Tourism, waste, and conservation initiatives, Sikkim, India

Tourism has been growing steadily in Sikkim such that the negative impacts are becoming increasingly obvious. Yuksam villagers started a community based ecotourism initiative for biodiversity conservation, home stays, waste management and more.


The Khanchendzonga landscape,comprising the Himalayas of Sikkim and Darjeeling together with the adjacent neighboring areas of eastern Nepal and western Bhutan, has been a major tourist attraction due to its exceptionally high biodiversity, coupled with the existence of nine major ethnic communities living within the landscape. Livestock rearing and cardamom farming in the sub-tropical belt have been the main livelihoods for the indigenous communities living. (Maharana et al, 2000). Every year almost 8000 mountaineers, hikers, trekkers and nature lovers visit the Khanchendzonga National Park and the surrounding region. Most commonly accessed village Yuksam ( in West Sikkim) is a primary tourist attraction due to the Yuksam Dzongri-Goechala trek, which traverses through the KNP pastoral trails through forests and alpine pastures leading to the snow peaked mountain passes.

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Basic Data
NameTourism, waste, and conservation initiatives, Sikkim, India
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Tourism Recreation
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Deforestation
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Specific CommoditiesDomestic municipal waste
Tourism services
Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsDue to around 8000 tourists visiting KNP annually, the collection of waste from trekking tracks is around 800 kgs a year. Private trekking groups do not follow sustainable practises which leads to deforestation, waste pollution and disruption of biodiversity in the region. Economic benefits gathered through tourism go to the private organisations, while the villagers lose their employment opportunities leading to economic marginalisation.
Project Area (in hectares)84950
Level of Investment (in USD)Not possible to calculate
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected PopulationAround 2000 and more (depending on tourists and other visitors)
Start Date01/01/1990
Company Names or State EnterprisesPrivate Trekking Groups
Relevant government actorsForest Department
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersKCC, Gram Sabha (village assembly)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Youth from the villages
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Creation of KCC and other such groups
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Potential: Air pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Potential: Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Development of AlternativesKCC is currently involved in numerous activities centered around livelihood generation and sustainable ecotourism, such as:

- Village homestays

With the aim of encouraging sustainable tourism facilities and creating opportunities for the villagers to earn economic benefits, KCC started promoting Village Homestays. Along with offering services which are efficient and environmental friendly services such as fuel-efficient cooking and heating, and hygienic indigenous composting toilets (Chettri et al, 2008), the homestay practice also encourages cultural and environmental conservation by providing an opportunity to strengthen the local culture and tradition in terms of hospitality, use of decor, cuisine, and buildings (Chettri et al, 2008) and enables cultural exchange between the villagers and the outsiders.

As of 2017, KCC has helped train around 400 homestay operators by selecting lower income family members who can benefit from additional income and women for whom financial empowerment would be valuable. KCC handles all of the marketing and booking requirements and also provides a range of hospitality-based training for homestay owners. For example, homestay owners are given the opportunity to participate in cooking, housekeeping and financial management training.

An important contribution of KCC’s work has been the establishment of a minimum room tariff for homestays. This emerged from fears of potential exploitation of homestay owners who were arm-twisted into lowering their room tariffs to unsustainable levels. This occurred more so because of competition from large hotels and resorts. Through KCC’s facilitation, all homestay owners now request a nightly tariff of Rs 2500.

- Zero Waste Trekking

KCC formed a participatory monitoring programme of the trekking trail inside KNP and in the surrounding areas. KCC identified and invited key local people and national park staff from the village for a general consultation meeting. The goals of the monitoring process were discussed and with consultation of the village member’s consensus was arrived at about participating in the proposed programme. Consultation and assistance from external agencies such as the Forest department and Sikkim tourism department were sought to make an effective work plan that would address the issues of monitoring tourism activities and conservation impacts. Having set their targets, several meetings were conducted in the village to make local people and those involved in tourism enterprises aware as to why such an initiative was important and how local people could participate and contribute.

Objectives of the monitoring programme:

1. Monitoring the status of waste, condition of trekking trails and campsite facilities over the trekking routes

2. Monitoring the prohibition of use of firewood and other forest products by trekkers, trek operators and their support staff

3. Involve tourists, trekkers and local tourism operators in the monitoring process

Annually, the monitoring programs helps in collection of around 800 kg of waste from the trekking trails and the forests. KCC now operates a functional Waste Segregation Centre and has worked with the Forest Department to create a system by which trekking operators have to declare non bio-degradable waste products through that are being carried through a checklist and upon return account for these products. Defaulters are fined a hefty sum of Rs.5000 if they fail to account for waste that was not brought back.

Waste material like noodle packets, tetra packs, plastic etc. are recycled to make fashionable handbags, pillows, notebooks and so on that tourists can buy when the visit the KCC office. Yuksam was the first village in Sikkim to ban the use of plastic (both bags and bottles) in 1996 and the Government of Sikkim has since implemented this throughout the state. KCC also implemented and encouraged trekking companies to adopt a prohibition on the use of firewood during treks. Currently, all trekking groups are required to carry kerosene stoves (also monitored pre and post trek).

Connected to low-impact trekking trails is the introduction and widespread use of dzos instead of yaks, which is a move that KCC strongly encouraged in the 1990s. This came out of numerous surveys that showed the adverse grazing impacts of yaks as compared to dzos (a hybrid between yaks and domestic cows).

- Ecotourism Service Providers Association of Yuksam (ESPAY)

ESPAY (Ecotourism Service Providers Association of Yuksam) is an association that KCC initiated in 2004 to provide capacity building to trekking guides, dzo and yak owners, porters and other ecotourism-related professionals in Yuksom. As of 2017, KCC has trained more than 100 cooks through various training programs, around 250 naturalists guides, around 1000 porters and pack animal operators. ESPAY currently has 250 members has a range of different activities including: (a) lobbying at the state level for minimum living wages for porters and (b) community compensation scheme for loss of dzos due to trekking accidents and natural causes; and (c) provision of vaccinations and veterinary support for livestock

- Environmental Education Activities

The KCC office is also an environmental education centre that tourists are encouraged to visit to learn about KNP and low-impact tourism. In 2005-6, KCC trained around 100 teachers on Environmental Education. From information about the wildlife that trekkers can encounter on trails to recycled trekking waste, the KCC centre remains accessible for all visitors to the area. However, given that visiting the Centre isn’t mandatory for trekkers, bringing in all visitors continues to be a challenge
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Challenges remain:

Key challenge concerning urbanisation and sustainable development has been to come to village-level agreements. While KCC has been able to achieve a lot by engaging with individual homestay owners or dzo owners, bringing the village together to discuss issues continues to be a challenge. For example, trekking by itself is now zero-waste. However, commercial development in Yuksam town itself in the form of large hotels and allied facilities is not regularized. The Gram Sabha had at one point agreed to restrict infrastructure development to buildings of three floors only. However, it has been difficult to enforce this without a formal Gram Sabha resolution. Finally, with regards to the Waste Segregation Centre, while all trekking-related waste is being collected at a designated Centre, it has been challenging to find ways to recycle all of this waste material. KCC has managed to create some recycled products from this waste but a large amount of waste material remains at the Centre with no clear channels for what happens next.

Enforcing and monitoring stringent trekking regulations has been challenging because of varying support from the Forest Department. Primarily, trekking occurs inside KNP and therefore, strictly enforcing regulations on collection of wildlife species and forest products and fuelwood use is still largely within the jurisdiction of the Departments’ core activities. While KCC can push the Department to carry out patrolling and monitoring activities, these decisions are beyond the scope of KCC’s influence.
Sources and Materials

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Report on visit to Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee, Yuksam West Sikkim, May 2015- By Kalzang Eden, ENVIS Ecotourism
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Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee - Blog
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Yuksom Home Stays
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Media Links

Kanchendzonga Conservation Committee- A Snapshot
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Other Documents

The Committee Source:
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KCC Source:
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KCC Activities Source:
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Other CommentsThe task of balancing the resource and conservation factors to maintain the tourism development sustained to ensure tourism related benefits to the villagers and simultaneously not damaging the local natural systems is a huge challenge. Perhaps the best way to understand the impact or involvement of an organisation like the KCC is to compare Yuksam (where KCC is most active) with other tourism hotspots in Sikkim. Villages in North Sikkim such as Lachen have little community mobilization around homestays, ecotourism service providers and monitoring of waste. Here is it well and truly evident that despite many challenges that remain, KCC’s involvement has been absolutely critical in ensuring an organized, balanced approach towards ecotourism.
Meta Information
ContributorRadhika Mulay, Kalpavriksh
Last update10/07/2017