TOURISM AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN MEGHALAYA: NEED TO TAP POTENTIALS
Need to Tap Growth Potentials
Meghalaya, the hilly state, is one of the seven states of the North−Eastern region of India endowed with rivers, lakes, peaks, caves, sanctuaries, churches and monuments; and a variety of cultures, costumes and dances. Meghalaya has got the much needed potentials for the development of tourism especially eco−tourism based on the natural resources of the place. In spite of its comparative advantage in this area, tourism is not perceived as an important economic activity. There is an urgent need for all policy−makers involved in socio−economic development to have greater awareness and understanding of the role of tourism in socio−economic development in order to be able to identify areas for action along with approaches to monitor activities, assess outcomes and evaluate results.
Tourism has been recognized as smokeless industry pertaining to the people, transporting them to designated destinations, putting them comfortably as their pockets permit, entertaining them and sending them with sweet memories. Travel and tourism has acquired importance over a period of time next to oil industry. Tourism has the potentiality to earn an enormous volume of foreign exchange, generate employment, and promote traditional values and customs, besides providing a dependable market for indigenous traders and crafts. In this way, tourism has assumed a new character of a big business, and therefore, is considered one of the fastest growing industries in the world. It is a service industry. It does not produce goods but renders services to various classes of people. It is a complex aggregation of many industries such as transport and communication which provides connectivity to travellers, hotels and restaurants which provide shelter and food, small scale industries which cater to various needs of the tourists etc. However, everything depends on how it is being marketed. Meghalaya offers a homogeneous blend of natural scenic beauty and cool climate. This hilly state is one of the seven sisters of the North−Eastern Region of India. Meghalaya means ’the abode of clouds’. Mawsynram and Cherrapunjee (Sohra in the Khasi Language) justify the significance of the name of Meghalaya (megh means cloud and allay means an abode or a dwelling place). Meghalaya is also known as ’Scotland of the East.’
Meghalaya is a land locked territory of lovely hills with abounding sylvan beauty. Its hilly terrains with varied elevation and heavy rainfall account for its rich variety of flora and fauna. It is famous for its beautiful butterflies and exotic orchids. Golden langurs, golden cats, hornbill and clouded leopards are part of its unique wildlife. The state is also endowed with rivers, lakes, peaks, caves, sanctuaries, churches and monuments; and a variety of cultures, costumes and dances. The state has a lot to offer to nature lovers and tourists. Some of the important tourist spots of the state are:
Sohra (Cherrapunjee). Cherrapunjee is the most popular tourist locations in North−East India. Besides, being famous as a place experiencing the highest rainfall in the world, this town is also well−known for its "Tree Roots Bridges," waterfalls and caves. Sohra (Cherrapunjee) together with Mawsynram which is about 55 kilometers from Shillong, the state’s capital, experienced the highest rainfall in the world.
Living Bridges. Deep in villages and rainforests of Meghalaya bridges are not built, they are grown. That is why they are so called the living bridges.The living bridges are made from the roots of the Ficus elastica tree (rubber tree). These trees produce a series of secondary roots from higher ups of its trunks and can comfortably perch atop huge boulders creating a solid latticework structure strong enough to be used as bridges along the river banks, or even in the middle of the rivers themselves. These powerful roots give an opportunity to easily cross the river. These natural bridges are much sturdier than a conventional wooden bridge because they are still living so they do not rot. One may find that some of these bridges have been used for more than 500 years. Some of these bridges are over a hundred feet long and can support the weight of fifty or more people. One of the most impressive and attractive living root bridge is the Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat Village which is believed to be one of its kind in the world. It is actually two bridges stacked one over the other and has come to be known as the "Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge."
Mawlynnong−Cleanest Village. Nestled in the pristine hills of Meghalaya, the Mawlynnong village in East Khasi Hills which is about 90 Kms from the State’s capital Shillong is the cleanest village in Asia. There is a Living− root bridge here which connects the Mawlynnong village to the other village and another very strange natural phenomenon of a boulder balancing on another small rock. One can also see a tree−house (machan) which is about 80 feet high which can be used as an observatory, the natural swimming pool and a lots of natural attractions.
Waterfalls. The State has got a number of panoramic waterfalls. The popular waterfalls in the state are the Nohsngithang Falls, Nohkalikai Falls, Dainthlen Falls, Elephant Falls, Krangsuri Falls, Bishop Falls, Weinia Falls, Langshiang Falls, Spread Eagle Falls, Sweet Falls, Tyrshi Falls, Thlumuwi Falls, Imli Chang Dare and many others.
Hot Springs. There is a hot sulphur springs in the rocky surrounding around Jakrem 64 kilometers from the state’s capital Shillong. It is believed that the hot water has some curative and medicinal properties.
Sacred Groves. Meghalaya is also famous for its "Sacred Groves." Sacred Groves have been in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya for a very long time, they have been preserved by the traditional religious sanctions since the ancient days. The Mawphlang sacred forest, also known as ’Law Lyngdoh,’ is one of the
famous sacred forests. One can visit these sacred groves but it is forbidden to pluck flowers or leaves or defile anything in any form. It is believed that these are protected by a sylvan deity (ryngkew or basa).
Caves. Meghalaya is a home to many caves (krem in the Khasi language) in India. It has been declared as a major caving region with over 930 caves.
These caves are normally located at the foot of hills and mountains. The local inhabitants used these caves for travelling from one village to another. Some of the prominent caves of the state are the Krem Liat Prah−Umim−Labit System in Jaintia Hills which is the first longest cave in India with 22,250 meters in length; the Krem Kotsati Umlawan also in Jaintia Hills is the Second longest cave in India with 21,530 meters in length, the entrance to this cave is a deep pool which has to be traversed only by swimming; the third longest cave in India is also found in Meghalaya, that is the Krem Synrang−Pamiang surveyed at 14,157 meters; the Krem Mawkhyrdop or Krem Mawmluh situated around half a kilometre west of Cherrapunjee (Sohra) is the fourth longest cave at 7,194 metres in length, it also has a fine river passage. The other caves are the Krem Umshangkhat with the entrance passage of 350 metres offers a comfortable stroll on moist sand; the Krem Mawsmai, which has a narrow tunnel with rocks hanging from the ceilings and water trickles; Krem Sweep in Jaintia Hills has a beautiful stalagmites and stalactites; Krem Dam of Mawsynram in East Khasi Hills is a coarse grained facies of limestone which has a very large entrance with a stream entering the cave and running down its main passage; the Mawjymbuin cave in Mawsynram, here one can see water dripping from a stone in the form of a breast hanging from the ceiling of the cave to the other stone below made by a natural process. Then there is also the Krem Syndai, Krem Umthloo, Krem Lymput, Krem Mawshun, Krem Larshing; Krem Jynniaw; a two−storied cave Krem Iawe in Jaintia Hills; Siju−Dhabakol or Siju Cave, Tetengkol−Balwakol, Dabakkol and Bok Bak Dabakkol are some of the other important caves situated in different parts of Garo Hills.
Nongkhnum River Island. Nongkhnum River Island located in West Khasi Hills District is a paradise on earth. It is the largest river island in Meghalaya and the second largest river island in Asia next to Majoli Island in Assam. It is 1,374 metres above the sea level occupying an area of 25 square kilometres. It is formed by the bifurcation of river Kynshi into rivers Phanliang and Namliang. This place is known for its beautiful golden shore.
Kyllang Rock. Situated in West Khasi Hills District, Kyllang Rock is a massive rock of granite that rises above the surrounding plains. The rock offers a panoramic view of the surrounding valley especially in winter months.
Khoh Ramhah (Giant Basket). It is a stone formation in the shape of a conical basket. The Khasis believe that it belongs to the legendary giant who was killed by the people of Sohra (cherrapunjee) because of his unsocial and greedy behaviour.
Monoliths. Monoliths exist throughout the length and breadth of Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Nartiang in Jaintia Hills is famous for possessing clusters of monoliths that are among the tallest throughout the world.
Orchids. Orchids reign supreme in the plant kingdom for their beauty and diversity. Meghalaya is a land of beautiful orchids. The state can boast of more than 325 species of orchids, out of 650 species found in North Eastern part of the country. The most commonly found orchids in the state are the Lady slippers and the Blue Vanda. Pitcher plant is also found in some of the forests in the state.
Peaks and Parks. Shillong Peak the highest mountain in East Khasi Hills is located at an altitude of 1,960 metres above sea level. Standing on the peak, one can get a good view of the Himalayan Peaks and the plains of Sylhet on a clear day in October and November. The other peaks which are somewhat at a lower elevation are the Diengiei Peak, the Lum Sohpetbneng Peak, Mawthadraishan Peak (at the top of this peak one can find 7 to 8 average− sized fish ponds) in Khasi Hills; the Tura peak, the Nokrek Peak in Garo Hills and many others.
The state has got a number of parks and botanical Gardens like Nokrek Biosphere Reserve and Balpakram Bird Sanctuary in Garo Hills; Lady Hydari Park situated in the heart of the capital Shillong; Thangkharang Park, Sa−i− mika Park, and Eco−Park in Cherrapunjee (Sohra); Nehru Park, Thrills Fun Park and Kharsati park, Nongkhyllem Bird sanctuary in Ri−Bhoi District; Mattilang Park on the way to Upper Shillong; Iooksi Park and Ialong Park in Jaintia Hills, to name a few.
The state is also endowed with rivers, lakes and sanctuaries, bridges, valleys, grasslands, the natural golf course (one of the best in Asia) and panoramic waterfalls. Forest is also a boon to the state of Meghalaya. There are different categories of forests like the Sal Forest, Mixed Deciduous Forest, Evergreen Forests and Bamboo Forest. Meghalaya is a land of hills, vales, transparent brooks, shimmering rivulets, blooming flowers, avenues, tall pine trees and shady grooves. Besides its natural beauty, the state also has got a number of megalithic monuments and museums; pilgrimage and resorts.
Meghalaya has got the much needed potentials for the development of tourism especially eco−tourism based on the natural resources of the place. There is a great scope for development of eco−tourism in the state because of the scenic beauty it offers and the human potentials it has got for generating employment. Eco−tourism is a vital part of sustainable tourism, with the objective of protecting the fragile ecosystems of the state of Meghalaya. Its goal was to develop tourism in the state and not by destroying environment but by inviting foreign visitors (tourists) to experience it as if they were locals.
In spite of its comparative advantage in this area, tourism is not perceived as an important economic activity. The first task of the government should be to create awareness about the place of tourism in general and of sustainable tourism in particular.
In Meghalaya, tourism needs a push to start the engine of growth from the present level of stagnation. Unfortunately the state has not given much attention to tourism so far, as an input in the development process either because the benefits of tourism are not so easily visible or because of their historical preoccupation with the traditional sectors. The table below shows the number of tourists both Indian and Foreign visiting the state (2000−12).
Unfortunately, the table reveals that the present picture of achievement does not reflect the potential of tourism in Meghalaya. The arrival figures of tourists both domestic and international make this abundantly clear. In either situation one cannot escape the conclusion that the state of affairs is far from satisfactory. Tourism in Meghalaya can be a catalyst for economic development in tune with the liberalization strategies. It is a key factor in global trade with international dimensions as a (i) contributor to receipts, expenditure and
balance of payments, (ii) creator of foreign exchange, (iii) provider of employment, and (iv) power feeder for development.
Hence, tourism is rightly called as Fourth Dimension of Modern Economics.
Tourism can also help to raise awareness of local population about the financial value of natural and cultural sites, and make them proud of their being part of the heritage and need for conservation. The havoc and destruction caused by absence of planning of this hill station, the increased degradation of beaches and vandalisation of monuments and caves are some
of the cases in point. Similarly, unrestrained and unchecked surge of tourists to the mountains has led to littering of hilltops and valleys, trekking routes and pastures. It is therefore very essential to keep environment in mind while planning development of the state as a tourism destination. Unfortunately, a task force to monitor the conservation and preservation of natural resources is absent in the state. To combat the emerging challenges, a high power task force must be constituted to reap the benefits of sustainable tourism.
IMPEDIMENTS STAGGERING MEGHALAYA TOURIST SECTOR
The various factors blocking the development of tourism in Meghalaya are: 1. First and foremost, the worst conditions of roads with much of pot−holes and man− holes depicting a bad picture specially on NH−62. The road communication is arduous and time consuming. Air communication of late has improved, but is not yet tuned to tourism requirements. Coordinated planning of tourism for the state is possible only when the internal communication by air becomes efficient and reliable. 2. Lack of adequate information and trained tourist guides relating to the various important places of tourist attraction. Consequently, as the tourists arrive at such places, there is hardly anyone to satisfy their inquisitiveness. 3. Poor accommodation facilities and mode of transportation are some of the hindering factors. 4. Discrimination in the entry fees charged for the foreign tourists for visiting different tourist spots which are manifold compared with the local tourists. 5. Lack of sanitary, toilet and drainage
facilities. 6. Lack of entertainment like casinos, diving, windsurfing and sports fishing etc, dampen the spirit of the tourists. 7. The idea of fleecing the tourists, a normal tendency subsisting in the entire system, from porters to shopkeepers, is another impediment factor. 8. The presence of various insurgent groups in the state deters several tourists from entering into the state. This is in fact a great loss of revenue to the state. 9. Lack of participation of private sector and NGOs in the tourist sector, deforestation and environmental pollution. 10. Lukewarm support from Government for promotion of this sector due to dearth of funds allocation.
The above discouraging factors disdainfully retard the potentialities for developing tourism as a stable source of revenue.
NECESSARY STEPS REQUIRED
Tourism can be developed with a motivation to generate resource to the state revenue and to offer employment opportunities to the local residents. The following are some of the important steps which are likely to make tourism in Meghalaya a vibrant and sustainable project.
1. It is essential to start with a correct perception about the role of tourism in the economic development of the state.
2. To increase the room capacity or develop eco−tourism centres to cater to the needs of tourists.
3. Tourism is a service industry and therefore the quality of the service makes substantial differences in the demand for the tourism product. Human resource development should be an important part of the future strategy for tourism development in the state. It must also be in tune with the objective of employment generation through tourism.
4. To develop more attractive tourist destinations for which adequate potentials exist in the state. The state should prepare an ecology map of the possible tourism destinations and zones. The nature of tourism planning will depend on the degree of fragility of the eco−system. Areas which are very fragile may even be closed to mass tourism and developed only for special interest group tourism like adventure tourism.
5. To pay increased attention to other infrastructural aspects such as development
and modernization of airports and roads and the development of water sports. 6. To integrate and involve the private sector, this implies a system of formalized cooperation between the government and private sectors where the partners share responsibilities, resources, risks and rewards. That is the integration of the private sector dealing in tourism with the Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation of the State. Some of the areas where such partnership can be meaningful are:
(i) Financing of new infrastructure;
(ii) Evolving a modern focuses, comprehensive and intensive marketing collaboration;
(iii) Collaborating in human resources development; (iv) Sharing development, beautification and maintenance of various tourism products; (v) Participating in the preservation of the heritage; and
7. To develop the concept of single window system where all the information and data of tourist centres in the state can be made available through data base to the tourists at various tourist information centres and with the registered tourist agents.
8. To access the existing standards and facilities and to improve them to increase the inflow of tourists.
9. To catch up with the new idea of eco− tourism which has worked wonders in Nepal and Sikkim which have a terrain and environment similar to Meghalaya.
10. To integrate the planning and development of tourism with each tourist area having a development authority. Master plans for appropriate number of years for each place or spot can be prepared and while doing so the carrying capacity of various centres need to be determined and detailed urban planning with land use planning need to be undertaken.
11. To venture on large scale afforestation programmes and soil conservation measures to enhance the aesthetic beauty and environment of the state.
Thus, the future strategy, naturally, will have to be multi−pronged but well−coordinated, integrated and comprehensive. The strategy should focus on sectors that have high employment and income generating capabilities and have strong backward and forward inter− sectoral linkages. Therefore, the investment port− folio should consist of projects which require the least government resources and which have the highest multiplier effect on income and employment. Investments which have higher dispersal effects on income and employment and which create more income locally, should get priority in the planning process.
To conclude, tourism is an export−oriented service sector, which has the potential to create substantial employment opportunities, particularly for unskilled and semi−skilled workers. In contrast to some manufacturing industries, the tourism industry has direct incentive to foster the quality of environment. This alternative will take into account the natural ecological attractions of a place and their conservation and development.
A strong commitment to sustainable tourism, a determined plan of action and a devotion to proper implementation will be the crucial factors if Meghalaya decides to take advantage of its God−gifted assets for the betterment of the people and for rapid economic development of the state.
1. Ahmed, Abu Nasar Saied: Tourism in Assam, in Syiemlieh David R., Dutta Anuradha, and Baruah Srinath (2006): Challenges of Development in North−East India (ed), Regency Publications, New Delhi. 2. Anbalagan M., Amudha R., and Selvam V.: Eco−tourism: A Boon for Sustainable Socio− economic Development, in Sarngadharan M. and Raju J. ( 2005): Tourism and Sustainable Development: Indian and Global Perspective (ed), New Century Publications, New Delhi, India. 3. Philemon Emanuel Paul (2011): Meghalaya
Land of Matrilineal Lineage.
Meghalaya, `the abode of clouds.´
Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat Village
Boulder balancing on another small rock
Living Root Bridge at Mawlynnong
Krang Suri Falls
Monoliths at Nartiang in Jaintia Hills