ASSAM TOURISM: Potential and Challenges
Now-a-days, tourism is considered as an important industry which has vast scope for the generation of income and employment. It is one of the world’s fastest growing industries, a major source of foreign exchange earner of a nation.
Assam is best known for her unique natural beauty with very rich bio-diversity, historical monuments, pilgrim centre, tea gardens and its colourful cultural festivals. All these are perfect ingredient to make Assam one of the best destination of the tourists but it is still miles to go to exploit the potentialities fairly, if not extensively. This is mainly due to various reasons ranging from natural and geographical to negligence of government.
Of the tourism sector in Assam, natural parks and sanctuaries, rivers, lakes, warm water springs, forests, wild life, are the principal components of attraction in the state. The whole tourism potentialities of the state can be grouped together under the categories – (a) Wildlife & Nature Tourism, (b) Tea tourism, (c) Eco Tourism, (d) Cultural Tourism, (e) Pilgrim Tourism and (f) Adventure Tourism.
(a) Wildlife & Nature Tourism in Assam – Assam’s dense forests, uneven topography, flora and fauna, snow-clad Himalaya, Blue hills, crystal clear streams, majestic waterfalls and its colourful wildlife, including many exclusive species. Assam is famous as the home of so many endangered species like one-horned Rhino, hollock gibbon, the stamp tailed macaque, the capped langur, the golden langur, the pigmy hog, the clouded leopard, the golden cat, the white winged wood-duck, etc. All these can make Assam as one of the best destination of the tourists. There are five National Parks and numerous wildlife and bird sanctuaries for protection and preservation of wildlife in the state.
(b) Tea tourism – Tea was first discovered in Assam in 1823 by Robert and Charles Bruce and since then tea has become an integral part of Assam’s economy. It is the largest single industrial sector in the state. The importance of Tea industry can be realised from the fact that Assam alones produces more than 50% of the country’s total tea production. These lush green tea gardens in Assam is a treasure house of exotic beauty of nature with colourful people and their enchanting songs and dances, sprawling bungalows, and residential facilities. These facilities can form into an attractive package for tourism and its potential can be explored.
(c) Eco Tourism – A novel kind of tourism developed around the idea of travelling to places of natural beauty, moving around and staying with the places of nature for a couple of days. It has the twin objectives of conserving environment and improving the welfare of the local people. Assam has immense scope for eco-tourism, due to its green forests, blue hills, enchanting rivers, scenic natural beauty, and favourable climatic conditions.
(d) Cultural Tourism – Assam has diverse ethnic groups with a host of cultural heritage. Each of these tribes possesses some unique features in its socio-cultural life including customs, religious belief, language, culture, way-of-life, festivals, food habits, songs and dances which are different from others. The state’s Tourism department also organizes various cultural festivals like Tea Festival, River Festivals, Rongali Festival, Dihing patkai Festival and Elephant Festival can be considered to develop state’s tourism.
(e) Pilgrim Tourism – Assam has many ancient temples and shrines including Kamakhya temple, Ambubchi mela, Borpeta Vaishnava monastery, Batadrawa, Birth place of Shri Sankardeva, Majuli the centre of Vaishnava culture, Surya Pahar Pua Mecca. These places have potential to attract a large number of religious tourists.
(f) Adventure Tourism – The pristine hill, difficult terrains, valleys, and forest, high current rivers etc. offers ideal opportunities to the adventure lovers to go for adventure sports activities like rock-climbing, trekking, Para-sailing, water sports, river rafting and angling etc. An annual angling competition held at Bhalukpung-Potasali side every year in November in which Indian and foreign tourists participate.
For the purposes of tourism there are wildlife reserves like the Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Nameri National Park, Dibru-Saikhowa National Park etc. It has a rich cultural heritage going back to the Ahom Dynasty which governed the region for many centuries before the British occupation.
Guwahati -One of the key urban centres of Assam and the biggest city in North-East India, this serves as the major gateway to the whole region. The major tourist spots of Guwahati are Kamakhya Temple, River Cruise on the river Brahmaputra, Shankardev Kalakshetra, Umananda Temple, Assam State Zoo, Shilpagram etc. Chandubi Lake, Sonapur, Madan Kamdev, Chandrapur and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary are other famous spots outskirts the city .While visiting Madan Kamdev Tourists also visit the ancient temple Gopeswar Mandir situated in the village Deuduar.
Majuli -The largest freshwater island] in South Asia on the Brahmaputra River. Majuli is famous for its Vaishnavite Satras such as Kamalabari Satra, Dakhinpat Satra, Garamurh Satra, Auniati Satra, Bengenaati Satra and Samaguri Satra.
Kaziranga National Park-This protected area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and serves as one of the last remaining habitat of the Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros. Also check out Manas National Park and Orang National Park.
Jatinga-This village is famous for mysterious suicides of the birds, located in Dima Hasao.
Sonitpur- Protected areas to see in the district are Nameri National Park, Bura Chapori Wildlife Sanctuary, Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary and a part of Orang National Park. Bhalukpong is also an important tourist place. Tezpur is a small town steeped in history and culture. Some of these are Agnigarh, Mahabhairav Temple, Chitralekha Udyan, Bamuni Hills, Usha Pahar etc. Biswanath Chariali town is 75 km away from Tezpur, is famous for the Biswanath Ghat, also called popularly as “Gupta Kashi”.
Jorhat – Situated at 318 km east from Guwahati, Jorhat is a very important city, the last capital of Ahom era, as well as the tea capital of India. Important spots in and around Jorhat city are Jorhat Science Centre and Planetarium, Jorhat Gymkhana Club, Raja Maidam, Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar, Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Lachit Maidam, Molai forest, Kaziranga Golf Resort, Thengal Bhawan etc.
Sivadol Temple -As Sivsagar was the seat of the Ahom Kingdom, it is surrounded by many ancient monuments of Ahom era. Those are Rang Ghar, Talatal Ghar, Sivadol, Kareng Ghar of Garhgaon, Joy Dol, Sivasagar Tank, Joysagar Tank, Joymati Maydam, Vishnu Dol, Devi Dol, Gourisagar Dol and Tank, Charaideo, Namdang Stone Bridge etc. Tai Museum and Uttaran Museum which exhibits the history of Ahom. Panidihing Bird Sanctuary, the abode of more than 250 species of birds.
Hajo-Hajo is an ancient pilgrimage centre for three religions Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.
Haflong – Haflong is the only hill station of Assam. The headquarters of Dima Hasao. The village of Jatinga is known for mysterious bird suicide on the night of new moon.
Tinsukia -Many prominent shopping malls are there in Tinsukia. Dibru-Saikhowa National Park one of the biggest national parks in India are situated in Tinsukia. This national park is considered as one the biological hotspots. The Tilinga Mandir(Bell Temple) is a well-known temple situated in the outskirts of Tinsukia city. Digboi Refinery the Asia’s oldest refinery is situated here. A railway park is recent addition to the city. Dehing Patkai Festival annual festival helds at Lekhapani in Tinsukia district. India’s only coal museum is situated at Margherita town in Tinsukia district. Tribal communities in Tinsukia district have taken initiatives to promote ecotourism in the region. The Singpho Eco Tourist lodge in Margherita-Pengari road and the Faneng Village at Lekhapani are two such initiatives by the local tribal communities.
Dibrugarh – Dibrugarh is called the tea capital of the world. The town is situated on the edge of the Brahmaputra River. Set amidst extensive tea estates, Dibrugarh offers tourists the opportunity to experience a life in a tea estate. Recently, tea tourism has started becoming popular, with travel companies such as Greener Pastures and Purvi Discovery offering tea tours. Tipam is a famous tourist spot of Dibrugarh. Tipam is an ethnic village which is famous for its historical places. Besides Tipam, Dehing Patkai rainforest is the other attraction. Presently the city has the biggest railway station in Assam with 18 Lines opened in 2009. Rajdhani Express Train Originate from Dibrugarh and Dibrugarh Town.
Challenges to the development of Tourism in Assam
- Absence of a well formulated Tourism Policy – Assam has a policy on tourism prepared in November 1987. But these steps did not bring forth any concrete result. Still the state has no any proper tourism policy.
- Restricted Area Permit (RAP) – The RAP to the North-Eastern region was enforced in 1955, under which, a foreigner intending to visit North-East including Assam had to undergo a long arduous procedure of obtaining permission from the Home Ministry. RAP was in force till May 18, 1999 and the ghost of RAP still continues to loom large and create false apprehension in the mind of the foreign tourists.
- Insurgency – The problem of insurgency has become the stumbling block in every development strategy of the state and hampered all the development work.
- Lack of Basic Infrastructure – To promote tourism and attract tourists, dissemination of information, infrastructural facilities and reliable communication network, availability of water sports equipment etc. are needed.
- Lack of willingness of authorities from various department and authorities.
Over the years, both the Central and State Govt. of Assam had identified and executed several large, medium and minor tourism projects for infrastructure building as well as schemes for marketing and promotion of Assam Tourism.
These included infrastructure projects like the following all of which have had a major impact on promotion of tourism in the state of Assam.
- Development of Tourism circuits Tourism Complex
- Upgradation and expansion of tourist facilities
- Development of Pilgrim Centres
- Water Sports etc.
- Appointing Priyanka Chopra as a brand ambassador for Assam Tourism
- New tourism policy, effective from January 2018, for next five years.
There has been significant progress in most of the projects during the last few years. Once all the infrastructure projects are completed, these will go a long way in promoting Assam Tourism. Nevertheless, for sustainable growth of tourism, large investment for infrastructure development is called for. This can be possible if all the stakeholder, including Govt and the private sector comes forward for investment considering the potential of Assam Tourism.
Highlights of the ‘Tourism Policy of Assam 2017’
- The policy effective from January 2018 till December 2022, gives special emphasis on making the state a destination of film making by offering a range of incentives to movie producers.
- Declared the sector as industry and all facilities and incentives applicable to industries shall be available to Tourism industry also.”
- Cash grant of 25 per cent or Rs 1 crore, whichever is less, of expenditure in Assam will be offered as reimbursement to Hindi, English and foreign language cinema makers, who have produced a minimum of five feature films.
- Other subsidies, including 50 per cent reimbursement of net state GST paid for 10 years by a new tourism unit that will start commercial operations by December 2022, subject to maximum of 100 per cent fixed capital investment.
- A capital investment subsidy at the rate of 30 per cent of capital investment, subject to a ceiling of Rs 1 crore, shall be available for tourist lodges, hotels, resorts, houseboats and floating restaurants.
- A subsidy of 25 per cent of cost payable for connecting power line to the eligible tourism units with a ceiling of Rs 10 lakh will be provided.
- A range of financial benefits for constructing approach roads and installing renewable source of energy at the tourist units.
- Private sector will be encouraged to pro-actively participate and invest in tourist places in the tourism sector.
- A special incentive will be offered as additional 10 per cent capital grant up to Rs 25 lakh for investment in remote/potential tourist destination of Assam.