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Goucher College

Publication Date

Spring 2016

Program Name

India: Sustainable Development and Social Change


The state of Sikkim in northeastern India is a place imbued with a sense of mystery. It is partially this spirit, as well as its pristine Himalayan landscapes and vibrant cultural diversity, that has established Sikkim as a major tourist destination in the region. In the Northern district of the state, the Dzongu reserve is inhabited by the indigenous Lepcha group, who hold the status of “Most Primitive Tribe”. Over the past decade, however, this primitive tribe has shown their strength in staging large-scale protests and hunger strikes in a movement against mega-hydropower development along the Teesta River. Employing their identity as indigenous environmentalists, the Lepcha have made a case for conserving their land and way of life from the modern forces of assimilation. The afterlife of this struggle has begun a conversation about what sustainable development can look like in a place like Dzongu. In this context, different stakeholders, including state-level NGOs and practitioners, as well as motivated local community members and organizations, have been developing various models of ecotourism. This study aims to understand the case of ecotourism development in Dzongu through exploring motivations, outcomes, and agency. Towards this end, I conducted personal interviews and participant observation among different stakeholders in Gangtok and Dzongu. My exploration seeks to find the meaning of ecotourism in the context of Sikkim, the motivation and goals for ecotourism development in Dzongu, the values informing these motivations, how ecotourism is currently operating to meet these goals, and the effects of ecotourism for the collective agency of its proponents in Dzongu. Ecotourism means different things to different stakeholders, and it is exactly these definitions in action that reveal the motivations, goals, and values behind them. The motivations I found were income generation, environmental and cultural conservation, and the sustainability of the anti-dam movement. Those models which promote the self-determination of the community create the most autonomy. Through this research, I intend to reveal a lay of the land which can spark questions for ecotourism practitioners and benefit future research.


Asian Studies | Community-Based Research | Environmental Studies | Family, Life Course, and Society | Organization Development | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change | Rural Sociology | Work, Economy and Organizations


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