Wanderlust or wonder lost?


How sustainable ecotourism is being implemented to protect the Western Ghats?


The last time you took a vacation to an exotic and fancy place, do you remember the amount of mess you created there while leaving it? Well, most of us will not be able to recall that because we do not really bother about the wastes generated or the negative environmental impact our stay had on the area we visited.

There is travel and there is responsible travel. Sustainable ecotourism is the buzzword these days.  “Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features – both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations.” as defined by World Conservation Union (IUCN)[1].

In the Travel and Tourism Competitive Index released by World Economic Forum, India ranked 40th among 136 countries in the world. India jumped from the 52nd position in 2015 to 40th position in 2017[2] – a massive jump of 12 points. But the question arises- at what cost India has arrived at this position? Has the tourism rank come at the value of impacting the environment?

Globally sustainable ecotourism has become a popular concept. According to the press release by United Nations World Trade Organization, “The United Nations has proclaimed 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, in recognition of the tremendous potential of the tourism industry, which accounts for some 10% of the world’s economic activity, to contribute to the fight against poverty and foster mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue, which are at the heart of UNESCO’s mission.” The press release further mentions that “The International Year will promote tourism’s role in the areas of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction, resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change , cultural values, diversity and heritage and mutual understanding, peace and security.”[3]

“The Ministry of Tourism launched a Comprehensive Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India (STCI) for three major segments of tourism industry, namely Tour Operators, Accommodation and Beaches, Backwaters, Lakes & Rivers sectors. The criterion has been adopted by the stakeholders,” says the Department’s press release[4]. This was done in 2014 by Shripad Naik, the then Union Minister of Tourism.

Let us travel to Karnataka where tourism is a major attraction. The serene Western Ghats with its abundance of flora and fauna makes for a popular tourist destination. One such tourist destination is Sagara in Shimoga district of Karnataka.

Sagara is known for its tourist attractions. It has various types of tourism like temple tourism, water tourism, and forest tourism. Sagara is in the Central Karnataka plateau. The elevation of   this area is between 450 m and 700m and the plateau slopes towards the east according to Karnataka.com. In the water tourism sector, Sagara has a variety of options to offer. To name a few – The Jog Falls, Honnemaradu, Holebaagilu, Linganamakki Dam, Dabbe Falls. In the religious tourism sector, the variety is in abundance like Siganduru Sri Chowdeshwari Temple, Marikamba Temple, Varadapura, Ikkeri, Keladi, St Joseph church. The Sharavathi Wildlife Sanctuary is a tourism option in the forest tourism sector.

Splash of Water

If we talk about tourism in Sagara, the first name that comes up is the Jog Falls. The Jog falls is one of the biggest water tourism attractions not only in Sagara but also in the whole of Karnataka. The Jog Falls attract 8000 to 10000 tourists per day in the peak season, weekends and holidays and about 1000-2000 tourists in the off season. According to Jog Management Authority[5], it is the second highest plunge waterfall in the country.  The source of the Jog Falls in the Sharavathi River. The Linganamakki dam is also near the Jog Falls. The Mahatma Gandhi hydro electric project has been operational in this area from 1948.


Thanks to monsoon, water level of Raja, Rani, Roarer and Rocket falls increased at famous Jog Falls in Shivamogga Dist. -KPN


The Sustainable Tourism Criteria (STCI) for India has put out certain indicators or guidelines that would show whether a certain tourist area follows sustainable ecotourism standards or not. Some of these indicators as listed in the Government of India, tourism website are biodegradable toilets, water harvesting, human impacts on the environment; polluter pays principle, local community participation and benefits etc.

The area around the Jog Falls is highly commercialized which interferes with the natural surroundings of the place. There are many shops located here and there around it with multiple hotels located nearby. There are no measures to control what people carry to the Jog falls and so littering of plastics, food packets and other wastes is common.

The Jog falls have been reduced to a trickle nowadays. The water fall is highly emaciated. Global warming and less rainfall are the primary reasons for this. In a DNA article published in 2012 titled, “Why the Western Ghats have been reduced to a trickle”, Prabhakar Bhat from the department of Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, says, “Changing rain patterns and systematic degradation of what are the country’s richest forests are becoming evident, and the dwindling of tourists is just one small sign of this.”

Plans for Jog


The Jog Management Authority has been trying to come up with a water recycling project which is being opposed by the localities. Srinivas N, district tourism consultant which is under the tourism department of Karnataka and member of the Jog Falls Management Authority says, “The idea is to recycle the water available at the bottom of the Fall and store it so that it can be used in the off season when the water significantly reduces in the Falls.”

Srinivas explains that the recycling project will ensure 365 days of water in Jog Falls and help in attracting more and more tourists to the Falls.  The proposal of the project has been sent to the Karnataka Government five years back but all the No Objection Certificates (NOC) from various departments has not been given till now. NOC’s are required from various departments like forest, wildlife, biodiversity, Karnataka Rural Infrastructure Development Limited, Public Works Department, Tourism department. The proposal is to set up a public private partnership model to carry this out. The paperwork is going on.  A committee from the Environmental ministry in Delhi visited the Jog Falls to look into how this project will be carried out. The issue is that local people are opposed to this project. This project would require the construction of a dam which the localities believe will not only encroach on their lands but also badly damage the flora and fauna in this highly sensitive biodiversity hotspot. Srinivas N adds, “I agree that by doing this the environment will be affected but look at the other side, it will bring more and more tourists to the Falls and generate revenue for the state.”


Jog Falls fairs decently in the STCI guidelines put out by the Government of India. Srinivas states, “We take care to follow the guidelines put out. We have biodegradable toilets.”

Another criterion in STCI is of water harvesting which is not done in the Jog Falls. Srinivas informs that during rainy season there is heavy rainfall but JMA does not t harvest that water.

If a person pollutes in and around the Jog Falls, there is no such monetary fine imposed on the people. The Jog Management Authority cleans the area every day. The police Department in the area take action if alcohol is consumed in and around the Jog Falls. There are 25 security guards, 15 housekeeping staff and “Tourist Mitras” or green police to look after the area and guide the tourists.

Regarding whether the huge crowd that comes to the Jog Falls each day puts a strain on the resources there Srinivas replies, “The carrying capacity of the Jog Falls is still not measured. We need to measure how many people the environment in the area can take.”

The Department of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India put out the National Tourism Policy in 2002 whose primary objective was , “ Positioning tourism as a major engine of economic growth and to harness its direct and multiplier effects for employment and poverty eradication in an environmentally sustainable manner.”

If we draw our attention to the few last words in the objectives of the National Tourism Policy, 2002, we will see sustainability is given equal importance as economic growth.

One such area where sustainable ecotourism is being practiced in the Western Ghats is Honnemaradu in Sagara .


Honnemaradu-Paradise on Earth

Honnemaradu is a traveler’s paradise. The beautiful and sparkling water, the greenery all around, the birds and animals roaming about freely are just breathtaking! Honnemaradu is a village about 400 kilometres from Bangalore overlooking the Linganamakki dam. In the middle of the village there is a beautiful island surrounded by the water body. This island is a major tourist spot. It is here that SLN Swamy and Nomito Kamdar run the Indian Institute of Adventure Applications. This institute was started in 1992 by Dr SLN Swamy and his wife Nomito Kamdar. Swamy used to be an assistant with Tenzing Norway. His entry into sustainable ecotourism started with adventure tourism. Honnemaradu offers a variety of activities like boating, kayaking, trekking, canoeing, rafting, coracling.

Does Honnemaradu tick all the boxes?

So what makes the tourism spot sustainable? Well there are lots of points that prove so. Spending a day out there, one gets to know the sustainable ecotourism practices followed there. Alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited; non vegetarian food is not allowed in the area. If one spends the night there simple rice and sambhar is the dinner. The water for the washroom is drawn from a well situated in the area. One has to carry the water from the well to the washroom.

This ensures minimum wastage as the person has to put in a lot of work to carry the water and would think twice before wasting the water. The toilets are biodegradable with saw and tree parts used for decomposition of the wastes. No plastics are allowed in the area. Loud music is banned as it would disturb the animals in the surroundings. Afforestation and cleaning up activities are organized by Swamy and Kamdar for the campers to inculcate the idea of sustainable ecotourism. The carbon footprint in the area is kept to a minimum.

The campers have to come to the area by foot, vehicles are not allowed. If the campers plan to organize a bonfire, they have to clean the ash and make sure that the area is as it is. Indian Institute of Adventure Applications has 14 coracles, 6 canoes, 4 kayaks, 2 inflated rafts and surfboards. The boats are maintained on an annual basis. If they get damaged they are repaired and reused ensuring no wastage.

Swamy says, “We make people explore the serene waters of Sharavathi and experience various adventure sports with minimum interference with the environment and the surroundings. We instill international standards on our system with zero impact on the environment. Our main aim is to protect the Western Ghats as it is losing its flora and fauna rapidly.”


While exploring the serene beauty of the place, Nomito confides, “All was not easy and smooth sailing for us. We faced a lot of difficulty initially. The local people of the place were skeptical about our motives when we set up this place. The local people thought that we were there just to get economic benefits and nothing else. But what we wanted to generate was sustainable ecotourism model that could be implemented at other places as well. We could notice from the District Commissioner in 2006 to evict this place. But we knew what we were doing. We went to court and fought the case and we won the case. The Government has given us a 30-year lease in this area. Now things are much better with the localities. We believe in community tourism as well. We involve them in the tourism activities we conduct here so that they get economic benefits and employment generation as well.

Mother Nature should be protected too

A major temple tourism attraction that draws 3000 to 4000 devotees per day is the Sri Chowdeshwari temple near Sagara. The temple is situated in Sigandur village and the village is encompassed by the water from the Linganamakki dam which is formed by the Sharavathi River. Though a major tourist hotspot, not much importance is given to promoting sustainable ecotourism here. The temple is managed by a temple committee.

The entrance to the Temple has garbage all around

So how does this tourist spot fare in the sustainable tourism aspect? The food served at the temple consists of rice and rasam served on a steel plate. So how is the wastes generated from such massive amount of food processed? Prakash, manager of the temple committee says, “The wastes generated are processes so that they get converted into material that can be used as fertilizers in the agricultural fields nearby.  The flowers, incense sticks used by the priests for puja are also processes in a similar way.”

Prakash informs that the plastic wastes are just collected and dumped somewhere nearby. The committee is waiting for the gram Panchayat there to tell them how to deal with the plastic wastes. He also informs that a pit has been created in the temple grounds for tourists to dump garbage, spit. No fine is imposed on the tourists if they litter the place but the signboards are used to encourage the tourists not to litter. Prakash adds that the number of tourists have reduced in the recent past so implementing fine would be harmful as that would reduce the number further.



But Satyanarayan has positive words for the temple as well. He says, “Due to the temple the area has got an economic boost and the local people have gained employment and secured livelihood as this temple is a popular tourist destination.”

The water used to clean the dishes and for other activities in the temple is processed through a filter and made to go to the agricultural fields. The water is obtained through bore wells dug in the temple premises. There are about 8 bore wells in the area. The toilets in the temple premises are not biodegradable. There is a variety of shops in front of the temple selling fruits, snacks, ice-cream, flowers, plastic mineral water bottles, soft drinks, coconut water. Prakash says these shops are legal and are set up taking the permission from the Gram Panchayat but the President of the Gram Panchayat, G T Satyanarayan has a different view.

He says, “The licenses to the shops are given by the temple committee in exchange of  a hefty price.  We have nothing to do with it. On top of that this temple is on a forest land owned by the government. I do not know whether they have permission to operate the temple here.”

But Satyanarayan has positive words for the temple as well. He says, “Due to the temple the area has got an economic boost and the local people have gained employment and secured livelihood as this temple is a popular tourist destination.”


But environmentalists are not happy with the tourism practices here. Anant Hegde Ashishar, ex chairman of Western Ghats Task force says, “Siganduru is a religious tourist centre. I oppose how tourism is practiced there. It is not sustainable at all. I took the pollution control board authorities and assistant commissioner there to stop such activities there which were harming nature but not much could be done. But we have not given up on it. We initiated many cleaning procedures there.Many tourists come by vehicles to this place and they have to park these vehicles in the middle of the ecologically sensitive forests. The smoke generated from these vehicles really harms the people and the environment.”

Nagana Gowda , District Tourism Consultant , Shimoga district says , “ Tourism department has recognized  22 tourist destinations in Shimoga  but the Siganduru is not there in the list. “We have sent proposals to the government to include it so that the area will be better.”

Kumar Pushkar, Managing Director, Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation says, “We can only support the district level efforts that are being done. In Shimoga , the district commissioner has to ensure that in the tourism sites , proper guidelines and waste disposal methods are followed. We can support these initiatives but the efforts have to be put by them.”

Initial Days

Honnemardu is the not the first place where sustainable ecotourism is practiced. One of the pioneers in starting such kind of tourism is Niranjand Khatri, when he was posted as the General Manager of the only five star, 45 room hotel in the Andamans. Khatri informs that when the Commander of Navy complained to him about the guests of the hotel littering the island by dumping the wastes and lunch paper boxes from the hotel here and there on the island, firstly he set out little notes with the boxes requesting them not to litter. This worked moderately. So then Khatri decided to change the paper boxes to steel boxes so that the tourists would return back with them as otherwise they would be fined Rs 500. This proved to be major success.

“Through this experience we learnt that business and environment can coexist only if we do the same thing differently by engaging all stakeholders,” says Khatri in a paper written by him in The Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India published in November 2017.

Such sustainable tourism programs are being held all over the country. Kabani tours started by Sumit Magalasseri in Kerala fourteen years back, Nativefolks started by Aswnini Krishna in 2014 in Goa, Koyeli Tours and Travels and Travels run by Arijit Purkayastha in the North East, Magic tours run by Deepa Krishnan all over India, CGH Earth Hotels in Kerala are all example of sustainable ecotourism endeavors in various parts of the country.

Kerala has a Responsible Tourism (RT) department under the Government. The website for responsible tourism of Kerala states, “RT encompasses all forms of tourism and seeks to minimize negative economic, environment and social impacts. It generates greater economic benefits to local people and enhances the wellbeing of local communities. It also makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, and maintenance of the world’s diversity.” Kumarakom in Kerala is a tourist destination where sustainable tourism model has worked beautifully.

Lets head to the City

Bangalore also attracts a lot of tourists as it offers a variety of tourist destinations. Some of the popular destinations are the Bannerghatta National Park , Bangalore Fort , Lumbini Gardens, Tipu Sultan summer palace, Iskon Temple, Nandi hills and many more. It also has a variety of lakes which pulls crowds. Some of these lakes are the Bellandur lake, Puttenahalli lake,  Agara lake , Ulsoor lake , Hebbal lake and others. There are regular complaints of frothing in Bellandur lake , Varthur lake.

A report published in Bangalore Mirror in 2017 about the Bannerghatta National Park  states , “Illegal sand mining and stone quarrying is thriving in the area due to constant land use change within buffer zones around the national park.

These indicate that the tourist destinations are in need of instant repair. Khatri says, “Everything begins at home. The huge amount of garbage generated in Bangalore is not even treated properly. Creating awareness and better working of the government bodies is the need of the hour.”

So what are the solutions?

So now the question arises how the concept of sustainable ecotourism can be incorporated all over the country? Some have a pessimistic outlook. Madhav Gadgil, leading ecologist and the Head of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) of 2010, says , “ The Government has no interest in any kind of environmental protection that is very clear.”

Some still have hopes left. Anant Hedge Ashishar says, “People have to be made aware about the harmful impacts of their works on the environment. Government machinery has to be made stronger.”

Arijit Purkayastha is of a different view. He says, “Whenever a person misbehaves or harms the environment while travelling, he should be fined strictly and heavily. When an Indian travels to Singapore, which has very strict laws, he does not break them or create a mess there. Why? It is because he is scared of the consequences.  In India, there are no such strict laws and people take advantage of that while travelling and harm the environment.”

Proper training on sustainable ecotourism should be given to guides, tour and travel companies. Kumar Pushkar says, “We do provide training on sustainable tourism practices to the guides. Srinivas N denies any such training programmes given to him. He says that he relies on the concepts of sustainable ecotourism that he learnt during his post graduate studies in tourism and tries to apply it.

Sustainable ecotourism is the need of the hour to save the beautiful nature around us. The flora and fauna, once lost will be lost forever. “Incredible India” the tagline of the tourism department of the country will remain incredible only if nature is not tampered with.

[1] (https://www.nature.org/greenliving/what-is-ecotourism.xml)

[2] (http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=160715)

[3] (http://media.unwto.org/press-release/2017-01-03/2017-international-year-sustainable-tourism-development)

[3] (http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=137882)

[4] (http://www.jogfalls.in/HomeEN.html)

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