Thenmala, which means Honey Mountain, holds pride of place as the first planned eco-tourism destination in India. It is surrounded by dense evergreen forests, rich in timber and a thriving rubber plantation. The beautiful green hills of Thenmala, nestled in the midst of the Western Ghats, holds many surprises for a traveler. The biodiversity of the region is evident at Butterfly Safari Park, the Deer Rehabilitation Centre and Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary. For the adventurous soul, Thenmala has activities such as biking, rock climbing, hiking, abseiling and camping. On the other hand, the sprawling tea plantations at the nearby Ambanad Hills are ideal for a relaxing stopover.
Mawlynnong Village, Meghalaya
Best known as the cleanest village in Asia, Mawlynnong leads by example. The use of plastic has been banned here and so has smoked. Keeping the spirit of eco-friendliness alive, the streets are lined with bamboo dustbins and, unlike in most parts of India, there’s hardly every any litter to be found. What’s more, many of the guest houses are constructed of bamboo. Composting and nourishing tree plantations are also common practice in the village. The Living Roots Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see structure, is at the neighboring Riwai Village, which is a short hike from Mawlynnong. The Khasi tribes of Meghalaya created these natural bridges by weaving together the roots of ficus trees.
Parambikulam Tiger Reserve
Parambikulam Tiger Reserve is another eco-tourism destination in the southern state of Kerala. The environment here is fiercely defended and during jungle safaris, visitors aren’t allowed inside the heart of the tiger reserve in order to keep the wildlife protected. The community-based eco-tourism has been designed to provide livelihoods to indigenous communities living in the area. They are involved in making bamboo products, paper bags, locally sourced honey and other souvenirs from recycled plastic waste, which are all available at the eco-shop inside the reserve. The earnings from tourism initiatives go towards environmental education and research, as well as activities related to the protection of the forest.
Lahaul Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
Life can be hard in the cold mountain desert of Spiti Valley, where the craggy terrain and unforgiving climate (temperatures can dip to minus 30°C) provide very little means to sustain a livelihood. A few organizations such as Spiti Ecosphere are on a quest to preserve this vulnerable ecosystem by developing sustainable tourism in the region, which also helps in fuelling the local economy.
Whether trekking across the thrilling Pin Parvati Pass, biking through challenging Himalayan trails or having a spiritual experience in humble meditation centers, travelers are encouraged to have as little impact on Spiti Valley’s environment as possible.