\Siliguri, Sept. 29: In a first-of-its-kind initiative by tour agencies of the region, a training of unemployed youths in eco-tourism ventures will begin high in the mountains of Sikkim in December.
Help Tourism, a Siliguri-based tour operator, and Hee Bermiok Tourism Development and Heritage Conservation Society have tied up with Jet Airways and the Singapore Scout Association to open the centre at Hee Bermiok in West Sikkim.
“The aim is to train the youths of Mangalbari, Kaluk, Rinchenpong, Hee Bermiok, Dentam and Uttaray, all in West Sikkim, on eco-adventure tourism in the region,” said Raj Basu, associated with Help Tourism and the conservation society. “The centre will be run by the Singapore-based organisation which will train the local youths on a long-term basis so that they can be part of a participatory model of the venture. The youths can also work for sustainable development in the area keeping in mind the conservation of nature.”
Gopal Lama, the deputy director of the state tourism department, north Bengal, appreciated the initiative to train unemployed youths. “It is a first-of-its kind effort,” he said.
Hee Bermiok, on the fringes of Barshey Rhododendron Sanctuary in West Sikkim, is over 150km away from Siliguri. The hamlet located in the idyllic surroundings and has potential to be developed as a centre for adventure sports like mountain biking and cycling, trekking and camping.
“We want the pristine natural surroundings of the area to be protected for which it is important for the local people to know the pros and cons of eco-tourism and eco-friendly development,” Basu said.
The conservation society will provide land for the centre while the scout association will raise funds for it. “The Singapore body will also send volunteers to execute the project. A delegation from Singapore has visited the area early this month and another team of 12 volunteers from Singapore will reach Hee Bermiok on December 1 and stay there for a fortnight ,” Basu said.
The Singapore team that visited the site this month included Gerry Oh, the regional vice-president of Jet Airways (southeast Asia), Tan Si Jie, an expert on environmental conservation, Patrick Tan, a photographer, and Christopher Khoo, a tourism consultant.
“They interacted with the local people on training, skill development, followed by promotion of tourism and conservation of nature,” Basu said. “The response was good and they have agreed to go ahead with the project, supported by the Changi Airport Group and India Tourism office of Singapore.”
During the visit, the team members also went to Kolakham village located on the fringes of Neora Valley National Park in Kalimpong subdivision.
“We want two model centres to be developed in Darjeeling and Sikkim. Kolakham is also ideal for a centre for eco and adventure tourism. These will complement the initiatives of the state and central governments to promote tourism in the region and can also contribute in employment generation,” Basu said. “Neora Valley is equally attractive like Barshey and houses the red panda and tiger.