Thenmala is a small village at the foothills of the Western Ghats in Kollam district and for the most part, a forest area with a lot of human communities at the edge. Thenmala Eco-tourism” is noted for being the first planned eco-tourism destination in India. The project was opened to the public in 1999. The famous Shenduruni Wildlife Sanctuary is the most important resource of Thenmala ecotourism project. The eco-tourism takes place in the sanctuary and only eco-tourists are encouraged for that. Others can experience the eco-friendly products such as small nature trails, elevated walkway through canopies, mountain biking etc. Thenmala ecotourism project has received the prestigious Pacific Asia Travel Association PATA gold award in 2003-04 and the National Tourism Awards for the most eco-friendly organization in 2001-02, and the best ecotourism practices in 2003-04. The World Tourism Organisation WTO has brought Thenmala ecotourism project in the publication “Sustainable Development of Ecotourism; a compilation of good practices in SMEs”.
1.1.1 Ecotourism Activities
Figure 6 2 Thenmala
In ecotourism, the principle of zoning is applied where each area comes under different zones. The tourists of all ages are kept entertained through various activities.
Figure 6 3 Zoning in Thenmala
Art forms and any kind of cultural activity can be conducted in the Amphitheatre situated here. Local forest products, homemade goods, handicrafts etc. are kept for sale in the Shop court. It is the local women from these areas who manage these. There is a musical dancing fountain with a rhythmic show of water.
• A nature trail takes the tourists for an adventurous trip through the hilly regions.
• Canopy walkway – There is an elevated path between the trees that help the tourists to explore the ecosystem and the hill ranges. Different types of aquatic plants can be found in the lotus pond. There is the mountain biking facility where we can find a 1 km long path for bike riding.
• Rock climbing – The rocks are arranged with ropes and pegs for the tourists to go for rock climbing.
• River crossing – The rivers have ropes tied across them so that the tourists can have an adventurous river crossing.
• Hill thrills – There are various other interesting experiences that can be enjoyed from here which includes valley crossing, boating etc.
• There are also spots at various places for the tourists to take rest.
There are pathways through which the tourists can walk to view various sites. There is riverfront that is made of wooden boards through which the tourists can take a walk to have a close look at the rivers. A sway bridge is built across the river which is not connected by any support and is hung from ropes. There is a sculpture garden that shows the relation between the humans and nature. There are also various spots for the tourists to take some rest. Trekking and bike riding can be done through the forests. Battery operated boats are provided for boating in the Shenduruney wildlife sanctuary.
Deer Rehabilitation Centre
The deers from the forest wander through these areas which gives the tourists an opportunity to make friends with the deers. This center also helps the tourists to understand the ecosystem well. The different species of deer seen in this area include spotted deer and sambar deer.
Some of the other attractions include trekking, bird watching, pilgrim tourism, environmental education center etc. The pilgrim centers that can be visited include the Ayyappa temples at Kulathupuzha, Aryankavu, and Achankovil. In Punalur there is a Hanging bridge which is on the route to Thenmala. There are two waterfalls namely the Manalar falls and the Kumbavurutty falls. Manalar falls can be seen only after the monsoon season.
1.1.2 Economic impact
The major economic benefit of Thenmala ecotourism is its ability to spawn revenue as well as employment. This economic potent is not limited to the geographic boundaries of the destination and it has been found that peripheral regions do benefit from this activity. The activities involve expenditure from part of the visitors, which could contribute significantly to the income and wealth of the local communities. Of the amount spent by every visitor within the destination, commissions to agents and guides and profits to the companies and the business establishment’s account for the largest share, which is followed by wages to staffs of these establishments and other related activities. The tourist statistics are shown below.
Table 6 1 Tourist Statistics
1.1.3 Ecological impact
In Thenmala, ecotourism activity is not only non-damaging and non-degrading but also contributes directly to the management of the protected area. In Thenmala the Shenduruni Wildlife Sanctuary is well maintained. The most famous attraction in Thenmala, the Elevated Walkway, which fly over the rocky areas through the canopy of large trees, is created without debasing the forest, i.e. without cutting a single tree. An alternative scenic beauty, the sculpture garden is located in the midst of the forest without any damages to the ecology. The natural trail, in Thenmala, is made with minimum intervention and is just adequate for the nature traveler to trail on. The battery operated boats, used in the lake, signifies the importance attached to the non-polluting source of energy. Thenmala ecotourism zones are identified as plastic free zones, minimizing the area of plastic by not allowing plastic products in the concerned area.
1.1.4 Social impact
There were about 500 households living in Thenmala EIA report. The major job opportunities of these people lie in the area of providing travel, accommodation, and guidance to the tourists. The Thenmala Eco-tourism Promotion Society TEPS, which is an institutional arrangement to undertake ecotourism activities, has already given training to local people in the area of Guiding. The areas of souvenir development, small shops, hotels, selling of local handicraft, local forest produces, performing local art forms, restaurants etc. are the other opportunities. There are certain small shops and cafeterias situated here which are owned by the government. The Kudumbashree (unit of village women) units of Thenmala Gram Panchayath recruits peoples to these shops with a minimum rate of investment and a fixed monthly rent plus electricity bill. The Eco Development Committees formed by the Forest Department consists of local communities for conducting the activity of tracking, bird watching, trails and conservation of the forest. The Thenmala Ecotourism Promotion society also supports the community participation initiatives at Palaruvi, a famous waterfall near Thenmala.