Value in the wild

Making the most of its natural advantages, a small farming village has spread its wings to embrace eco-tourism

Dzüleke is a small farming village in Nagaland, about 40 km away from Kohima, the state capital. Home to only about 200 Angami Naga families, the village in Kohima district has transformed itself into a unique eco-tourism destination.

Dzüleke’s change in fortune dates back 20 years, when the local village council took the bold step of banning the hunting and trapping of wild animals in the nearby forests. As a result, the region soon became home to a wider variety of flora and fauna – birds, freshwater and snow trout, mithun (the local bison), bears, deer, monkeys and much more. The rich wildlife started to attract bird lovers, animal lovers, botanists and trekkers, as well as researchers and scientists.

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Initially the village found it difficult to cope with its new identity as a tourist site. The village council set up the Dzüleke Eco-Tourism Board (DETB) but this remained largely inactive.

In 2014, the North East Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA), an associate organisation of Tata Trusts, stepped in to help.

NEIDA’s aim was two-fold: ensuring the local community benefits from tourism while, at the same time, preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the region.

NEIDA decided to follow a structured process for capacity building, given that it was important to train the locals to handle the demands of tourism. The project started with a learning mission to Yuksam village in Sikkim, where a similar community-based eco-tourism project was being successfully implemented. Also, selected youngsters were sent to the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam to be trained as guides.

To cope with the influx of tourists, homeowners were given training in setting up homestays. The training included hospitality management, housekeeping, English classes, cooking, workshops on sanitation and basic accounting.

Equal benefits

One of NEIDA’s goals was to ensure that the project became self-sustaining. Care was taken to ensure that each participating family benefited equally from Dzüleke’s growth. Working with the community, NEIDA set up the Dzüleke Development Fund. A tenth of all income from tourism-related activities goes into this fund, thus creating a sustainable model for community development.

Eco-tourism has provided a new lease of life to this tiny community in the hills, which now plays host to visitors from around the world. In the last three years, it has had more than 800 tourists. Homestays, trekking, camping and the provision of guides have pulled in more than 1 million as income.

NEIDA is taking its intervention in Dzüleke a step further by introducing agro-tourism as a new initiative. Tourists can spend time working in the fields and harvesting their own vegetables alongside local farmers.

Once at risk of having its population migrating away from the village, Dzüleke is now charting its own path — as a destination for nature lovers.

Dzüleke has achieved a fine balance between the promotion of tourism and the preservation of its natural heritage