Appealing wildlife, lush greenery, holy shrines, green tea gardens, colourful cultural fiestas, rich history, fascinating culture…the North East: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, is a land that is remarkable for its diversity.
A much sought after travel destination, its tourism industry was one its major markets until it met a pandemic – Covid-19. The worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 had brought the world to a standstill and tourism has been the worst affected of all major economic sectors.
However, with the North Eastern states gradually opening its doors to tourism post the Covid-19 related lockdown, the rush is back on to the land of the seven sisters. And with Chief Minister of the state of Meghalaya Conrad Sangma announcing in a tweet that Meghalaya would be reopening its doors to tourism from December 21, travel enthusiasts are on cloud nine with many a travel buff expressing their interest.
Union Minister Amit Shah in September 2020 had launched ‘Destination North East-2020’ a four day-event showcasing the region’s rich heritage, diversity and tourism potential. “Northeast, rich in natural beauty, folk culture and art, is fully capable of becoming a major centre of world tourism,” he said.
Destination North East is a calendar event of the Ministry of Development of North East Region conceptualized with the purpose of taking the North East Region to other parts of the country.
Chief Minister Sangma had then said that although the tourism in the State had been badly hit by the pandemic, the Government had prepared a roadmap to revamp the tourism sector in the state.
In a tweet on Monday, Sangma said: “We are reopening Tourism in Meghalaya for tourists from outside the State from 21st Dec, 2020. To ensure the safety of everyone, registration through the @meghtourism app is mandatory and SOPs are put in place.”
The tourism department of Meghalaya has issued Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for all the tourists visiting Meghalaya from outside the state.
According to Arijit Purkayastha, Chapter Chairman, North East, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India, “Tour operators in our region have sacrificed our business. We were without business for the last eight months. In fact, it started with the protest against the Citizen Amendment Bill in December 2019. December is our peak season and we lost our business as a result. In March 2020, we had Covid. So compared to other places in India, North East’s tourism industry has suffered a huge blow. In spite of that, we the tour operators , are following the protocols. We are asking the tourists to be patient and not encourage mass tourism.” Tourists planning to visit Meghalaya will have to download and register on the Meghalaya Tourism App. They should also generate an E-invite for the proposed itinerary.
All visitors to the state must carry a Covid negative report which will be valid only if they were tested within 72 hours of their arrival at the entry point.
Those showing symptoms of the Coronavirus, will be tested at Entry Points at the Assam-Meghalaya border, as per the protocols of the Health and Family Welfare Department, even if they carry a Covid negative report.
According to Arijit, tourist entry to the State can only be through designated Entry Points. “The officials at the Entry Points will check your Covid report, your accommodation, itinerary, et al,” says Arijit, who adds that Meghalaya is gradually opening its hotels, restaurants and tourist destinations.
He says: “The North East does not want a repeat of what happened in Gujarat and Rajasthan in its land. Both the states had turned lackasadical during Diwali. For instance, the Statue of Unity saw around 4.9 lakh visitors during the festivity. This saw a rampant increase in Covid cases. In fact Gujarat now has a curfew at night,” says Arijit, who adds that the North East is looking at not “mass but quality tourism”.
While Assam’s and Tripura’s tourism operations are fully open, Arunachal Pradesh has certain restriction. In Arunchal Pradesh only those between ages 10 and 65 are allowed entry for travel.
Mizoram is yet to start service.
“We are not looking at group booking but at families. We are encouraging tourists to come in via tour operators. Our tour operators are either affiliated to the state government or are recognized by the government of India. They will adhere to Covid protocol unlike unregulated cab drivers,” says Arijit, adding that a reason why most of the North East reported a low number of Covid-19 cases when compared to the rest of the country, is due to its timely intervention in closing the borders to other states and its strict adherence to Covid guidelines.
According to Gayatri Baruah, Trustee of Root Bridge Foundation, travel in the country is slowly bouncing back. “Most of the people who are travelling now are youngsters and solo travellers. Many people are considering the North East as a safe place to travel due to a less number of Covid-19 cases,” says Gayatri, who runs Gibbon Backpackers Hostel in Guwahati, the gateway to North East India.