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Community Based Tourism in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India.

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In India, Community Based Tourism or rural tourism is being explored since the sector has been gaining popularity among tourists around the globe. In India,74% of the population resides in rural villages which is why the ministry has been stressing on the development of rural tourism in the recent years. The Scheme of Rural Development was launched in partnership with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) initially focusing on 36 villages. This number has now been increased to 125 villages. The Ministry of Tourism collaborates with State Governments, Department of Rural Development, Forest Administration etc. and introduce Sustainable Development policies and promoted eco-tourism. Rural regions with tourism potential also have been categorized based on their USP’s. For instance, Kerala has spices and boating as its USP’s while Jammu and Kashmir has adventure, traditional crafts and eco-tourism as its USP’s. The first focus of community based tourism is infrastructure development that benefits both locals as well as visitors. Many NGO’s, private organizations, common interest groups, and tour operators have been trying to promote rural areas. For instance, Kutchh Adventures India in Gujarat, Ecosphere Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, The 4tables Project in Himachal Pradesh, Greener Pastures in Assam and Nagaland etc. are examples of organizations working to promote CBT in these states. This has led to increase in the number of homestays and local tourist infrastructure. This has helped engage local community and give them additional financial support by providing them with jobs as tour guides and other local business opportunities. Moreover this also helps accessibility, sanitation, transportation, street lighting, environmental conservation in these areas which also helps local development and financial gains for the community. CBT is implemented through financial aid to the local district authorities and to the residents to cooperate and involve actively in the development process.

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Himachal Pradesh has been important in terms of eco tourism and sustainable tourism as it is the third largest state that lies at the foothills of the Himalayan mountain ranges in Northern India. It has been popular for religious, adventure, rural and eco tourism. According to Tribune India, the state has seen arrival of approximately 6 million tourists in 2017 and a 6.2% increase compared to 2016 where only 2 million arrivals were recorded. This has not only made it a tourism hotspot but has also given rise to concerns of the consequence of increased tourism and how it could affect the ranges if not handled delicately. Shimla, Kullu Manali, McDeolganj, Naggar, Kangra, Lahaul, Spiti and Mandi are most popular destinations witnessing eco-tourism promotion and increased number of tourists. The state has introduced strict cleanliness measures and eco friendly initiatives like plastic ban which has helped less negative impacts on the environment. The Ministry of Tourism has also set guidelines for travelers visiting eco tourism attractions in the country defining the do’s and don’t’s in the region. These were introduced to raise awareness about the culture and policies of the area and to promote local business.

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Naggar is a small village located in the Kullu district of Manali. It lies at an altitude of 1760m from sea level. Until the 1960’s there was only Forest department Guest Houses and 3 Public Work Department guests houses to stay for tourists owing to the low tourist inflow. Naggar saw a boom in tourism after the development of Naggar Castle into a high end hotel by the HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation). Ever since, many hotels and homestays have been developed in the area for tourists. A financial assistance scheme was developed by the local government to support homestays in Naggar as it was of mutual benefit. Naggar is also a starting point of major trekking routes nearby and offers variety of adventure tourism activities like river rafting, paragliding and skiing. Hnadicrafts like stone or wood carvings, weaving and metal works in the area have been sought after by tourists. Training programs for women as entrepreneurs and local tourism stakeholders has gained recognition nationally as Nagar was honored by the CNBN Awaaz Travel as the best site promoting women empowerment. The Naggar Tourism Department was set up to focus mainly on the area. The development works started with the ministry recognizing it as a potential rural tourism destination alongside 21 others in the country.

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One of the famous attractions in the village is Roerich art gallery, a memorial of a Russian artist, where only 20 visitors are allowed at a time. Similarly, local tour operators restrict the number of people they take on treks and other nature related activities to reduce negative effects on the ecosystem and environment. Such sustainable practices have been undertaken by various organizations in the state. Zero waste projects for waste management have also been introduced by the government in partnership with UNDPA. There also have been NGO’s constantly promoting tourism and creating awareness about its positive economic and socio-cultural impacts among the local community which has helped residents actively engage with tourists in the area and help in the development process. The progress of development however has been limited by factors like low budget, slow management and negligence by visitors. In Naggar, most people are dependent on the cultivation of apples, strawberries and cherries. The harvest season is in winter for these crops. This limits the gains from economy as the season coincides with the tourism arrivals and hence do not provide an alternate source of income in non harvesting seasons.

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