East Himalaya

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dooars Diary: Central Duars ECO-FEST

Sitting on elephants back and meeting on lazy mornings, the organizers decided that they would stick to the old British spelling ‘DUARS’. The Central Duars ECO-FEST, as the organizers have said will be organized on the same date every year, starting with 14th to 19th November in 2013. The major aim goal of the festival will be to highlight the natural and cultural diversity of Central Dooars and confirm community participation in conservation. Hospitality owners, eco-guides, taxi drivers and NGOs are the direct stakeholders in this festival, who seek the support of participation of visitors in this festival. Other than the regular forest based nature activities, there will be cultural shows with tribal dances, music and local food. Adventure programs like river walks, treks, bicycle trails and rock climbing will rock the show. Seminars and training programs for better networking in conservation and livelihood will be the highlights of the festival. 
Mujnai Tea Estate, the 1807 tea garden, which had almost died, has been brought back to life by the young and energetic manager Kaushik Das. One of the oldest and best Tea Estate of Central Dooars, once owned by the Nawabs of Jalpaiguri, Majnai’s landscape is extraordinary. Kaushik is preparing his tea garden to be a part of the festival in a big way. Watchtower, sunset point, tea processing and wildlife tracking will be his strengths. He showed the tracks of wild elephants criss-crossing his tea estate almost every night. He is planning to do a night safari in his tea garden, early morning peacock trail and a nighthalt for the adventurous at the watch tower.

Several new experiential hospitality organizations are creating new units, whereas the old ones are renovating their infrastructure. New and interesting local food menus are being planned. Several of the ACT members are busy in creating new activities for the well meaning travellers. The festival will see local football matches, whose finals will be played during the festival days. There will be interesting film shows and presentations. Traditional lifestyle of the people of Dooars will be part of the hospitality during the festival, with the options of staying with local people. Cultural exchanges and cooking classes are part of the activities


Dooars Diary

This small town of Siliguri of our childhood days, in the last almost hundred years, from maybe a Himalayan riverine area grew into a bustling city, the shopping lungs of 03 countries and 03 states of India’s Northeast, the headquarters of North Bengal. If you happen to travel North from here to some of the higher areas, you will see several riverine dry beds running through the city, most prominently, a noticeable one through the Uttorayon and City Centre Mall. Within Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, it is walkable distance between the Mahananda River and legendary River Teesta. The interesting fact is that Mahananda meets the Ganga, wheras Teesta meets the Brahmaputra.
All these Himalayan rivers which meet the Brahmaputra, form a very interesting landscape in the foothills of Sikkim, West Bengal and Bhutan known as the DOOARS. In the past these would be dense forests interrupted by markets and residential areas, whose names would end with ‘BARI’ or ‘GURI’ or ‘HAAT’, some even well fortified areas with good drainage facilities. Following up the trade through the large rivers, traders in the past would travel north towards the Silk Route in the Himalaya through these smaller rivers. After the last navigable points, the goods had to be carried on human back or horse back or elephant back.
With the British, the roads and rail developed. Human beings became the dominant factors of the Dooars eco-system. Tea Estates replaced forests. Forests and the dominant wildlife habitats have been reduced to Reserve Forests, Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks. The era of post British India period has seen large settlements of Defense Colonies as the region was torn into countries with strict borders, controlled from the faraway capitals. Trade was badly affected, and the once economically affluent areas gradually went below the poverty line. The traces of the rich and wild nature, the tea culture and the diverse communities of different origins remained.

Compared to Darjeeling, tourism in Dooars is a very recent development. Tourists now combine Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills with Dooars, the main highlight being the National Parks and Sanctuaries. Often visitors miss to trace the remains of the pre British period, a happening which could not be buried with modern development. The Bengal Dooars, between the River Teesta and River Diana may be considered as Western Dooars, and between River Diana to River Sankosh as Central Dooars. The tea clubs of western Dooars and central Dooars are good indicators for the same. The rest upto Tezpur is Assam Dooars, where most of the landscape is in the Bodoland administrative division. Beyond Tezpur, further east is dominated by the Brahmaputra Headwater zone, the largest known fresh water capital of the world.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Messengers of Peace in India’s Northeast – Part 02

Binita (name changed) in a remote village from the small market place of the big Monastery, Tashiding was difficult to reach. Her Grandparents wanted to marry off the 14 years old girl to a rather rich man in Nepal, belonging to the same caste. Her mother did not agree as she had faced the burden of bearing children at an early age. The mother and daughter were running a small temporary shop at Tashiding during the festival of Bumchu. This is the biggest festival of the East Himalaya agrarian society which attracts pilgrims and believers from across Bhutan, Nepal and Darjeeling Hills. It was after the festival that we went with them to their village, to reach them with their left over and belongings from the temporary tea shop to their village. It is here that we learnt that the mother and daughter did not agree as the Government of Sikkim not only looked after her education, but she was eligible to all facilities free from the Government till the time she studied and even for her motherhood and child care after the age of 23.
Unlike the rest of India, where the family mother and daughter had to fight against an age old social system for marriage of a girl child, here there was the most innovative system built in by the good policies of the Sikkim Government. There were more surprises when the Sikkim Chief Minister, Shri.Pawan Chamling had come to inaugurate 03 days MCCS Gitanjali Mango Festival and ACT Rural Tourism Mart at Siliguri during 7th of June, 2013 and announced his next program to launch the ‘Pavitra Kranti’, a revolution from the sacred land where the quality of life for the Sikkimese Indian has been confirmed to be the best in the country. Also the Peace factor, which is the prime jewel in tourism development, has been rewarded number of times.
The concept of Pavitra Kranti which Shri.Chamling launched at the 3rd MCCS Gitanjali Mango Festival at Siliguri, he explained that it is his dream to make the life of every Sikkimese Indian to be Pavitra in all terms, in his words “ecotourism and organic farming is the way of life in a Sikkim Village, the Forest Department has confirmed zero tree felling and zero cattle  grazing in Protected Area of Sikkim, killing of any wild animal or use of diclofenac and pesticides has been stopped, through conservation of nature and deep rooted traditions combined with good medical treatment, we have achieved some of our goals”. He further added “through the concept of Khangchendzonga Region International Ecotourism Park, I wish to spread this sacred green revolution to the entire region covered under this landscape”.

Sikkim Tourism History
In page 60 of the Sikkim Darbar Gazette, it mentions the entry conditions to Sikkim as per the Darbar of the Maharaja of Sikkim. Great secret journeys were then taken up by several Pundits, which is the only authentic record of the landscape of the Himalayan Kingdoms, Sikkim and Tibet. Several English people did take up such journeys but their record was specific to the opportunities of financial wealth and a very western documentation of the then Governance of the Kingdoms. 
- Any person who needs a permit for entry into Tibet and makes an unauthorised entry through Sikkim is liable to simple imprisonment which may extend up to one month or fine of Rs. 500/- or both. Any person assisting such a person to make an unauthorised entry whether personally permitted to do so with or without a permit is liable to similar punishment.
Dewan, Sikkim State

For the purpose of tourism, the first Foreign group consisting of US citizens, under the leadership of Donnel Ferguson made it to Sikkim in 1954.
Sikkim became a part of India in 1975 and tourism was thought about sometimes in 1985, almost a century after Darjeeling. In the early days of tourism, Darjeeling played a major role, as a few Foreign groups did day visit Gangtok from Darjeeling. Gradually, overnight and 02 nights halt at Gangtok became a trend in the late 80s. The Hotel Managers of Tashi Delek, Norkhill, Mayur etc went on Christmas picnic to Tsomgo Lake. This was the time when I said that let us make this a day excursion for visitors to Gangtok, so that the number of nighthalts increases. There was not much of a permit procedure, with friends and tourists, I often made it to Tsomgo lake, Kupup Lake and Memencho Lake. I remember spending some full moon nights at Tsomgo Lake with army friends to see if the legend lives, ‘the King and Queen of Sikkim visited the Lake on horseback on a certain full moon night, a golden temple would rise from the waters of the holy Lake’. I still remember some of the numbers of the first Maruti Vans on MG Marg, SK-04 0016..0019..0021...all of them were owner driven taxis, the other day I met Kailash Daju at Bagdogra, both of us became nostalgic...Sikkim has been my first love in tourism, it still continues.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Messengers of Peace in India’s Northeast – Part 01

The 03 days Indo-Bangladesh Border Meet (Tripura Sector), which is 82nd of its kind will be ending today at Agartala. Tripura, connected by road, rail and air with the rest of India is probably one of the remotest and less known states of the country. Like India’s Northeast, the border Internationally is much more than the border with any state of the country. Among the seven sisters and one brother of India’s Northeast, Tripura has the least exposure with the country, the indicator being the ‘tourism presence’. Like the rest of Northeast India, Tripura too had her share of the insurgency, but with development and good governance taking the front seat, we hardly hear about the same now.

On 21st of August, 2013, while inaugurating the 03 days Buddhist Convention at Venuban Vihara, the Chief Minister of Tripura, Shri.Manik Sarkar said that there needs to be more action from the Buddhist Monasteries to stand beside the people, who are poor, downtrodden and isolated, and condemn any move which intends to divide the state of Tripura through violence and misguidance. Being one of the longest serving Chief Ministers of the country and being associated with the CPIM (Communist Party of India-Marxist), it was almost unexpected that a communist leader of his stature would attend a religious meet. He made it very clear that his goals as a communist is not very different from that of Lord Buddha’s Teachings, where priority is given to the sufferings of human beings and lead the masses towards enlightenment through a democratic process.

With a similar dream, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution asked several downtrodden and neglected Hindu communities, suppressed because of cast culture of the Hindus, to convert into Buddhists. Those who have been deeply involved with Indian culture understand that there was no religious system in India and Dhamma was a way of life for the people to follow as preached by different TEACHERS. Hence the teachings of Buddha has always been very relevant to all periods, mainly it has become more important in the modern and global age, when people are more self centred, consumer priority and least patient. The time to bring back the values of monastic education, the first form of organized education given to the world through the 05 great Universities or Mahaviharas: Nalanda, Sompura, Odantapuri, Vikramshila and Jaggaddala, all from the Eastern Indian subcontinent.
Tripura has recently provided some priorities to the development of tourism, after achieving great results in the fields of agriculture, roads, use of IT, alternative energy and other basic people’s development. Inspite of the 30 years of communist Government in the state, religion has been the core of the society of Tripura. The heritage left by the royals are getting priority as we see in the role of State Museum being shifted to the palace, a ring road being planned around the lake that houses the Neer Mahal to stop the tendency of encroachment of lake adjoining land in and out of water, the maintenance of the Tripurari Temple etc. 

The major move of opening up more trade borders with Bangladesh is a positive move. The addition of making these trade borders as model tourism gateways to India will help further to nurture the ‘peace process’ which has begun. In Bangladesh, when Cox’s Baazar, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Mainamoti Buddhist Ruins, Sitakund etc are already popular tourism sites, it will be easier for Tripura to combine the popular tourism sites like Unokoti, Debtamura, Pilak and Boxnagar Buddhist Ruins, Neermahal, Trishna etc with Bangladesh sites. The option for Indian domestic tourists, as well as foreign tourists visiting India, it will be convenient for Tripura to use Chittagong as a base then any Indian city like Guwahati or Kolkata. India must look forward to Sabroom as one of the Gateways to India for the purpose of Tourism.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Calling for Independence of the Tourism Industry

Dear member of the tourism industry of the Indian subcontinent,
It is you and your organization, who is a member of this tourism industry to have proudly taken forward the glorious image of India to the world in the post Independence period. Many regions which were even unknown to our own countrymen, you have highlighted these places. Keeping in view the status of the tourism industry in the pre-independence period and the status today, most of the credit will go to all of you, the members of this self made industry. From a country of snake charmers, India is today known for her diverse nature, culture, people, palaces, plantations and landscapes. As this is not as an organized sector like other industries, the employment and revenue the tourism industry generates is often not visible. This is the only industry through which you have touched the lives of people in the remotest parts of the country, without shifting them from their home or changing their landscape.

Travel has always been a part of the Indian culture, and people have moved in and out for pilgrimage, trade and many other purposes. India did play a lead role in the legendary Silk Route, mainly in connecting the mountains with seas. Travel has so much respect in this country that it is only in this Indian sub-continent, travel has become a part of the religion and traditionally ‘’Guests are considered as Gods’’.   
In a country where we believe and follow ‘Guests are our Gods’ (ATITHI DEVI BHAVO), we cannot effort or think about using the tool of strikes or bandhs to stop the movement or activities of tourists from within our home or abroad. As a part of the pride of Indian culture, and a priority in every religion and community, India has been known for her hospitality. From the rich to the poor, from a pilgrim to an invader, every visitor to any part of this country has been given the opportunity to experience the greatness of Indian hospitality. It is beyond warmth and service, it is a part of Indian religion, offered with all the respect and holiness.
In a more modern context, when the world considers TOURISM as an economic affair and puts it under one of the fastest growing industry globally, many still believe it is much more beyond this simple economic affair, TOURISM is an ism or philosophy which explains the relation between Guests and Hosts. This has been best understood in the Indian culture and hence Guests have been considered as Gods. We in India need to respect this great and foremost Indian tradition, and it a point, both politically and legally to keep tourism out of the purview of Bandhs or Strikes.
The time has arrived when the tourism industry should also be declared as an emergency service. Industries like health, cooking fuel, milk etc are already considered as emergency services and have been kept out of the purview of Bandhs or Strikes. Some states have also considered the IT industry as an emergency service and have kept the same out of the purview of Bandhs. Now, it is high time when the Tourism industry should also be brought under such consideration. The reasons are as follows:
1)      This is an industry where the end user or consumer has to reach physically to the service provider or service manufacturer.
2)      The services are all linked in a chain from Home to Home, and any break in the chain disrupts the entire program of the tourist or visitor.
3)      The services are spread across a region and often involve multiple states and countries.
4)      The tourist or visitor comes to contribute to a region economically, without staying in the region or being a part of the day to day issues of the area.
5)      The reputation of an area or her people will depend upon the impression created on the tourist or visitor.
There are also few issues we must request the Governments to consider. If the Bandh or Strike is a democratic right of a certain group of people with or without an organization, the right not to follow the same and allow free movement and activities of the people or individuals not interested in the said Bandh or Strike should also be considered and facilitated by the Governments.
The Insurance companies do not offer any coverage or compensation for any damage to life or property during BANDHS or Strikes, but the premium is taken by the companies for the said dates. This should be considered as an advantage being taken by the Insurance companies for easy and illegal profit, and any damage of life or property during Bandhs or Strikes should be considered for legal compensation during BANDHS or Strikes by the Insurance companies, who in turn can fight with the Damage causing organizations for the compensation.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Banyan Tree of Tea

Jorhat, 7th August, 2013: The Ashes of the Father of Assam Tea arrives today at Jorhat. Standing amidst of the 19 Hole Kaziranga Golf Course in Sangsua Tea Estate, I am told that Assam has lost her Tea Deota (Father). Yes Deota, that is what most of his employees and villagers called him. Today, when it is peak of the tea plucking season, the entire tea industry of Assam assembles at Jorhat as the ashes of Dr.Hemendra Prasad Barooah arrives here. He had left for his heavenly abode from Bangkok, and his close people, who looked after him said that “Deota knew that he would be leaving soon, as this was foretold by someone long back and he made sure that all the employees who were temporary be made permanent and other arrangement for smooth running of his company be confirmed”.

This was not easy. At his family residence, the Thengal Manor in Jalukina Village, which is now open to tourist, there is a extremely peaceful ‘Remembrance Park’ in memory of the Rhongiya Barooahs built by Dr.Hemendra Prasad Barooah, where he has kept a memorial stone for himself, with his son Amit Barooah on one side, who left him for his heavenly abode on 2nd October, 2007 and his beloved wife, Usha Barooah on another side, who left him on 5th July, 2011. His close employees say that Deota is survived by his 02 daughters and daughter-in-law and their families and we want atleast one of them must come and look after this tea empire as a token of respect to the great soul.

It could be a sheer coincidence, his Father, Rai Bahadur Shiva Prasad Barooah was awarded the Medal of high respect His Majesty, The King-Emperor, in commemoration of Their Majesty’s Coronation on 12th May, 1937. Rai Bahadur left for His heavenly abode on 20th April, 1938. Dr.Hemendra Prasad Barooah was honoured with the highest civilian award of India, the Padmasree on the 5th of April, 2013. Both the Father and Son have achieved great honours before leaving this world. It is said that Hem, as he was popularly known among his friend was the first Havard MBA of 1949, where he was the batch mate of Henderson of Shereton Group and Parker of the makers famous Parker Pens. From 02 Tea Estates, which he inherited as a part of his family business, Dr.Barooah expanded to 10 Tea Estates and was the 1st locally owned Tea Estates of Assam under B&A were registered at the Calcutta (Kolkata), Bombay (Mumbai) and Gauhati (Guwahati) Stock Exchanges.

Calcutta (Kolkata) was the home for Dr.Hem Barooah till his last. He spent a lot of his valuable time with big time artists, film makers, social workers and creative people there. He has a remarkable collection of Paintings and Art and is also known for producing a full length Bollywood film, Ek Pall. He did visit his Tea Estates, many of them around Jorhat, he used them to create ‘Tea Tourism’ infrastructure, a major part for Tee & Tea (Golf and Tea) and Tea Heritage. The almost 185 years old Banyan Tree of Mistri Saheb Bungalow at Gatoonga is a witness to the Great Tea Industry of Assam, the roots of modern tea drinking in the world.

This is a trip which has been undertaken on behalf of www.teatourindia.com to pay homage to the Father of Assam Tea.