NET Bureau, Kingson Chingakham
Northeast region is blessed with scenic beauty. It has been compared with the beauty of the other developed countries in the west and sometimes has been referred to as the unexplored paradise. There is an abundant number of places that are yet to be explored due to the lackluster approach from the authorities in the region and other socio-economic ills. As a consequence, the region has failed to attract a large number of tourists that the region deserves.From the business perspective, tour operations are considered not very remunerative. At this time, Prachi Khaitan, a 23 years old student who shuttles between Meghalaya and Kolkata has started an initiative called ‘Project Northeast’ which will help to promote tourism in the northeast region in an individual capacity.
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She is very fond of the weather and culture in the region and expressed a heartfelt love for the place and the people. Narrating her deep attachment to the region, she said, “My connection with the Northeast is due to my mother. She is a Shillong girl who went to Loreto College for her schooling and completed her graduation from St. Mary’s. Even though she has lived in Kolkata for more than 30 years now, she refers herself as a Shillong girl, a place that she’s very rooted to and defines her”.
Before starting this initiative of project northeast, she used to work as a Policy maker in Delhi with a desire to bring changes in the society.But she was really unhappy with the job. Sitting at the four-cornered walls, surrounded by desk and chairs, glaring at the computer screen for 8 hours in a day started causing some health issues for her.She took all the risk to move on with no backup plan.
How it started?
So, what changed her? Overjoyed Prachi said, “I went for a trip to Meghalaya once again with a bunch of friends once I was back from Delhi for good. We went boating and swimming in the gorgeous Umngot River popularly known as Dawki river, did the double-decker living root bridge trek in Sohra, visited the Mawphlang village and went inside the Sacred Groves only to fall in love with the place all over again. After over a year I felt a sense of calm”.
She continued, “I uploaded images from my trip to Meghalaya on social media and my friends and family were in complete denial that such a beautiful place existed in India. This is where I realized that the Northeast is one of the most unexplored regions in the Indian Subcontinent. With a region so rich in biodiversity and culture it deserves to be recognized and celebrated”.
This was the beginning of Project Northeast. Project Northeast currently take people around Meghalaya, exploring the most off beaten path places, introducing fellow trekkers to the culture, heritage, and people along with hiking and trekking. The informal team take the trekkers for cave explorations, hikes, scuba diving, river water treks and many more adventures and try to work the trips around the festivals. She had also organized a trip centered around the Cherry Blossom Festival in Shillong, one of its kind in India.
The idea behind the project is to give travelers a holistic experience of the gorgeous place and not just treat them as tourists. We want people to have a strong connect with the place along with taking back unforgettable memories. The treks are centered around extended holidays and weekends that allows working professionally to explore the Northeast. We take an average of eight trekkers for the duration of four days and three nights around Meghalaya. These trips offer the trekkers to experience the region in the rawest and purest form. Prachi added, “We take them to places, shops, cafes, and restaurants where the locals go and make them stay at hostels and homestays giving them an enriching experience. This is our small effort in boosting the local economy and helping the people”.
The current area of operation is limited to Meghalaya as of now but Prachi is planning to expand to other states of the Northeast as well in order to bring the region’s indigenous culture, a way of life along and natural beauty in the public. Prachi said, “I don’t want to associate Project Northeast as being just a travel agency. We want to expand into an organization that helps in capacity building and work with the people in sustainable development”.
The nature of initial funding for Project Northeast is personal. There is no immediate target to attract investors. Since it is not run to earn a profit, there is no yearly target.But Prachi and her team try to organize trek every month.The Project will be given undivided attention post-September after completing her studies. The Instagram profile of Project Northeast has attracted nearly 5000 followers so far.
It has been indeed been very challenging for Prachi and her team.She recalls, “We had to create an awareness and promote Northeast as a place of natural beauty and culture. There was a lack of knowledge about the region and what it has to offer. Getting the initial few trekkers was a major task at hand. This was done primarily through the medium of social media.We also had to cancel trips due to political rallies and weather conditions. There is also lack of affordable and decent accommodation in Cherrapunji. A place where we always struggle getting accommodation due to the very few options.”
Support from the locals
Prachi and her team are currently working with the locals of Meghalaya for the Project. She further said, “We have trekking guides, drivers that are all locals.We plan on growing and employing the youth in our Project, train them as trek leaders to host trekkers that come from all parts of the country and soon we will be hosting foreign clients.We also want to start a travelers hostel and train locals to host our trekkers”.
An extreme amount of revenue can be generated from tourism only.But it has been widely underestimated. Prachi sees a light of hope and said, “There is a huge scope of travel and hospitality in the region because of the rich biodiversity and culture. The region needs to be promoted by the locals. This can be done through training and capacity building. With so much to offer like organic produce, handicrafts etc. If promoted well can be converted into a flourishing market. It’s important for the people of Northeast to step in and start working than allowing business giants to benefit from what belongs to the natives”.