Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s efforts to promote eco-tourism in the state are beginning to bear fruit. This is evident from the high tourist footfall even at far-off places like Mandasaru in the tribal-dominated Kandhamal district which has always been known for its natural beauty. Often referred to as the silent valley of Odisha with enchanting hills and forests, it welcomed visitors last year despite the Covid-19 pandemic imposing curbs on the movement of people.
Daringbadi, the most famous eco-tourism site in Kandhamal, has also proved to be a magnet for nature lovers. All this is good news for the state, as tourism has the potential to generate not only good revenue but also jobs that young Odias are looking for. No wonder former MP Bhabanisankar Hota has urged the state government to sanction funds for the overall development of Gandhamardan hill range with two famous shrines located around it. The leader feels that the scenic beauty of the hill range and its surroundings can draw tourists in hordes and also help generate jobs.
Leaders like Hota should rest assured about the Chief Minister’s commitment to the overall development of tourism in the state with special focus on eco-tourism, the latest buzzword in the industry. Keen to make the most of the state’s natural beauty, he has asked officials to explore ways of showcasing this wealth in the best possible manner so as to attract tourists both from within and outside Odisha.
Initiatives such as ‘Eco-trails Odisha’, a trekking and hiking programme which creates awareness about new eco-tourism sites while educating tourists about the flora and fauna of these destinations, have generated the right kind of momentum for growth in this area. The government 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. There is also a plan to document the local flora and fauna as well as interesting facts about the wildlife in the landscape of these places.
The best thing about the programme, which bears the stamp of the Chief Minister’s futuristic vision, is the attempt to involve local people in the management of these destinations. The plan is to train them so as to equip them mentally to provide the necessary information to the visiting tourists. Making the local people stakeholders is the best way to ensure the success of such programmes.
Richly endowed by nature, Odisha has a wide range of exciting eco-tourism sites, including Bhitarkanika, Satkosia, Similipal and Debrigarh, most of which will be covered under the programme. Chilika lake, a unique lagoon straddling three districts of the state, is another place that draws tourists in large numbers. What the government needs to do is improve tourist facilities at these places and make them easily accessible by road. The government seems to be doing its bit in this regard under the able guidance of the Chief Minister who remains determined to make Odisha the most precious jewel in India’s crown.