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Column: Nature Calling

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: It is heartening to note that the state government is trying to promote eco-tourism through fresh initiatives like ‘Eco-trails Odisha’, a trekking and hiking programme. Apart from creating awareness about new sites richly endowed with natural beauty, it seeks to educate tourists on flora and fauna of these destinations.

Media reports suggest that the programme has been launched by the Forest and Environment department at different eco-tourism destinations in 20 districts. The department has identified around eight to 10 trekking and hiking routes in and around 10 sq km area of all the eco-tourism destinations covering forested areas, valleys, meadows, hills, rivers and streams. The department is also working on documenting local flora and fauna as well as interesting facts about the wildlife in the landscape and local culture.

What is more important is the department’s bid to involve local people in managing these destinations. They will be trained properly so that they are mentally equipped to provide the visiting tourists with the information that they seek. Training will be imparted to eco-tourism group members in Satkosia, Mahanadi, Bhitarkanika and Similpal wildlife divisions.

A select group of ETG members, well conversant with local flora and fauna and landscape, will be trained as eco-guides and naturalists for the programme. They will be given training in both Odia and English languages with adequate materials to familiarise the tourists with the landscape during trekking, hiking, birding, boating, safari and other activities in nature camps.

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Among the popular eco-tourism destinations of the state, places like Bhitarkanika, Satkosia, Similipal and Debrigarh will be covered under the programme. The guides will also help tourists with boating at places like Chilika, Satkosia, Bichitrapur, Badmul and Bhitarkanika.

There is no denying the importance of this new initiative because eco-tourism is the latest buzzword in the tourism industry. Odisha government has been trying to promote it for past some time. Not long ago the government earmarked a sum of Rs 7.7 crore for infrastructure development at ecotourism sites as this sector has tremendous potential for revenue generation. Besides, local communities have a stake in this.

Many other states of the country have gone far ahead in this field and have been earning sizeable revenue through this. In Odisha, however, tourism for a long time was synonymous with heritage sites like the Jagannath temple in Puri, the shrine of lord Lingraj in Bhubaneswar and the iconic sun temple at Konark.

Later, ethnic tourism with a focus on tribal lifestyle and culture added a fresh dimension to the state’s tourism industry. However, Nature and eco-tourism were added to the list after many more years. The government stepped up its drive on the eco-tourism front with the launch of a project to develop eco-tourism destinations at 30 places across 22 districts. The project was jointly implemented by tourism and forest and environment departments with forest officials taking care of infrastructure development and their tourism counterparts creating the right kind of buzz around these sites.

Work at most of these sites is nearing completion with some of these sites like Mangaljodi on the banks of the famous Chilika lake already attracting huge crowds. The government needs to focus more on this aspect of tourism which has tremendous potential for revenue generation.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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