Unlocking the Potential of Transboundary Tourism in the Kanchenjunga Landscape

Trishna Singh Bhandari
Flora Hartmann/GIZ

The Kanchenjunga landscape of Nepal lies on the southern side of the Kanchenjunga mountain and shares a border with India. The Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung Corridor of Nepal forms a contiguous forest connected to the Singalila National Park in India and harbours an important corridor for Red Panda and other wildlife. An important transboundary landscape, the Kangchenjunga region also has rich floral diversity.  

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is supporting the RED Panda Network in this landscape by implementing “Synergies Between REDD+, Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods in the Kanchenjunga Landscape”. This is a collaborative effort between ICIMOD, the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, and the Red Panda Network to identify the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation as well as to pin point the barriers of carbon stock enhancement. The project is unique because it shows ways to conserve biodiversity and promote eco-tourism while simultaneously meeting REDD+ objectives for emission reduction or sink enhancement. 

View of Kanchenjunga on the way to Chitre Gumba from Megma Gumba. 
Photo: Flora Hartmann/GIZ

Tourism sites

Travelling beyond Ilam municipality towards the Indian border is a beautiful discovery. Notable sites include Antu Dada, a 2,328-metre high hill, which is a viewpoint to beautiful tea gardens, luscious forests and flatlands. There is also the pristine Mai Pokhari, which is surrounded by natural forests and is home to various species of flora and fauna, including rhododendron and musk deer. Also en route is Sandakpur, an area located at a height of more than 3,600 metres and known as “the Switzerland of the east”. It provides an an extravagant mountain viewpoint and lies right on the India-Nepal border. On the road to Sandakpur, approximately six hours’ drive from Ilam Bazar is Thumke, a serene local village. The beautiful Singha Devi community forest and temple are located here. Also in the vicinity are Megma Gumba and Chitre Gumba. As informed by the locals, these monasteries house rare collections of Buddha statues and there are meditation caves in the area. 

A mini stupa built to commemorate ancestors at Megma Gumba. 
Photo: Flora Hartmann/GIZ

Both the Megma and Chitre monasteries are closely connected to nature. The conservation of forests is linked directly with Buddha’s teachings and the Buddhist pathway. Many tourists from India visit these monasteries but there are very few tourists from Nepal. Pradeep Tamang, a local, says, “We get a lot of tourists from India, who usually make a pit-stop here for tea or food. Some even stay overnight. But not many people from Nepal are aware of this place, and this is due to lack of advertisement and networking.” Tamang said that new road built by the Indian government has made the monasteries more accessible. “There is huge scope of ecotourism in this area, and most people here are dependent on tourism. They run teas shops and homes stays to earn their living,” he added. Tamang also said his family has planted rhododendron trees in the area and that in the future, their village could become a popular destination. “Perhaps a botanical garden on top of a hill,” he said. He also mentioned that it would be good to have better management for the trekking route in Nepal.

Trekking route from Nepal to Sandakpur, Megma village, a popular stop-over among Indian tourists. 
Photo: Trishna Singh Bhandari/ICIMOD

The Kangchenjunga landscape is unique as its forests and mountains create the borderline between Eastern Nepal and North East India. This means that tourist destinations in the landscape are accessible from both India and Nepal.

Trekking road on the left (Nepal) and newly constructed road (India).
Photo: Flora Hartmann/GIZ

On the Nepali side of the border, visitors can trek through local villages like Thumke and luscious forests such as the Singha Devi Community Forest. The villagers of Thumke feel that this trekking route has not been explored much by tourists, which is quite surprising because the area is still untouched and provides beautiful viewpoints of the mountains and sunsets. It was also very strange to see that very few articles on this area can be found in media publications or websites. Currently, there are five family-run homestays in Thumke supported by the Red Panda Network and ICIMOD. The homestays use improved cook stoves supported by ICIMOD and can accommodate 15–20 people altogether. With beautiful views of luscious forests and grasslands, this small village has the potential to become a popular ecotourism destination.

The Neupane family in front of their lovely homestay supported by the Red Panda Network and ICIMOD.
Photo: Flora Hartmann/GIZ

Dil Bahadur Neupane, the owner of one of the homestays says, “We don’t get many Nepali tourists except for those who come from organizations. Also, the road from India is being constructed straight to Sandakpur, so people hardly use this route anymore. We believe that if people know about this route and the luscious forests that we have, the area will definitely be a popular tourist destination, and we will get the opportunity to showcase our hospitality and services.” 

Villages like Thumke, and places like Megma Gumba, Mai Pokhari, Sandakpur, Tumling, and Gorkhe have huge potential in terms of ecotourism. With proper guidance, training and advertisement, these places places can definitely be little havens amidst beautiful landscapes and diverse biodiversity. 

Way forward

Currently, local tourism entrepreneurs, the private sector, and conservation agencies like the Red Panda Network are lobbying for the establishment of a visa desk in the border town of Pashupatinagar, Nepal. This will enable smooth and free transboundary movement of tourists across the Kangchenjunga landscape. Once a visa desk is established, the area’s potential as a tourist destination can be fully explored to benefit local communities on both sides of the border. 

Vintage land rovers such as the 1956 model pictured above are stalwarts of the landscape.
Photo: Bhaskar Singh Karky/ICIMOD