Shillong, Aug. 27: Not for nothing do they call it the Scotland of the East. Meghalaya, the abode of clouds, was a popular draw for tourists, both domestic and foreign, last year.
The improvement in law and order scenario in Meghalaya, barring the Garo hills, was also responsible for the steady rise in tourist inflow to the state from 2007-2012.
According to statistics provided by the Meghalaya tourism department, the state received more than 6 lakh domestic and foreign tourists in 2012, with 6,80,254 domestic tourists and 5,313 foreign tourists setting foot in the state. Most of the domestic tourists were from Assam and West Bengal and a bulk of them came in April to escape from the heat in the plains.
However, the increase in the inflow of tourists in 2012 as compared to 2011 was marginal. Two years ago, the number of domestic tourists was recorded at 6,67,504 while the number of foreign tourists was 4,803. The same trend is being seen in the last five years where more domestic and foreign tourists came to visit the state. (See chart)
Though there are over 40 tourist spots officially identified across the state, East Khasi Hills district, in which Sohra (Cherrapunji) is located — once the wettest place on earth — still attracts the bulk of tourists, a government official said.
Overlooking the plains of Bangladesh, Sohra at 1,300m (4,290 feet) above sea level, offers a panoramic view of the hilly terrain, deep gorges and valleys and roaring waterfalls. Despite not having received the best of rainfall in recent times, “Brand Sohra” still carries weight among those who are in quest of the exotic amid the most ordinary locales.
Although there are miles to be covered, the tourism infrastructure is steadily developing with more home stays and guesthouses coming up in the state. Focus is also being given to rural tourism to enable guests to take pleasure in living in conjunction with different facets of nature. According to a government official, there are around 15 home stays and guesthouses in and around Sohra alone.
Recently, chief minister Mukul M. Sangma said the government has increased investment under the Tourism Mission and implemented several schemes, which include construction of tourist lodges, guesthouses, roadside amenities and restaurants to promote tourism.
The government is also promoting rural and village tourism to provide tourists with a personalised experience of the culture and lifestyle of the locals, Sangma said.
However, Meghalaya still has a long way to go to provide the best of comfort and service to tourists, though some of its facilities are world class.
The office of principal accountant general (Audit) of Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) is conducting a performance review on the impact of the Meghalaya government’s investment in promoting the tourism sector in the state. Responses, together with the findings emanating from the performance review, will seek to bring out a balance on the efficacy of the expenditure incurred by the state government out of the public purse to promote tourism.