Promoting traditional tourism

The thatched roof of traditional Garo houses is the nesting place of a small bird locally called do.patchi. But with concrete taking over bamboo and thatched structures, the birds have lost their natural habitat. “Now they are forced to build nests on trees,” said Darmen G Momin, who has named his traditional home stay Do.patchi.
“Besides preserving our tradition, I also want to protect these birds. We believe that it is a bad omen to harm the birds,” said the 35-year-old owner of the newly constructed home stay at Sasatgre.

Momin is among the enterprising youths from the region who are working hard to put Garo Hills on the tourism map of Meghalaya. For him, it is a mammoth task to promote tourism in the obscure village but Momin is determined to make a difference.
Sasatgre is around 32 km from Tura and lies on the way to Nokrek National Park. But poor road condition makes the journey strenuous. Momin’s home stay is a bamboo structure. Even the double bed is made of bamboo. The thatch grass roof, called pangsona in Garo, completes the indigenous look. Potted flowering plants near the door add colours to the rustic look of the accommodation.
“The birds can nest in the thatch grass. Tourists can stay a night for Rs 1,200 and experience the traditional way of Garo life,” he said.
The small but comfortable verandah overlooks the ruby-green Aramella range. The chorus of whooping Hoolock Gibbons and the cooing of birds at intervals break the silence. The azure sky stoops to embrace the green forests covering the hills.

The home stay, made at a cost of over Rs 1 lakh, was built by Nelbison M Sangma, who is a friend of Momin. The owner stays in a similar house. “For now, I have constructed only one room with an attached toilet. I will expand it once I start earning from the home stay,” said the owner, adding that he is thankful to West Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner Ram Singh “for his encouragement and financial support”.
Momin could not study beyond matriculation but his nous for business is commendable. He has already identified the gaps in his work module and is working on plugging them.

“The biggest drawback is lack of promotion of the place. I have to start a website and upload details of the home stay along with photographs. Internet connectivity is a problem here. Also, I do not have a smart phone. Currently, my financial condition is a bit wobbly because of the expenditure on the home stay. Once I get some money, I will get a phone and start promoting the place,” he said.
There are other surprises for visitors besides the scenic beauty and experiencing a slice of the indigenous lifestyle.
Momin has interest in apiculture and makes honey, which he sells in glass bottles. “I want to package the product properly and sell them in the market in the future,” he pulled out a bag full of bottles containing the dark brown viscous liquid.

Sasatgre and the adjoining villages are famous for oranges and if one is interested to buy, Momin can get them from the villagers. Pointing at a half-constructed bamboo structure, he said he is planning to start an outlet for honey and oranges. “Villagers sell the fruits at a throwaway price to middlemen. I want to collect the oranges from them at an agreeable price so that their income improves too,” Momin elaborates on his plan to promote a complete traditional tourism package.
However, Momin is aware of the hurdles and wants the government to take note of his endeavour and Sasatgre’s potential to grow as a popular tourist destination. He is yet to approach the Tourism Department for support. “For years, tourists have overlooked Garo Hills because of law and order problems. Now that things have changed, all stakeholders should come together to create a conducive environment, like developing infrastructure, for the growth of Sasatgre in terms of tourism,” said Momin.

~ Nabamita Mitra

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