I have a dream, says Kesang Dorjee Bhutia of Sikkim. The 24-year-old wants to turn his village Sribadam into an eco-tourism hub. Some in his village say he has already done so, but he insists he still has some way to go.
Sribadam is a village of 4000 people. It is 82 km from Sikkim’s capital Gangtok and with its lakes, waterfalls and Buddhist monasteries, a natural for eco-tourism.
Till four years ago, no real tourist had ever set foot in Sribadam. Kesang’s goal is to position Sribadam as the region’s premier eco-tourism hotspot.
For the young political science graduate it is a challenge. The first task was to introduce and boost a till then unknown place into a preferred destination for tourists from all over the world.
He started small – a modest homestay. Surrounded by green forests and sparkling waterfalls, the Eshab Homestay offers guests the ‘cool’ experience of bird-watching, forest walks and herbal gardens.
A litter-free environment is a bonus!
“My emphasis is on ethnic tourism,” Kesang says, very earnest. “I adopted the R3-concept: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.”
Soon enough, people fell in with his idea. They took to his way of life, and work. And within days the village changed colour!
“Till not long ago were there were only transient visitors, stopping briefly on their way to monasteries. Now they come from the cities, with Sribadam as the destination. They boat on the natural lakes. Look at the magnificent waterfalls. The picturesque Buddhist monasteries and the calming meditation centers. Life in the countryside! Everything in a natural setting,” says Kesang, not at all out of breath in the thin mountain air.
“Of course, none of what nature has to offer automatically attracted tourists. So I introduced organic farming at Eshab. Guests were told of the bounties of sustainable living. They ate organic food produced on the farm. This meant that I saved money enough to spend on eco-friendly and cheaper lodging. Everything changed.”
The improvisations did not stop. Kesang found innovative ways to reuse tires and plastic bottles. He launched a twice a year clean-up drive for the entire village. “I want my village to be the cleanest in Sikkim,” he says.
The THREE R’s
Used and discarded tires got a paint. They became colourful, eye-catching signboards. Long disused buckets and bottles were turned into dustbins. Roads became litter-free. Kesang branded them with his homestay, and Eshab became a household name!
“I read Sikkim’s history and culture and made up my mind to revive the best of both. I constructed three Sikkim-style tribal houses for guests. I introduced traditional food. The spa experience and nature walks. The herbal garden at the guesthouse, I grew from wild pickings I brought from my jungle walks.”
To give visitors their periods of solitude at the guesthouse, there is a library full of books on Sikkim and its culture. Guests can practice meditation and learn from Buddhist monks.
Kesang’s efforts have paid off – eco tourism has helped his little village in ways he could not have imagined. Taxis now bring people who want to stay and relax. More tea-shops have opened. Villagers have become more welcoming and accommodative.
His next big plan is to introduce pollution-free cycling to the Sribadam experience.