Nanda Devi Biosphere gets Ecotourism Award

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Nanda Devi Campaign puts Uttarakhand back on the mapUttarakhand is basking in the recent glory achieved by the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. This mountain paradise named after the goddess, Nanda Devi, in district Chamoli has been named second runner-up in the destination category for the prestigious 2004 Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s Eco-tourism Awards.

The reputed American travel magazine, which has its headquarters in New York, presents the awards. The July issue of Condé Nast has published this year’s results.

Brook Wilkinson, Senior Assistant Editor told this correspondent, “This is the 10th anniversary of the Condé Nast Traveler Ecotourism Awards. This year we received nearly 100 applications for the awards to be made in three categories: tour operator, lodge/resort, and destination. The judges scored each finalist in three categories – nature preservation, local contribution and guest education, on a scale of 1 to 100.”

“Nanda Devi was the second runner-up for the destination category, receiving scores of 78 for nature preservation, 81 for local contribution, and 70 for guest education,” Brook added. A panel of judges representing ecotourism and general tourism markets evaluated each entry in a rigorous process lauded by ecotourism experts for its transparency and environmental standards.

Incidentally, Keith Bosak of the University of Georgia (USA) had submitted the nomination on behalf of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve for the coveted award. This outstanding recognition comes at a time when big tour operators in association with the state and central government are revving up to promote Nanda Devi in the Uttarakhand Himalayas as a premier eco-tourism destination.

However, it is the shoestring grassroots effort conducted by the “Nanda Devi Campaign” that is drawing international attention for its commitment to linking local economic empowerment and community-based conservation. Uttarakhand based Sunil Kainthola and Rajiv Rawat from Canada are providing a helping hand to the local community in remote Lata and other neighboring villages of Nanda Devi in voicing their concerns.

Rajiv’s comprehensive website,, is dedicated to the ongoing struggle of the local people. Criticizing the model of eco-tourism being promoted by the State Government, Sunil Kainthola of the ‘Alliance for Development’, says, “Being a world heritage site, Nanda Devi has international significance. The Condé Nast award is an international endorsement of the efforts of the Bhotiya community in the conservation of the bio-cultural diversity of their pristine area.”

“The Panchayats must manage eco-tourism with the involvement of community and by no means should it become the exclusive preserve of the forest department, whose ‘Jungle Raj’ tends to subjugate and subvert the constitutionally elected Panchayati Raj institutions.”

The Alliance for Development is an NGO that has been involved in promoting community based tourism in Nanda Devi for the last several years.

This award is international recognition for a community based effort that has succeeded in the absence of any positive role by the Uttarakhand Government to promote such tourism. While the villagers of the Nanda Devi region are much pleased with their achievement, Uttarakhand Tourism’s silence remains deafening.

— Raju Gusain, Hindustan Times (New Delhi Late City edition), July 5, 2004