India: 5 ecotourism ideas
A VISIT to India is for many the trip of a lifetime. This incredible land is home to a dizzying amount of cultural and natural diversity – perhaps more than in any other country on Earth.
Though most visitors arguably go to experience its ancient culture, legendary monuments and world-famous cuisine, India is an incredible (and massive) destination for nature-oriented travel or ecotourism. The traditional village lifestyle of India is also very eco-friendly, as many non industrialized cultures tend to be.
Here are 5 ideas (some regional, some more specific) for environmentally conscious travel in the “world’s largest democracy”.
This region of India, which encompasses the states of Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, is a relatively isolated part of the country, sharing borders with Bhutan, Myanmar, China, and Bangladesh and maintaining tribal cultures that are very distinct from the rest of the nation. Ecological hotspots in the North-Eastern states include:
- Kaziranga National Park – home to the one-horned rhino, which doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world
- The dense Mawphlang Sacred Forest – protected by traditional religious sanctions
- Nongkhnum Island – the 2nd largest river island in the world, featuring lakes and sandy beaches
- Jakrem Hot Spring – a popular natural spa and picnic spot in the winter months
- Mawlynnong Village – the “cleanest village in India” featuring a living root bridge and native virgin forest
Read more about North-Eastern India’s eco-tourist destinations here.
Home to the world’s tallest peaks, this pristine region of India is the only place in the country you’re likely to find snow. Don’t be put off by its image of frostbitten mountain climbers; the Himalayan belt is a great place for “soft” adventure tourism, camping, trekking, trout fishing, river exploration and educational organic farming holidays, just to name a few options. Check out Snow Leopard Adventures and Questrails for more information.
One thing to note about visiting the Himalayas (and other delicate ecosystems for that matter) is that one must be extremely conscientious about any behavior that might be potentially damaging to the environment. The government of India emphasizes that visitors follow these rules: no plastic bags, no littering of any kind, no removal of native flora or fauna, no burning wood, no use of detergents in any bodies of water, and (believe it or not) no offering sweets or food to local children or any other residents. It seems that India’s burgeoning eco-tourism industry is taking things seriously from the start.
Andaman and Nicobar
This group of almost 600 islands in the Bay of Bengal are a relatively untouched destination with a fantastic selection of beaches and incredible diving and snorkeling opportunities. If you’re looking for pristine tropical nature, coral reefs, mangrove forests, limestone caves, mud volcanoes (and India’s only real volcano) true free camping (with absolutely no signs of civilization) then Andaman and Nicobar is where to head.
Do note that you can only visit 9 of the 600 islands, which are all in the Andamans. There are still aboriginal cultures that live on several of the off limits islands, which have not had any contact with the outside world. Some islands do have resorts if you are in search of a bit of comfort in this tropical paradise.
You might not feel as if you are in India when visiting the Andamans, as they are closer to Phuket, Thailand and Myanmar and has the climate of Southeast Asian islands, though large numbers of settlers from other parts of India have moved to the cities in recent years and brought their cultures with them.
Stay in a jungle lodge
Like rainforest lodges in Latin America and Southeast Asia, India features jungle lodges where visitors can stay smack dab in the middle of the forest for the best access to nature and nature-based activities. A jungle lodge is a great base for trekking holidays, birdwatching, fishing, kayaking and other water-based sports or activities, wildlife spotting and mountain biking, just to name a few. Check out the Jungle Lodges and Resorts website for information about nature holidays in the South-Western state of Karnataka.
Safaris and tiger tourism*
It should be mentioned that many such jungle lodges or safari resorts cater to tiger tourism, but that is changing. India recently effectively banned tiger tourism. So if you want to see wild tigers in India, you practically can’t anymore, though you can still experience many natural wonders and do a boatload of eco-tourism in this massive, diverse and fascinating country. If you want an informed opinion about the “tiger tourism debate” in India, read this piece in The Daily Pioneer.
You can still see India’s wild elephants, Asiatic cheetahs, lions, hyenas and rhinos at India’s numerous wild life sanctuaries and parks while it’s still all legal.