Not far from the southern tip of India is Thenmala, the country’s first planned ecotourism destination. Ecotourism in India is rather varied, and emphasis changes based on region, but ecotourism in Thenmala is unique due to its planned nature. Developed by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) and managed by Thenmala Ecotourism Promotion Society, Thenmala, as an ecotourism destination, was developed holistically, so as to appeal to tourists, yet not compromise the unique biodiversity of the region.
Sustainable Tourism Management
Since Thenmala was developed as an ecotourism resort, appropriate sustainable tourism management strategies were developed and continue to be implemented so as to conserve and sustain this unique ecological destination.
The plan for Thenmala was that the Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary would function as the centre of ecotourism in Thenmala, and the periphery would host a variety of ecotourism activities designed to absorb the majority of ecotourists in ‘soft’ ecotourism. These activities include culture, leisure, and adventure experiences, such as nature trails, mountain biking, sculpture garden, musical dancing fountain, and an amphitheatre.
There is an interpretation centre in Thenmala, which includes information and programs on environmental education. No permanent structures have been constructed in the forest, and accommodation has been developed well outside the forest and sanctuary, managed by private enterprises. The ecotourism products within the Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary are intended to be supply driven, thus sustaining the product and avoiding negative impacts of mass tourism.
Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary
Renowned for its rich biodiversity and eight divergent types of lush forests, the region in which sits the Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the oldest river valley settlements in all of India. The sanctuary is the primary focus of ecotourism in Thenmala, however visitors have only limited access to some areas of the sanctuary, including pedal boating on the Ottakkal Reservoir, and trekking in the designated tourism zone.
The three most popular ecotourism trails in the sanctuary are the Kallar trail, the Kuttilappara-Choodal birdwatching trail, and the Dharbhakulam trail, all of which will give ecotourists exposure to the exceptional array of flora and fauna in the sanctuary. There are over 950 species of flowering plants, and almost 250 species of birds can be found in Shenduruney.
Culture, Leisure, Adventure
In order to manage demand, the culture, leisure, and adventure experiences surrounding the sanctuary are promoted to ecotourists. These are designed to be the primary experiences, and ones that are always accessible, as opposed to the supply-driven sanctuary, which can only host tourists when deemed environmentally sustainable.
Within the culture zone, visitors can better understand local cultures from the Kerala region, including food, art, dance, and music, enchantingly exhibited by the musical dancing fountain. The leisure zone includes a fascinating and poignant sculpture garden, representing man’s relationship with nature. Perhaps most excitingly, the adventure zone features an elevated canopy walkway, allowing visitors to experience the flora and fauna from the treetops. Other adventure activities include mountain biking, river crossing, rock climbing, and nature trails.
Ecotourism in Thenmala, India
Ecotourism in Thenmala is afforded by a unique cooperative effort by the regional government, private enterprises, and the local community. This is a model for a functional ecotourism destination, and is one of the reasons for the success of Thenmala. The government provides the framework and support within which the local community and private sector work together on accommodation, transportation, product management, and benefits to the local culture and economy.
While the ecotourism project of Thenmala is acknowledged to be a learning experience, it has also proven that this model of ecotourism development is a feasible option for other destinations eager to pursue sustainable tourism development.
Photo Credit: Intruder