Home stay for nature tourism in Manipur

Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh *

Landscape of Thanga - with Loktak Lake in background on 10th February 2018
Landscape of Thanga - with Loktak Lake in background on 10th February 2018 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

I heard of the Home Stay at Thanga and I was fascinated by that. I thought of going there one day and stay at least one night there with my family, but as luck would have it, two times my programme had to be scuttled due one reason or the other.

Only after retirement, I had the chance, during the visit of my sister in law who is married to Jalandhar, because her husband was very fond of Loktak. There are many people in India and abroad who are simply mad after Loktak, Keibul Lamjao and of course Manipur.

The arrangements were easy because the Mobile number was available and staff of Keibul Lamjao National park, which is very close to Thanga had the details. I really enjoyed the experience, though the sojourn was a bit short.

Perhaps, one of the best means of eco-friendly ecotourism is the Home Stay. Home stays are facilities provided in the houses of local volunteers for stay of the tourists in a tourist place, may be a nature area or any other tourists site.

It was earlier even known under the name of paying guests, where a visitor will stay in a house not being a hotel. In the olden days, it was students which stayed in Stay Homes.

Nowadays, due to large scale stay of students in local, cheap (and mostly substandard) accommodations, the name seems to have a different connotation. But it is a fact that the very term Home stay came from such stays, according to Mariam Webster's Dictionary, a homestay is defined as "a stay at a residence by a traveller and especially by a visiting foreign student who is hosted by a local family".

The experience and knowledge one gain from staying in the house of local people is astonishing and is beyond once expectation always. Home stays have been used as a powerful tool in PA management and nature conservation.

In eco-tourism, the adage is "Shoot but shoot with a camera" and "Sell the forests but without harvesting" and this way the capital remain intact while sale proceeds can be more than the material costs of the trees and animals there.

It is so eco-friendly that we can do away the notion of eco-terrorism from eco-tourism activities. The idea have been successfully implemented in many nature areas like Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand etc. Home stay programme are also very good tool for income generation and improving socio economy of the local people without draining the natural resources.

Homestays have become so popular nowadays that it has become a brand in itself, many big set ups such as Havelis, Big houses etc. are opening up to Home Stays. There are many Home Stay facilities coming as can be seen in the web, but let us go for the true and mini scale rural family run home stays with the true sense of homestays in nature areas.

The advantages of Home stay tourism are that:
1. The income that accrues to the house owner is from Lodging charge and fooding charge which are very reasonable and not like that of Hotels
2. The House owner can be good local guide and can earn charges for the same which is beneficial for both the tourists and the host.
3. The local guides are definitely better than the outside guides, with little training they can of much value to the tourists.
4. The local products and traditional knowledge can be best marketed.

The advantages that the tourists get are as follows:
1. He can be very close to nature which is his main aim of the visit.
2. He can get first hand knowledge of local food, culture and traditions
3. The expenses on lodging and fooding can be drastically cut.
4. The tourists have a source of information at hand.

While many states in the country have made headways in Homestays, Manipur had very little in this respect. We have heard of a few ones at Ukhrul, Churachandpur and Moirang. There are a more nearer Imphal but I think they not so well organised sector and just in the offing.

Any way let me discuss more about homestays in nature areas and particularly in Loktak which has tremendous potential. That way, the one at Thanga is quite modest and popular. With the backdrop of picturesque Loktak and the historical background of Thanga Island, it is advantage Maipakchao, the visionary and pioneer who started this homestay in the remote island in Loktak (Of course Thanga is very popular on fb due to consistent effort by Tamo Rachandra).

With KLNP, the only floating national park and only home of Dancing Deer, the Brow Antlered Deer at its doorstep, ithas added advantage. There is also a beautiful hillock which can be used for trekking and which can be made more relevant to home stays. All Kudos to Shri Maipakchao.

I met him and talked at length about his plans, they have a society now and they are going to set up a chain of such homes. That will be quite beneficial for the tourists and for local people of Thanga. Once, the interested people are a bit organised, I am sure that there will be investment from the Government or other sectors.

In Sikkim, near Kanchenjunga National Park and North Sikkim, there are many Stay Homes funded by the Government for upliftment of socio economy and nature conservation. Handled properly, tourism is no pressure to nature, rather it is a way of marketing nature without harvesting. The Sikkim Government used to give money for two rooms of pucca house with attached toilet for such homes.

With unique culinary items of noodles, dhukpa, tongba etc. and with plenty of Monasteries and nature, such homes are doing wonders. Here in Manipur too, specially for Thanga, with lots of waters for boating, the Unique Phoom Houses, lots of birds and fishes and of course KLNP nearby, any number of stay homes at Thanga shall be sustainable.

The day of my visit, I saw many foreigners, Dutch and Japanese, visiting Thanga, and going for a swim even in mid winter. Swimming in Loktak, a large freshwater lake in the hilly region of eastern India, one of Ramsar Wetland could be a memory to be cherished.

Will it too much to say that the water of Loktak can be sold without removing from Loktak? I liked the idea of Maipakchao to promote the Lai Haraoba of local Sacred Groves and associate it with homestays.

It will be in a way like Dussehra in Kullu valley. With a friendly nature and oriental hospitality of our people, these homes shall be wonderful.

The number of islands forming Thanga and history behind how the island was connected to mainland etc. could be interesting information (though I feel that from tourist point of view, island character would be more attractive, could be connected by bridges) to the tourists.

The only disadvantage that the home stay tourism may have is the inexperience handling of tour itinerary by the host which may entail precious time lost to the tourists and professional handling of issues. For this, the home stay hosts and guides can be given required trainings.

It can be popularised as the best cottage industry in the nature areas of other places of Manipur also. With this, I am sure that the home stay shall be a viable tourism alternative in a conflict region like Manipur where infrastructure in far away and remote areas are distant dreams.

* Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on 11 March , 2018 .

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