peak of the state, the Parasnath is 4431 ft and is the highest mountain south of the Himalayas.
It is rich in biodiversity and was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in the year 1981. The forest officials have been trying to persuade the local tribals, mainly Santhals and Bihors, to give up their religious practice of hunting. The area is very pristine, which is evident from the spread of plenty of lichens, mosses and ferns. The prominent wild animals found here are leopards, sloth bears, sambhar, nilgai, barking deer, wild boar, langur, mongoose, jungle cat, porcupine and hyena. There are also a variety of birds and reptiles that can be spotted in the sanctuary.
Also, it is one of the most important pilgrimage centre for Jains. They call it Sammet Sikhar. The hill is named after Parasnath, the 23rd Tirthankara. Twenty of the twenty-four Jain tirthankaras attained salvation or nirvana on this hill. For each of them there is a shrine (tonk) on the hill. Some of the temples on the hill are believed to be more than 2,000 years old. Significantly the oldest of the Jain temple appears to date only from 1775 AD.
Ecotourism Development: Master Plan for Parasnath Hills
The planning is based on the analysis of its Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) from the ecotourism perspective. The table below presents the SWOT analysis.
Strengths – Abundance of nature based tourism, Untouched moist deciduous forest with rich biodiversity, Wildlife sanctuary with streams and waterfalls, Mountainous plateau dotted with temples, springs ideal for hiking and trekking and aerial ropeway, Centuries old and rich tradition in art and architecture, Home to several important pilgrim centers, Warm hospitality of friendly people, Local populace of famous tribals including Santhals, Bihors etc.
Weaknesses – High costs of internal transport & poor service standards, low quality tourist operators and guides in comparison to competitor destinations, lack of accommodation facilities, particularly during peak season, no visitor facilitation facilities, lack of awareness of tourism among the host population, lack of promotion measures like information dissemination to encourage tourism, lack of overall Environment Management Plan
Opportunities – Ever growing tourism sector at the national level favorable policies, growing conscience about minimizing the ecological footprint of the tourists, building brand image of Sammet Shikhar, scope for marketing Parasnath as a strong sustainable ecotourism destination, presence of airports at neighboring district of Giridih, well connected roadways and railways – GT Road passes nearby while Parasnath has a railway station which on the grand code line connecting Delhi and Howrah corridor. Rajdhani, Poorva, Purushottam expresses has a halt there, development as a circuit in the Eastern Corridor joining Puri and Kolkata, to benefit from the recently introduced policies and laws with regard to the promotion of tourism, the recently introduced company laws regarding the CSR too can help to garner funds for developing this sector as Ecotourism deals with employability and livelihoods enhancement, heritage conservation, promoting art, craft and culture, environmental sustainability
Threats – Competition from surrounding districts – Bodhgaya, Rajgir, Pawapuri, Nalanda etc., law & order problems – specifically naxalite related in the region
Master Plan Strategy
As detailed earlier, Parasnath offers multiple tourist attractions under different tourism typologies like ‘Heritage’ ‘Religious’, ‘Leisure’ and ‘Eco/Wildlife’. Most prominent among the above is ‘Leisure’ followed by ‘Religious’ and ‘Eco/Wildlife’. Existing activities can be better integrated by creating a platform focusing on prominent tourism typologies, networked with good facilities.
The focus of the Master Plan Strategy is to make Parasnath a more competitive destination in terms of value proposition it offers to the tourists. Understanding of what constitutes competitiveness in tourism has deepened in recent years. The ecotourism destinations compete on a range of factors, not just price. The factors which determine the competitiveness of an ecotourism destination can be grouped under the following headings:
- Product – natural resource base, primary attractions – streams, mountains, tribal villages, tribal artifacts
- Tourism facilities and services – accommodation, internal transport, Internet, Phone connectivity, solar lanterns
- Environment Management System for Solid Waste Management, sanitation, land use and land cover, pollution,
- Standard of service – supply of manpower, skills, knowledge;
- Relative prices of tourism products and services – value-for -money
Unique Selling Proposition
Apart from the destination description, this place offers strong value proposition in terms of heritage, wildlife etc. There will be a unique destination development initiative with “Madhuban”, the village as a focal point with small community led ecotourism developments within a radius of 20 km from Parasnath foothills. The stakeholders will include Government Departments such as Tourism, Forest, Irrigation, local self Government and local communities, scientific institutions etc. The main components of the destination would be eco-friendly tourism products and ecotourism products. The locals who will be trained can act as guide to the tribal villages.
A tribal heritage museum would be built inside Madhuban, the settlement featuring various types of artifacts related to their ancient agricultural practices, marriage ceremonies, cultural events, dress code, rituals and death ceremonies which is the hub of this ecotourism program. Display of fishing gear, hunting weaponry, indigenous medicine and vessels, cereals, medicinal herbs, bamboo furniture, etc. are other attractions providing a peep into their original culture. Tribal heritage visit will be a two hour program available on all days from 8 am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 4 pm. It would involve mainly the tribal museum visit and trekking through the tribal hamlet situated within the periphery of Parasnath wildlife sanctuary or Usri Falls accompanied by a tribal guide. After 3.5 km from Madhuban foothills, there is a stream called Gandharva nala and further up there is another stream Sita nala which would be potential sites for camping and base station.
Infrastructure & Access Strategy
Though Parasnath is well connected to its district headquarters, connection to Giridih via road and rail is critical to Parasnath ecotourism which will not only reduce travel time but also get adequate recognition on the International Tourism Map. Most important aspects in this regard are:
- Improving connectivity of Parasnath to Giridih to bring down travel time
- Operationalization of proposed airport at Giridih – to facilitate easy access to foreign tourists and long distance domestic tourists
Marketing and Promotion Strategy
One of the key characteristics of successful tourism destinations is their emphasis on ‘knowledge and know-how’.
- Knowing the market distribution channels – which are the main tour operators, conference and incentive organizers, etc
- Knowing the tourism product suppliers – capacity of hotels, restaurants, etc.
- Mapping the resources or otherwise building the capacity
- Use of social media would be harnessed to popularize the tourism potential.
We would develop an image of Parasnath as the leading destination for leisure, adventure, ecological and wildlife tourism in conjunction with quality ecotourism and diverse cultural and spiritual interests.
Human Resource Development Strategy
Currently, Parasnath has insufficient trained personnel in its ecotourism sector and this is acute at supervisory and management levels. Tourism is a service industry and delivering a quality service is a prerequisite to ensuring that the customer obtains value for money. This approach requires a major investment in training of both existing staff and new entrants, including training a core of individuals who in turn will train others, as well as putting in place the necessary structures and facilities to meet all the tourism training needs within Parasnath.
- Tourism policies and institutions – regulations and policies, tax exemptions
- CSR alignment – Analyzing these policies on how can it help to garner the support for developing it as ecotourism center
- Attract capital Investments through venture funding agencies/ through MUDRA Bank/Primary sector lending
Phasing Strategy of the Parasnath Tourism Plan
Short Term – 5yrs
Focus Area – Infrastructure Development & Hazard Mitigation Plan & Emergency Response System
Proposed Tasks and Activities – Develop a package to increase the duration of stay to 3-5 days, Pursue with the state depts. for the electricity supply, water supply, broadening of the road from Madhuban to Parasnath with the help of the PWD department., Improving the Trek Trail Route & en-route facilities like gazebos, Take steps for the Solid Waste Management and solar lanterns, Proper evacuation management, with ambulances, paramedics, small dispensary, first aid tool kit
Medium Term (6 yrs to 10 Yrs)
Focus Area – Installation of Ropeway & Assessment of the Environment impact due to the tourism activity
Proposed Tasks and Activities – Ropeway to be installed from Dak bungalow to Parasnath shrine, selection of the sites for Ecological Sampling, identification of stress areas, Impact on Settlements and devising an Environment Management Plan
Long Term beyond 10 Yrs
Focus Area – Capacity Building & Tourist Circuit and Growth Centres Nearby
Proposed Tasks and Activities – Training of women for their participation in tourism, travel and tourism course, basics of computers, course in financial management, spoken English, travel agents course, hotel Management Course, Guide Course, Developing it as a part of the Rajgir, Bodhgaya Nalanda tourism circuit.
By – Niraj Chourasia
Senior Programme Manager – Environment