Encouraged by a 50% growth in tourist arrivals over the past few years, Arunachal Pradesh is seeking to promote the strategic border state as an adventure tourism hotspot to draw the young and the daring.
The state, abutting China, is already known for its natural beauty -- picturesque hills and valleys, landscapes snowed white in winter, famous monasteries, unexplored passes and tranquil, high-altitude lakes -- and registered about five percent growth in tourist footfalls in 2015. What was missing were adventure hotspots.
"With the focus on adventure tourism and showcasing exotic tourist spots, the state has been organising many theme-based events like the Tawang festival, Ziro festival of music, Arunachal spring carnival, adventure at Mechuka as also the Kameng river festival. The objective is to create a buzz among local youth and tourists outside the state," state Tourism Department Director K. Lekhi told IANS.
A project has been sanctioned under the Swadesh Darshan scheme for integrated development of new adventure tourism with central assistance of around Rs 97 crore ($14 million).
According to Tourism Department data, arrivals in 2015 stood at 3,57,933 against 3,41,178 in 2014. In the last decade, arrivals jumped manifold from 3,255 in 2000 to 2,31,252 in 2010. Between 2011 and 2015, inflows surged by 50% from 2,37,980 in 2011.
Being a sensitive state, foreign tourists visiting in groups of two or more require the Protected Area Permit for a period 30 days. Domestic tourists also require an Inner Line Permit.
"We have eased the procedures for providing permits and one can carry out the process from Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati," Lekhi said.
"Over the years, the number of tourist arrivals has been increasing. Theme-based festivals and events around the year helped to achieve sustained growth," Arunachal Pradesh Tourist Information Officer Takom Kena said.
The land of dawn-lit mountains is endowed with green forests covering over 80 per cent of its 83,743 sq km area, besides rivers like Kameng, Subansiri, Siang and Tirap. Such resources make Arunachal an ideal place for adventure sports like trekking, angling, boating and rafting.
Gauging the potential for adventure sports, the Centre has set up the country's first adventure sports institute -- the National Institute for Mountaineering and Allied Sports (NIMAS) -- at Dirang in West Kameng district to provide structured training in mountaineering as well as aero and aqua sports.
"Arunachal is the most suitable place for conducting air, water and land-based adventure sports. For example, Mechukha is best for paragliding and trekking, and Tawang for parasailing and river rafting. Apart from Mechukha, we are giving a thrust in Anini, Rupa and Tawang to adventure tourism," state Directorate of Youth Affairs' Adventure Cell In-charge K. Romeo Meetei told IANS.
With a thin population density of 17 persons per sq km, the state is trying to provide adequate employment opportunities through adventure tourism, which is currently conducted only during the festival season.
"The state is trying to train local youths so that they can organise adventure sports and serve the tourists round the year. It will create employment opportunities for local youth. At present, facilitators are being brought from outside to conduct such events," Meetei said on the sidelines of the 4th edition of Adventure@Mechukha festival.
However, communication and transportation bottlenecks have been a major impediment in attracting more tourists.
"At present, the condition of roads are not that good. Maintenance is by the Border Roads Organisation. The state government does not have much say. A trans-Arunachal road project has been taken up and once this fructifies, the problem will ease out to a large extent," Lekhi said.
Apart from improved road connectivity, tourist arrivals are expected to increase with better rail and and air connectivity.
Currently, Naharlagun, 15 km from Itanagar, is linked to New Delhi via Guwahati by an air-conditioned superfast express. There are also plans to connect Pasighat in East Siang district and Bhalukpong in West Kameng by rail. This is in the domain of the Railway Ministry, Lekhi said.
"The state government has approached the Centre to open up the advanced landing ground (ALG) at Mechukha (29 km from the Sino-Indian border) for civilian purposes to strengthen connectivity in the Aalo-Mechukha circuit in West Siang district. The landing ground is currently used only by the Indian Air Force," Mechukha's MLA and Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism P.D. Sona said.
Over time, the IAF plans to activate nine ALGs in Arunachal Pradesh and there are indications that some of these could also be put to civilain use.