The North East of India has been an enigma for travellers and continues to remain enigmatic even now. Of the Seven Sister states, Arunachal Pradesh is perhaps the remotest as well as the most profoundly beautiful state; fascinating indigenous tribes, the imposing Eastern Himalayas, the bedrock of Tibetan Buddhism and blessed with the easternmost village of India (Dong) that receives the first rays of the sun! Call it destiny or fortune, this remote easternmost state is pioneering the concept of Adventure Tourism with sustainability as the underlying theme: no mass tourism and overcrowding. Out here adventure tourism is based on the tenets of minimal carbon footprints, low impact & high value that truly redefines the concept of adventure as a way of life and not something that you sell as a package. Here holidays are meant to be immersive and itineraries are carefully curated; thereby, offering today’s discerning travellers a wholesome adventure that goes beyond the stereotyped ones.
And donning the mantle of promoting this incredibly beautiful, yet unexplored state, is the maverick Chief Minister himself: Hon. Pema Khandu, whose passion for high-altitude biking is well known. What a laudable gesture it was from his side, as he cruised along on those high-altitude mountain roads on a Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 with the ultimate wish to promote adventure tourism in Arunachal Pradesh. The 122 km mountain ride with the Chief Minister’s cavalcade following him was straight out of a Hollywood thriller! Chief Minister Pema Khandu is absolutely gung-ho about showcasing Arunachal Pradesh as a much-sought adventure tourism destination, given the fact that this ravishingly beautiful mountainous state has all the ingredients required; high mountain passes, alpine forest cover and a stupendous diversity in terms of indigenous tribal culture that easily makes the state the next big “Powerhouse” of adventure tourism in India.
From my two decades long experience in the travel trade as a journalist I know how significant it is to have the head of state being tourism-friendly. In India, the tourism portfolio isn’t yet a key ministerial berth, as compared to domains like finance, home, industry, defence etc... and Pema Khandu comes as a breath of fresh air for India Tourism, has adventure in his blood and knows only too well about tourism’s “Multiplier Effect”; the economic benefits touching the lives of the common man.
Mr Khandu’s approach towards positioning Arunachal Pradesh as an adventure tourism destination is praiseworthy and follows the concept of “Smart Tourism” espoused by the European Union where mobile applications, augmented reality and field communications play a vital role. According to IGI Global: "Smart Tourism requires the integration of factors and components such as high level physical and information technology services, well trained human resources, effective management understanding and leadership spirit along with environmental awareness”.
Under the visionary leadership of Pema Khandu, Arunachal Pradesh as a destination is gradually creating a niche for itself in the adventure tourism segment. Their social media space utilization is unlike any other Indian state and I can clearly perceive that this remote North Eastern state is gradually giving shape to a set of tourism paradigms in terms of sustainability, innovation, connectivity and good governance.
The results at the ground level have been impressed with the iconic Ducati brand of Italy; renowned for their motorbike rallies, Multistrada expeditions, desert X expeditions, dream tours etc... Launching themselves in Arunachal Pradesh with their “Explore Beyond : an all-woman biking expedition that covered the eastern frontiers of Arunachal Pradesh. This one-of-a-kind expedition by Team Ducati was patronized by the Arunachal Pradesh Tourism department to promote adventure tourism and the concept of “Solo Women’s Travel”.
This pioneering initiative is highly commendable as the hitherto unexplored Eastern districts of Changlang, Tirap and Longding through which the Ducati bikers cruised, opened up to big-time tourism for the first time! An ecstatic Mr Khandu, whom himself ceremonially flagged off the Ducati Expedition, gleefully commented: “It is a moment of pride for us not only to be able to open up new tourism terrains but also promote women empowerment and safety for solo travellers within the state. I am sure this expedition would boost tourism and put Arunachal on the world’s tourism map”.
Smart Tourism Destinations (STD) are places committed to crafting experiences and values for the benefit of the destination and according to Tourism researcher Schmitt: “Experiences provide sensory, emotional, cognitive, behavioural, and relational values that replace the functional values”.
We are living in an era where “fantasies, feelings and fun” play a dominant role in the overall process of tourism consumption and destinations need to entertain, excite and psychologically affect the consumer’s mindset through immersive experiences; And, Arunachal Pradesh Tourism seems to be on track in its pursuit to create a unique “Adventure Tourism” image in the highly competitive global tourism arena.
For some time now, Arunachal Pradesh has evolved as the new mountain biking hub and the craze is not surprisingly the rarefied realms of Sela Pass, Tawang Himalayas, which are located above 14,000 feet above sea level. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Pema Khandu government, biking enthusiasts are no longer daunted by the frequent Indo-China military show-offs in this area; the latest being the Chinese Red Army’s standoff with Indian Army on December 9th, 2022.
In terms of tourism promotions, what can be more befitting than conducting the annual MTB Mountain Bike Challenge in Tawang? Tourism experts believe that the Tawang MTB Challenge is one of the toughest MTB races and this annual event draws mountain bikers from all over India. Needless to say, Tawang MTB has been the happy hunting ground of the Indian Army Extreme Professional Group, who have made it a habit of winning the top slots in such demanding alpine topography. In the hindsight, may I also add that the Government of India and the local state government have given a fitting reply to China’s hegemonistic tendencies and their propensity to expand their influence over neighbouring countries!
The Government of Arunachal Pradesh as well as the Indian Army’s Extreme Professionals have set up a stellar model globally on the significance of military/ army deployed at LAC or actual conflict zones and their attempts to be socially responsible through actions that leave a lasting imprint on the minds of the common man on the street. MTB Tawang is perhaps one of the best specimens of a military establishment’s role in normalizing escalating tensions in the conflict zone.
When you have a behemoth neighbour like China, hell-bent on grabbing your territory through military aggression, your task is literally cut out. Chief Minister Pema Khandu’s relentless efforts to promote adventure tourism in Tawang and beyond, in the face of a rather ultra-adventurous China, deserve kudos. He has exemplified what “Frontline Leadership” should be; managing manpower and available resources, infrastructure bottlenecks, connectivity issues... And, yet being able to make decisions hands-on! Not many are aware that it was in Tawang that His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama first set foot on Indian soil following the persecution of the Chinese Red Army and the invasion of Lhasa’s Potala Palace in 1959.
India’s renowned newspaper: The Hindustan Times, published an interesting narrative entitled: “Why is Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh important to China?” wherein it is cited that Tawang and Yangtze are key to Tibetan Buddhism; that Tawang is the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso, which offers India the “locus standi” in the hallowed Dalai Lama institution. The article also highlights the fact that the present (14th) Dalai Lama has enlightened audiences that he will live till the age of 110 years, further heightening the anxiety of the Chinese; trying to figure out whether his successor would come from Tawang or Tibet. With a strong tourism-centric leadership at the helm, both at the centre (New Delhi) and in Itanagar, the picturesque state capital of Arunachal Pradesh, coupled with the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most cherished “Act East Policy” beginning to make an impact in India’s remote North East, a massive tourism juggernaut seems to be rolling down from the hallowed snow-covered mountain peaks of Arunachal and beyond.
Out here in the land of dawn-lit mountains, the trails have history written all over; some of which were perhaps used as pathways to Tibet by wizened Buddhist monks in search of Moksha, the paths walked by His Holiness the 6th Dalai Lama and others of his ilk as well as the effervescent Monpa tribals’ all-encompassing love and warmth to light up those frozen nights...
Let me quote His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, one of the world’s renowned spiritual leaders who was once quoted as:
There is a saying in Tibetan that tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful the experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.
Here in Arunachal Pradesh, hope is alive, active and adventurous.