Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) is the oldest protected area in Bhutan and shares a porous border with India's Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve. With an area of 1059 km2, the ecosystem in RMNP ranges from tropical to subtropical. Fifty-eight species of mammals, 430 species of birds, and 900 species of vascular plants have been recorded in the park to date. This includes some rare species like tigers (Panthera tigris), rhinos (Unicornis) and Asiatic elephants (Elephas maximus) and golden langur (Trachypithe-cus poliocephalus) known to inhabit the park.Royal Manas National Park opens its doors to eco-tourism .
For a long time, the park remained isolated due to security issues. In was only in the early 2000s that the park began to recover and focus on conservation. As a result, very little is known about the park to the outside world.
With the aim to enhance and build sustainable tourism opportunities in the park, the first ever eco-tourism project was initiated in October 2010 with financial and technical assistance from WWF UK. Since this project was the first of its kind, basic infrastructure was required.
The first five eco-camps are currently being constructed in Gomphu range office, Pantang Geog (block) center, Panbang, Norbugang and Shilingtoe villages. Each campsite was chosen carefully, keeping in mind distance from other camps and their strategic location. While some campsites overlook the picturesque view of the Mangdechhu, others capture the scenic beauty of the surrounding villages and the luscious forests below. The camps are being built either on government leased property or on secured community land. The construction of all the five campsites is in full swing and expected to be complete soon.
The project has also stressed using mostly locally available materials like wood, bamboo, etc. to reduce cost and maintain the traditional appearance and feel. Each campsite will have 3-4 rooms, kitchen cum dining, and bathroom facilities. The visitors also have the option of camping outdoors.
Alongside the construction of the campsites, several local school dropouts have been identified as guides and trained to follow professional guiding guidelines. Cooks have also been trained according to professional cooking and serving standards.
This eco-tourism initiative will not only help communities earn additional income from various services but will also seek to gain their cooperation towards environmental conservation activities planned for RMNP in the future. Many villagers anticipate that the project will generate new income thereby reducing their direct dependence on forest resources. Several villagers have also committed to support the project by providing visitors diverse recreational options like water sports, fishing, birding, wildlife viewing. The visitors may also gain cultural and everyday life experiences by participating in local tshechus (festivals), bamboo weaving, plucking oranges etc.
In terms of international cooperation, India’s Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve just had its World Heritage “in danger” status removed this past month and plans to carefully develop the wildlife sanctuary as an sustainable unique tourist destination. Together with Bhutan’s RMNP, the two parks can now work together to provide and promote more eco-tourism opportunities in the region.