The Mountain Echo of
- the word instantly conjures a feeling of goodness and well-being.
Mountain tourism, simply by virtue of the ‘mountain’, has the potential
to make tourism a much more wholesome experience. It holds promise of
unforgettable experiences for all kinds of travellers. Spectacular treks
and mountaineering challenges for the adventure seekers. Temples in
uniquely spiritual settings for the religious-minded. Or simply a
rejuvenating pause for urban folk to wash away the grind and grime of
daily life. However, it can also be limited to travel to a popular
place, with its familiar tropes of sight-seeing en-masse and formula
hospitality, irrespective of the ‘mountain’ destination.
By default, tourism acquires great economic
significance for mountain areas where regular avenues of development
remain limited because of geographical and demographic constraints.
While the tourist and service providers continue to be engaged in an
economic relationship, the larger impacts of this economic activity have
mostly been taken for granted which ultimately proves to be
unsustainable for the activity itself. Most notably, these impacts
relate to environmental damage caused to the fragile mountain
eco-systems, over-exploitation of resources and socio-cultural shifts
among the local community.
Concept of eco-tourism
It goes without saying that tourism, the way
it is practiced today, needs to wake up to its adverse impacts and take
steps to protect the very assets that are its foundation. Eco-tourism is
a sub-set of tourism which arises out of this concern. As a movement,
eco-tourism began to take shape in the 1980s where it was defined as
‘tourism to areas of ecological interest (typically exotic and often
threatened natural environments), especially to support conservation
efforts and observe wildlife; so as to have the least possible adverse
Over the years, the concept of eco-tourism
has expanded beyond nature-conservation. Centre for Responsible Travel
(CREST), defines eco-tourism as, ‘Responsible travel to natural areas
that conserves the environment, socially and economically sustains the
well-being of local people, and creates knowledge and understanding
through interpretation and education of all involved (including staff,
travelers and community residents).’
Because eco-tourism principles generally
apply to areas where natural eco-systems are fragile, these initiatives
are largely located in regions where rural communities provide the
essential services. It is important therefore to make the distinction
that, apart from positive impacts on ecology, eco-tourism must also
create concrete financial benefits for the host rural communities.
Eco-tourism in mountain areas
The application of eco-tourism in
mountainous regions creates a win-win scenario. While on one hand, it
offers an experience of living lightly to the traveller, on the other,
it is a genuine driver for socio-economic transformation of communities
living in far-flung areas. The latter is perhaps the greater cause of
eco-tourism. Lack of employment opportunities for the young is a
critical issue in sustainable mountain development. The more than 700
‘ghost villages’ of Uttarakhand where close to 1.2 lakh people have left
their homes in search of livelihoods, is testament to this issue.
Eco-tourism creates a dependable income-generating mechanism for rural
youth which is rooted in their environment and lifestyle and draws upon
local resources. This will in-turn trigger improvement of basic
facilities in health and education. It creates a genuine platform for
traditional knowledge, skills and craft to be documented and propagated.
It also offers the best incentive for responsible management of solid
waste which is one of the most visible fall-outs of tourism today.
Back to Contents