Food festival showcases tourism potential of Meghalaya

The Indigenous Terra Madre festival brought together 640 delegates from all over the world, demonstrating the State’s tourism potential.

November 11, 2015 11:56 pm | Updated November 12, 2015 01:05 pm IST - SHILLONG:

“This is the way forward,” said Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, addressing a crowd estimated at 30,000 people at the sacred groves of Mawphlang. “We can make communities of the world gravitate to us because Meghalaya provides a great platform for people to connect.”

At the closing ceremony of the Indigenous Terra Madre, which concluded with the Mei-Ramew food festival on Saturday, celebrating cuisines and traditions of the region, Dr. Sangma spoke about how the festival, which brought together 640 delegates from all over the world, demonstrated the State’s potential as a tourist destination. “This event has helped us open our eyes,” he said. “It’s shown us that we can leverage our surroundings, our way of life, our stories. We can leverage our cultural heritage as a means to growth and prosperity. This can be a game changer for the years to come.” He then proposed holding a similar event in 2016, “hosting the various indigenous people of India.”

Later at his office, in an interview with The Hindu , he spoke about his plans to expand tourism in the State. “We are a biodiversity hot spot. We are the natural gene bank for citrus fruits.” [Meghalaya is considered home to one of the world’s first species of citrus fruits, the Citrus Indica, or wild orange, locally known as Memang Narang.] Discussing how he envisioned Meghalaya as a “high end destination — without too many footfalls” he talked of the important of hosting events that garner attention across the globe, “especially via social media.”

Shillong town, with its narrow roads, already congested with local traffic, and limited hotel rooms, however, is not ready for a large influx of tourists. “This is why the NH7 Weekender [a popular multi city music festival], which was a couple of weeks ago, was held away from city jurisdictions so we could penetrate the rural areas. It was the first edition of the festival in the north-eastern region,” said Dr. Sangma, adding “We do not want to put the cart before the horse. Right now we are getting locals motivated about tourism. The movie, Rock On 2 is being shot here… But at the same time, we know we need to look at infrastructure. We need to widen roads, and engage with the community. The city has to expand naturally, beyond its present boundaries.”

To attract investments, he said, “It is important for us to create a land bank. So we are looking at certain locations that are ideal to host high end hotels. We have already had some initial engagement with potential partners who are looking at properties around Barapani. They need better landscapes, and space for golf and various other amenities.”

He admits that there is some scepticism from the local community, given the challenges that a surge of tourists will pose to their existing infrastructure. “But I believe in being an optimist.” The State’s big advantage, he stated, is an ability to “push eco tourism.” He said “Our air is so good. Our fruits and vegetables are clean. Our honey is residue free. I am a medical professional and that is why I am articulating this: I see evolving into a space for health tourism. We are looking for “private partners who can provide upscale health facilities.”

Dr. Sangma said besides attracting investors, he was working on ways to retain the State’s young people, many of whom leave Meghalaya in search of better jobs. “We’re working on creating opportunities. When they are created, they will come back. Many have returned already.”

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