Situated approximately 40 kilometers away from the state capital, Kohima, lies Dzüleke, a small village inhabited by about 30 households of the Angami Nagas. It derives its name from the river Dzüleke that disappears underground upon reaching the village and is sometimes known as the village with the most undisturbed nature. The village today is considered a classic example of “sustainability and ecotourism” when embraced at the local level. However, it was not always so.

Dzüleke ecotourism
A campsite in Dzüleke, a popular ecotourism site in Nagaland (Photo: @ dzuleke_/Instagram)

The role of Tata Trusts

Historically known as a hunting ground with tales of headhunters embellishing its past, the winds of change began to blow in 1999. Faced with dwindling wildlife populations, the village council took a momentous decision, unanimously banning hunting and tree felling in the nearby forests.

This pivotal move caught the attention of Tata Trusts, particularly the North East Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA), an associate organization of Tata Trusts.

According to Tata Trusts Horizon, in 2014, NEIDA intervened, transforming Dzüleke into a model of community-based ecotourism. The initiative aimed to harness the potential of tourism while preserving the region’s natural and cultural heritage. Since then, Dzüleke has emerged as a haven for nature enthusiasts, botanists, trekkers, picnickers and wildlife lovers.

According to Jairam Pai who wrote for Tata Trusts Horizon, the village council established the Dzüleke Eco-Tourism Board to capitalize on the growing tourism potential. NEIDA provided essential support, including training programs for locals in hospitality management, guiding, and other necessary skills.

According to Pai’s report, the ecotourism initiative kicked off with comprehensive training programs tailored for the local community. Agroup of young individuals and village elders went on educational trips, journeying to Yuksam in Sikkim to get insights from a parallel community-based ecotourism endeavor. Simultaneously, another group headed to the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam for guide training.

These training sessions, as per the report, weren’t limited to theoretical knowledge. The villagers were educated on how to establish homestays and the training included hospitality management, housekeeping, English classes, cooking, and workshops on sanitation and accounting.

Crucially, equity and equality lie at the heart of this initiative. Each participating family shares in the benefits of Dzüleke’s growth, ensuring the project’s long-term sustainability. Together with the community, NEIDA facilitated the establishment of the Dzüleke Development Fund, managed by the Eco-Tourism Board, wherein a tenth of all income from tourism-related activities goes into the fund, thus creating a sustainable model for community development.

The impact of these efforts has been palpable. As per the report, between 2015 and 2019, Dzüleke welcomed over 11,000 visitors, significantly bolstering the livelihoods of its residents. Income from homestays, trekking, camping, and guided tours exceeded 1 million by 2019, marking a substantial economic upturn. Additionally, NEIDA introduced agro-tourism initiatives, allowing tourists to engage in farming activities alongside local farmers, further enriching the tourism experience.

Despite the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dzüleke’s residents, supported by NEIDA, managed to renovate two tourist huts, build a treehouse and outdoor sheds, and create a new picnic area during the lockdown. Once at risk of losing its population, Dzüleke is now becoming a sought-after destination for nature lovers.

Mokokchung Times

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