Great Himalyan National Park: a sorry saga of eco-tourism

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Not many of you have ever heard of Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). A piece of 765 sq-km area of land offers a vast range of tourism varieties to those seeking refreshing and adventurous break from their routine work. Far from busy and noisy life of cities, about 60-km from Kullu town, GHNP is a perfect place for getting feel of well deserved outing. Ironically even after its existence in 1984 the park has failed to witness desired attraction, as far as tourism is concerned.

GHNP, comprising the area of watersheds of Jiwa, Sainj, and Tirthan rivers was selected under the eco-tourism policy in May 2001 with other 5 locations in state. The policy was launched with much hope but with little result. Observations showed that the eco-tourism attraction has not much helped to enhance the tourist influx here. In fact the lack of publicity and soft approach in implementing the policy has failed to serve the desired result.

Initially when GHNP was created the major goal was to develop it as a national park. The goal was to convince the locals to preserve the environment and develop a sense of self conservation among villagers around the park.

The eco-tourism has not achieved its potential at GHNP despite it offers various attractions ranging from adventure sports like rock climbing, rappelling, river crossing, and fishing in the eco zone and long treks into the GHNP for bird watching, wildlife spotting and long nature trails. The treks are selected on the basis of the capabilities of tourists. Interestingly the tourists can have the feel of local culture and customs thanks to local fairs galore which are celebrated by villagers with much fanfare and enthusiasm.

No doubt, GHNP is an ideal location for eco-tourism. The 25 trekking guides who are locals are professionally trained for the eco zone. All the porters and cooks are also locals. There is a nursery which grows medicinal herbs so that the villagers who depended on the forest resources of the now protected area of the park can actually use the plants from nursery and grow their own medicinal plants for sustenance. In addition to this, entry in GHNP is permitted only with a local guide. This is done to restrict the number of people entering the region and also so that the local residents benefit from tourism in that area.

Moreover the home stays the main catchy feature of eco-tourism, is another untapped potential here. Inquires shows that many tourists want to experience the local culture and accustom and in that case there is no better way than home stays.

15But despite all this, only a few locals are being benefited from the tourism that is being generated in the area. There is urgent need to build a model in which locals should have an opportunity to sell home made products like shawls, handicrafts and medicinal products to the tourists. Also building on the business model for home stays in the area will bring a tremendous benefit. Currently there is only one home stay which always remains overbooked. The eco-tourism will really be viable in park if a single governing body is created which has the authority to take the decisions for the park. Ironically, the BTCA model is not working as it was supposed to be. BTCA formerly known as SAHARA is formed for the betterment of locals.

In fact the progress has been slow and the true potential of GHNP is really not being exploited. Although responsible tourism is the key to eco tourism, awareness levels of GHNP have been very low which is a major problem here.

Interestingly, Divya Sawant and Gautam Bhatia the students of SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai, currently on their Development of Corporate Citizenship program with My Himachal, a NGO are working on a plan to develop a sustainable model for eco tourism in the GHNP area. Their immediate plan is to develop a marketing strategy for eco-tourism in GHNP.

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Says Divya and Gautam, there has been hardly any promotion for this location and also the present efforts are towards treks inside the park for the extreme trekkers when there is actually scope for the park to be a family retreat also with activities in the eco zone. Accessibility to the region is another issue. The roads are poor due to persistent rain and poor maintenance, points out Divya and Gautam who are currently doing extensive field survey and analysis of situation on the hand involving interactions with villagers residing there.

They have met the locals staying within the eco-zone the western boundary of the park inhabited by 160 villages. While disclosing their plans the students say, we talked to the villagers living there in order to gauge what they feel about their source of sustenance being converted into a protected park. We wanted to know on how they have adapted to this change and in what way have the local governing bodies helped their employment opportunities and income generation activities.

The villagers in the area were used to depend on medicinal plants from the park for their livelihood but since the park have become a protected area, they now have to rear goats for their living. Most women are part of the Women Saving and Credit Group an initiative by BTCA. The villagers outlook towards life in the valley was quite defeatist and they were resigned to the belief that their life would not improve. On further probing about the initiatives taken by the successive state governments, they seemed sceptical and have lost faith in governing bodies.

Judama Devi, a member of the Women’s Saving and Credit Group was used to depend on medicinal plants from the park for her family’s livelihood. However since the park has become a protected area, she along with her unemployed husband now rear goats to make their both ends meet. The family have lost faith in state government and BTCA as well. They seem to have the opinion that nothing is really being done to support them and even the initiatives being taken by BTCA are not working well. Judama Devi further says, BTCA currently offered locals the option to purchase medicinal plants from the nursery so that the villagers could grow them on their own. But the soil was infertile and the plants were not really growing in and around their house. So finally the benefit was nil, she rues.

Another sufferer, Harilal from Dhar village is pessimistic over the present initiatives. The BTCA members have not visited Dhar which is one of the more accessible villages in the area, he laments. According to Mr. Gopal the current in-charge of BTCA, despite some of the initiatives taken so far, the time to get approval for each initiative is very long. The most proposals are lost in government offices and the proposals are actually never implemented, rues Gopal who is also the Panchayat Pradhan.

Awareness about GHNP is another major roadblock, inform Divya and Gautam. GHNP is not even listed as a tourist destination on the Himachal Tourism Website. Being one of the largest national parks in the country one would think that it would be given the necessary importance to bring responsible to tourist to the area.

Providing alternate means of sustenance to locals who previously depended on the forest also is an uphill task especially since most villagers are losing faith in the present system and further time passing by without any action is not helping, point out Divya and Gautam.  The handloom, handicrafts, medicinal plants in the eco zone etc are few of the employment opportunities which are being explored, but some strong decisions need to be taken accompanied with an implementing action plan is the need of the hour, they suggest .

Developing small scale tourism in GHNP while striving to have as little impact on the fragile and pristine protected areas of GHNP is one of our primary objectives, they reveal. Educating the travelers while directly benefiting the social stability, economic development and political empowerment for the local communities (Community Based Ecotourism) will be another key objective of our study, they inform.

Based on their surveys and study, Divya and Gautam suggest few measures to improve the situation at GHNP. They Say, improving accessibility to the region is most crucial one. The state government should look at starting a special bus service for travellers to the park which would provide convenience, comfort and ease of luggage space for the tourists. Improving awareness is another thing that can help lot to popularise the park all over. The developing of comprehensive and extensive website as the internet is the major source for information for most tourists these days. The need is also there to create new independent governing body comprising of government officials, local NGO and representatives from local villages to act as the decision maker for the region and help the overall development of the region.

This independent governing body which would not only provide a channel for local villagers to raise their concerns but having locals on the board may build trust in the villages. It will also ensure the training and skill development of the locals; provide avenues for locals to sell their home made products and co-ordinate home stays etc to bring direct benefit to the locals.

Ironically, Divya and Gautam have also done awareness survey on GHNP, in which only 23 people out of 80 were heard about it.


7 Comments

  • The article lacks in appreciation of the role of Biodiversity Conservation and importance of leaving the only Himalayan pristine area to itself. Corporate style tourism ideas are not desired everywhere. The efforts done by GHNP administration in Ecodevelopment are an ideal model needing replication. Have mercy and please leave a small patch of 750 sq. km of Himalayas to enable nature to be at its own. We dont need tourists who cannot walk/trek in this area.

  • I readily and strongly agree with the views of Kunal on the GHNP .Actually it was a blessing in disguise for this undiscovered and beautiful National Park that little media attention was given to it and this resulted in the preservation of the fragile flora and fauna of the park or else it would also have been met by the same fate as every other popular tourist destination of Himachal has been done- done to death by the unending tourist rush.I would also like to advice the HP Government people and especially those who matter in the decision making process that not to popularize the park from tourism point of view . I would even like to say that not to popularize the park at all and not to pay any attention to whatsoever this corporate citizenship development program is ,as these money hungry corporate people will only go the same way as the foolish ski village proposals were planned ,without taking into account the rapidly vanishing snowfall year after year at that area where it was actually planned.The natural resources and the beauty of mountains are exhaustive and will sooner or later vanish.

    • Nchiketa/Kunal,
      Please understand it is not our aim to destroy the pristine environment that is the Great Himalayan National Park. We are talking about controlled tourism in the region and most of it in the Eco zone which is surrounding the park. Please understand our main aim is to provide a means of alternate livelihood to the locals staying in the villages for whom the park was the main source of income earlier. Through tourism we hope to increase their average earnings and hope to develop the area. We equally love the beauty of the park and would take no steps to harm any of it.

  • http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090607/spectrum/main2.htm

    Slice of Himalayas

    Though the Great Himalayan National Park, near Kulu, offers various attractions ranging from adventure sports to long treks into the interior, eco tourism has not achieved its potential, writes Jagmeet Y. Ghuman

    NOT many have heard of the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). A piece of 765 sq km area of land offers a vast range of tourism varieties to those seeking a break from their routine work. Far from the busy and noisy life of cities, about 60 km from Kulu, the park is a perfect place for getting a feel of a well-deserved outing.

    A view of the Great Himalayan National Park
    A view of the Great Himalayan National Park

    The GHNP, comprising the area of watersheds of the Jiwa, Sainj and Tirthan rivers, was selected under the eco tourism policy in May, 2001, with five other locations in the state. The policy was launched with much hope but the results have not been satisfactory. Observations showed that eco tourism attraction has not helped much to enhance the tourist influx here. In fact, lack of publicity, and a soft approach in implementing the policy have failed to achieve the desired results. Initially, when the park was made, the major aim was to develop it as a national attraction, and convince the locals to preserve the natural environment.

    Eco tourism has not achieved its potential at the GHNP despite the fact that it offers various attractions ranging from adventure sports like rock climbing, rappelling, river crossing and fishing in the eco zone to long treks into the interior of the park for bird watching and wildlife spotting.

    Interestingly, tourists can have a feel of the local culture and customs, thanks to a large number of fairs, which are celebrated by villagers with much fanfare and enthusiasm.

    No doubt, the park is an ideal location for eco tourism. The 25 trekking guides, who are locals, are professionally trained for the eco zone. All the porters and cooks are also locals. There is a nursery which grows medicinal herbs so that the villagers who depend on the forest resources of the now protected area of the park can actually use the plants from the nursery, and grow their own medicinal plants for sustenance.

    In addition to this, entry into the GHNP is permitted only with a local guide. This is done to restrict the number of people entering the region, and also so that the local residents benefit from tourism in that area.

    Moreover, home stays, the main feature of eco tourism, is another untapped potential here. Inquires show that many tourists want to experience the local culture, and there is no better way than home stays.

    Unfortunately, only a few locals are being benefited from tourism. People of the area should be given an opportunity to sell home-made products like shawls, handicrafts and medicinal products to tourists. Small houses should be constructed and rented out to them. Currently, there is only one house which always remained booked. Eco tourism will be successful in the park if a single governing body is created and given the authority to take decisions.

    Divya Sawant and Gautam Bhatia, students of SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai, associated with My Himachal, an NGO, are working on a plan to develop a sustainable model for eco tourism in the GHNP. Their immediate plan is develop a marketing strategy for eco tourism.

    They say hardly any efforts have been put in by the authorities for the promotion of eco tourism. Accessibility to the region is another issue. The roads are poor due to persistent rain, point out Divya and Gautam, who are doing an extensive field survey and analysis of the situation.`A0

    They have met people staying within the eco zone. While disclosing their plans, the students say: “We talked to the villagers living there in order to know whether the local governing bodies had provided employment opportunities to them.”

    The villagers depended on medicinal plants from the park for their livelihood, but since the park had become a protected area, they now reared goats for living. Most women are part of the saving and credit group.

    The villagers’ outlook towards life in the valley is quite defeatist, and they are resigned to the belief that their lives will not improve. They seem to have lost faith in governing bodies. `A0

    Judama Devi, a member of the group, was dependent on medicinal plants from the park for her family’s livelihood. Ever since the park has become a protected area, she, along with her unemployed husband, now rear goats. The family has lost faith in the state government.

    Another sufferer, Harilal from a Dhar village, is pessimistic over the present initiatives.`A0Government representives have not visited Dhar, which is one of the more accessible villages in the area, he laments. Officials, however, say that despite some of the initiatives taken so far, the time to get approval for each initiative is very long. Most proposals are lost in government offices, and some are never implemented, rues Gopal, panchayat pradhan.

    Awareness about the GHNP is another major roadblock. The park is not even listed as a tourist destination on the Himachal tourism website. Being one of the largest national parks in the country, one would think that it would be given the necessary importance to bring tourists to the area.

    Providing alternate means of sustenance to locals who previously depended on the forest is an uphill task, especially since most villagers are losing faith in the present system. Handloom, handicrafts and medicinal plants in the eco zone are few of the employment opportunities which are being explored, but some strong decisions need to be taken.

    Based on their surveys and study, Divya and Gautam suggest a few measures to improve the situation at the park.`A0 They say improving accessibility to the region is the most crucial one. The state government should look at starting a special bus service for travellers to the park, which would provide convenience and comfort to the tourists. Improving awareness is another point that can help popularise the park, besides developing a comprehensive and extensive website. The need is also there to create a new independent governing body comprising government officials, NGOs and representatives from local villages to act as the decision-makers for the region and help in overall development.

  • The main reasons which led to the creation of the Great Himalyan National Park were biodiversity, sparse human populations, inaccessibility, little tourism.Besides this GHNP is home to some of the few endangered species like the Western Tragopan,It is just a blessing in disguise that not many people know about GHNP.Just for an example,Manali was once a jungle of deodar,now it is a jungle of concrete.Being a native of the Kullu valley,it hurts when we see the present condition of our beloved town.For God sake leave this paradise on its own.

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