A community-based ecotourism initiative of Aaranyak
BOKAKHAT, Jan 20: Aaranyak, a leading biodiversity conservation and research organisation of Northeast, conducted its 3rd round of ‘Journey for Learning’ programme for the students of the department of environmental studies, Somaiya Vidyavihar, Mumbai.
The programme, which was held during January 2-8, this year in Karbi Hills, Kaziranga National Park, Nameri National Park, Kaliabor, Nagaon and Guwahati, was attended by 29 students under the guidance of four faculty members.
The “Journey for Learning” programme has been designed to provide hands-on experience for students visiting Northeast in respect of eco-cultural and biodiversity conservation in the region while staying with the community.
Ten households in Chandrasing Rongpi, Hemai Lekthe and Phumen Ingti villages accommodated all the 29 students participating in the programme in homestay mode and the Kindu Langso SHG from the villages provided food to the visiting group.
The programme also helped the households in showcasing the rich tradition and culture of Karbi community besides getting financial benefits.
It was found through a recent study that these villages located in the vicinity of the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kaziranga National Park, get no benefit from the thriving tourism business in the area. Hence, Aaranyak designed this “Journey for Learning” for the benefit of these villagers as well as to promote biodiversity and eco-cultural practices prevalent in the area.
The programme started with briefings and the explanation of the main objectives on January 2 and that was followed by learning about different techniques of studying socio-economic and cultural heritage of the villages through village walk, river walk and questionnaire-based surveys.
The head of the department pf the Environmental Studies Department of Somaiya Vidyavihar, Dr. Sugandha Shetye expressed that it was a great experience for the students to explore the region through the conservationists of Aaranyak.
Vidhi Vora, a student expressed that the interactions and experiences were an add on to their treasure of knowledge and the Journey for learning is interesting, beautiful and enriching experiences for life.
Dr. Jayanta Kumar Sarma of Aaranyak coordinated the programme while senior conservation biologist of Aaranyak Dr. M Firoz Ahmed gave an overview of the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape, its biodiversity and ecological significance for the people and places in the landscape.
The students also cycled to Kaziranga National Orchid and Biodiversity Park at the Durgapur villages to know about diversity of orchids in Assam and other exhibits there. The following day the students went through an experiential learning exposure about river ecosystem and cultural landscape on its banks that started with a treasure-hunt game.
The rainsoaked day was well enjoyed by the students in the Phumen Ingti village amid lush green Karbi hills. The students, in small groups also carried out assessment on natural resources, ecological service, socio-economic, traditional knowledge & practices, environmental management practices and the use of non-timber forest produces by the villagers. On day three, the students visited Kaziranga National Park for a wildlife safari and to understand about the floodplain ecosystem and its importance.
The students were also taken to Nameri National Park and it was a lifetime experience for them when they saw the critically endangered Pygmy Hog at the release center at Potasali under the guidance of Dr. Parag Deka of Aaranyak. Later, in the morning of the fourth day, a trekking inside the park was organised when the group could see a number of birds and butterflies as guided by the forest staff and Mridupaban Phukan of Aaranyak.
On day seven, the students visited the community-based Hargila conservation area at Dadara near Guwahati where the group interacted with the Hargila Army (a woman conservation group) organised by Dr. Purnima Devi Barman of Aaranyak. The students interacted with Dr. Barman a Whitley Awardee about her journey to a successful community-led conservation model, involving grassroot woman in particular. The week-long programme came to an end on January 8 with a visit to the Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden that houses several threatened animals in its natural ambience including the endemic Golden Langur and Hoolock Gibbon
The students also visited the Kaliabor Nursery to know about diversity, product processing and value addition of aromatic and medicinal plants of NE India well as the Jasingfa Aqua Resort in Nagaon to know about fish diversity, fishery practices and wetland ecosystems of Assam.