New Delhi: The blooming beauty of Sikkim comes alive to its full potential between March to May. The state government’s Sikkim Tourism says another ‘best time’ to visit Sikkim other than Spring is from October to mid-December.
A tiny state with a population of less than seven lakhs, the hospitality industry has been built up uniquely by making effective use of mother nature, and the tourism bonanza now is job-oriented affairs. It provides income to the locals and generates substantial revenue for the state government.
Any urban visitor from the typical busy cities of Kolkata, Delhi or Mumbai will find a few-day stay truly wonderful and once in a lifetime experience.
It’s something refreshing for the mind and soothing for the urbane, sore eyes.
But lately, even a group of journalists and a few state Information Department officials from another state-Nagaland-had landed in north Sikkim, and they were stumped.
“It was not just a visit to the high altitude mountains at Nathula, Zero Point or Kala Pathar that mesmerised 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 the Nagaland government could emulate the ‘Sikkim Model’,” says journalist Dilip Sharma of Dimapur-based daily ‘Nagaland Page’.
Not many can dispute Dilip’s version. No doubt, tourism in Sikkim has emerged as the new profession for the Sikkimese people with its vast natural potential. Dilip and his colleagues know Nagaland does not lack natural beauty, provided the state is able to utilise its potential to promote tourism as an industry.
Sikkim in 2020 set a target of generating tourism business worth Rs 1,500 crore per annum.
Nagaland has a unique and specially designed Hornbill Festival organised every year in December.
In 2019, the international tourists dropped in during the festival time from more than two dozen countries. Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had said that the total number of tourists at the festival was more than 2,80,000, reflecting a growth of 12.53 per cent.
Many say while the Hornbill Fest is a wonderful and highly successful model, there is no major initiative so far to attract tourists round the year as Sikkim does.
Those who keep an eye on tour operations and the sector in Nagaland also say the post-COVID scenario in Nagaland does seem good for the tourism sector as the flow of domestic and foreign tourists has declined considerably.
Nagaland has so far only banked on tourists during the 10-day Hornbill Festival, but the number of tourists has been declining due to lack of promotion.
Probably this is the case with other states, too, especially in the idyllic northeast.
In March 2021, just before the second wave of COVID-19 started, the Union Ministry of Tourism, in coordination with the Madhya Pradesh government had organised a two-day ‘Meet in India’ conference at Khajuraho, to try to evolve a new road map to put Indian tourism on track in the post-Covid era.
At a ‘stakeholders’ meeting’, the then Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel had urged indigenous people, including those in Northeastern states, to initiate homestays to aid experiential tourism and boost the economy by encouraging homestays.
The Manipur Model of homestays had come in for appreciation.
This year, Chief Minister of Sikkim, Prem Singh Tamang has also announced the “Mega Home-stay Project”, through which 1000 homestays would be constructed by the state and given to beneficiaries across the state, especially rural Sikkim.
Mr Patel had said that indigenous communities could opt for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana to build pucca houses but retain their traditional huts.
In terms of tourism, of course, states such as Gujarat or Kerala have their specialities.
Let us examine some of the ‘stark differences’, albeit objectively, between northeast states and these tourism-advanced states.
In Kochi city itself in Kerala, there would probably be over 300 tour operators. Starting from very good ones catering to all segments of customers to those operating from home.
In some of the northeastern states, a people-oriented industry like tourism is also left to the government to cater to. Private players are much less compared to other states.
Tour operators in states such as Gujarat or Goa handle things professionally for all segments with corporate packages, honeymoon packages and targeted segments like students and family.
There are also standard, premium and deluxe categories. There are also a few encouraging ‘women only’ groups of visitors, ensuring their comfort and safety and security as well.
In Kerala, common people in tourist hubs like Thekkady quite frequently run residential apartments meant for visitors and would provide them homemade food and a special breakfast.
In Gujarat, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel announced last month that his government would develop the state as a global tourism hub by presenting its “culture and heritage in new forms and colours”. The reference was to Madhavpur Mela, the religio-cultural fair in Porbandar.
Now, cut to the reality test.
Travel in the northeast can be more often nightmarish as Union Minister George Fernandes (in 1990) had to walk for about 10 km en route from Dimapur to Kohima.
Roads in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Manipur are washed out by floods regularly.
Mizoram capital Aizawl is 8-10 hours away from railway head Silchar in flood-prone Barak Valley of Assam.
The broad gauge trains have had deeper penetration since the Modi government came to power, yet these are not so smooth to attract visitors.
Thanks to the unplanned manner of things and a large number of trucks plying, often normal journeys would turn into time-taking.
Next comes the general law and order issues. Anyone spending money and travelling with family and women and children would not like to be confronted with hooligans who may simply disturb you as you are “an outsider”.
Even at the dead of midnight, it is fun and frolic while roaming about the streets of Ahmedabad and Rajkot.
Meghalaya capital Shillong’s infamous ‘law and order’ problem of the 1990s had scared away several one-time residents – including Nepalese.
Some years back, I hit upon a middle-aged Nepali man working as a waiter at a Thekkady eatery in Kerala, as his house in the Alu-Gudam area in Shillong was gutted.
Importantly, tourism is always a people-oriented affair.
In some southern states, even the handicap of not knowing Hindi, for instance, is not a major issue as locals would adopt a helpful approach.