CHHATTISGARH: Rajat Bansal from Bastar in Chhattisgarh, the district collector who personally locates and tries out stunts like roping down a cliff, discovered that mountaineering, rock climbing, backpacking and trekking could draw tourists out to Bastar.
His adventures paved the way for ‘Bastar Paryatan Samiti’ (Bastar Tourism Committee). The objective is to volunteer trouble-free services for tourists, put the tribal villages on a tourism map and generate local employment. Eventually, the plan has led to a reverse migration trend amid the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring scope of generating livelihood for local tribal youth.
‘Paryatan Samiti’ is a community-based sustainable tourism model that trains locals living in and around tourist spots in offering hospitality services to visitors. Around 500 youngsters are currently employed to create an efficient management of homestay, good local food and act as tourist guides.
“These youths are no longer keen on moving out of Bastar in search of livelihood,” says Bansal. The concept apparently moved forward as a revenue model that saw reverse migration. This venture of Bastar district administration, trains youths to become part of the local tourism committee. Such committees have gram panchayats as members whom the administration supervises. The results are encouraging: tourists, both domestic and foreign, have enjoyed offbeat experiences in Bastar.
Bastar is the first district of Chhattisgarh to have participated in the Tourism & Transport Forum (2020), India’s biggest travel trade show network. It is the heartland of south Chhattisgarh, picturesque with abundant flora-fauna.
“The tourism committee made a promising start last year. We are getting a good response from tour operators,” says Balram Kashyap, Head (Bijakasa Tourism Committee). “We never thought that tribal tourist circuits and ethic resorts could be so captivating for tourists after their Maoist history,” says Adrine and Jade from France, who stayed at Paryatan Samiti homestay.
Some prominent ones such as Chitrakot circuit, Kanger Valley circuit, Cultural & Heritage circuit, are in the vicinity of tribal hamlets.“Dense forests, waterfalls, wildlife, ancient temples, and tribal culture, dance and music, add colour to Bastar tourism. Many locals have set up their shops, homestays, dhabas, parking spaces, and some recreational activities at the tourist places, and are doing well economically”, says Bansal.
During the pandemic many visitors from Chhattisgarh and adjoining states turned to Bastar and experienced the place as endowed with ‘adventure-wellness’ holidaymakers aimed at digital-detox.
“We had to cancel our planned foreign trip right after marriage. Paryatan Samiti changed our perspective towards Bastar as we never thought this could be one of the fascinating honeymoon destinations,” says Abhinav and Aishwarya, a newly married couple from Raipur.
At a time when tourism remains one of the worst affected sectors with a slow pace of recovery, this tourism model has strengthened its scope in Bastar. “The tourist inflow has led to infrastructure development in our region and locals accessing better amenities and income,” says Samiti member Lekhram Mandavi.
Several like him would migrated to other states to earn a meagre daily wage of `300 and now earn over Rs 500.“Our small daily need shop on Chitrakoot route close to our dwelling fetches a good income from the passers-by tourists”, says Amrautin, a Maria tribal woman.
Additionally, the Jagdalpur airport has further boosted the local tourism plan. With services from Raipur and Hyderabad, the Jagdalpur (the district headquarters of Bastar), visitors reach the place within a few hours from Delhi or Mumbai.