Aquaring a reputation

SWKH park has tourism potential but more needs to be done

By Kynsai L Sangriang

Last October, Meghalaya got its first aqua park at Photjaud War in South West Khasi Hills. The aim of the project, as announced by Fisheries Minister Comingone Ymbon at the inaugural ceremony, is to give a fillip to tourism in the district, besides increasing fish production.
Two months on, the road looks longer than it was perceived. The park, which has been set up under the State Aquaculture Mission, includes a lake, a children’s playground and a display of aquariums, besides other blocks which are still under construction.
With the white and blue structures dotting the area, one can locate the park even from a distance. Standing on the long footbridge on the lake, a visitor can not only enjoy the reflection of the vast sky in the water but also the unique terrain surrounding it.
But members of the Kiewshaphrang NaRM-G (Natural Resource Management Group) that has been tasked with the upkeep of the park say it will take years before tourism at the site picks up.
The NaRM-G is promoted under the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the NERCoRMP (North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project). It is a village level inclusive and democratic planning and implementing body consisting of a male and a female from each household to look after the overall socio-economic development of the village with timely backward and forward linkages. It works hand in hand with the village authorities for overall development.
The NaRM-G is headed by Phedarson Shangdiar (president), who is a cleaner at Mawkyrwat market. Its secretary, Phriklyman Shangdiar, works in a furniture shop.


Before the aqua park was commissioned, it was the NaRM-G that bought the lake for fish production. “We did not think about any aqua park. We just wanted it for fish farming and bought it from Seng Kynthei Photjaud in 2008. It cost us Rs 60,000,” said Emasbok Shylla, assistant secretary of the group.
The group members later met the superintendent of fisheries in the district who informed them about the scheme and “we welcomed it with open arms because we also wanted to attract more tourists”, added 42-year-old Shylla, who is a teacher by profession.
While the SHG’s investment was only Rs 60,000, the state government, under the first phase of the mission, infused Rs 25 lakh to set up the park. But the fund proved inadequate to finish the project and the members could not give any cost estimation.
“I don’t know how much money or how many years it will take to complete this. It will take us many years to complete the project,” informed Khraw Shangdiar, a member of the group.
The members said they are planning to approach the government again for more fund.
The 15-year-old group from Photjaud War is currently focusing on the basic amenities and structures.
The park needs proper fencing to keep the lake and the surrounding area clean and protect the site from intruders. Hygienic toilets and washrooms are also the need of the hour “as almost all visitors have complaints about lack of these facilities”, said 36 year-old Shangdiar, who works in the BSNL office at Mawkyrwat.
There is a vast stretch of open space and the members want to utilise this for beautification by planting saplings of flowering plants and various trees.
“We also want to build a guest house so that we can attract more tourists. Many tourists who have visited the place from Shillong and Jaintia Hills have enquired about this,” Shylla said as he showed around the place. He added that these facilities are necessary to make the aqua park a popular destination.
The park has a one-storeyed building that houses several aquariums but much work is still left before it can be opened to the public. The NaRM-G gets ornamental fish from the nearby streams as well as from the Umngi river. “Here we only have kha-saw (chocolate mahseer) and kha-pyllon (common carp),” said Shangdiar pointing at an aquarium.
The members informed that keeping the place clean is a mammoth task because in absence of fencing or wall, people enter from all directions. Four-legged visitors like goats and cows are also common and the members fear that the animals may destroy the plants. “So to be sustainable, we need to have a proper plan and be able to deliver what tourists expect,” the duo said in unison.
Shylla said in order to raise the financial stability of NaRM-G, the members have leased out the park after a proper tendering process. Twing Shangdiar, the acting headman of Photjaud War, and Hillaris Shylla, a local, have got the contract to maintain the park for two years. In return, nominal entry fees of Rs 10 for adults and Rs 5 for children are being charged.
The new keepers of the park told Sunday Shillong that footfall at the park is increasing by the day and December recorded an impressive number of visitors.
But still a long way has to be traversed before the project holds water and tourism potential is fully utilised.
According to Shylla, with tourism growth, employment opportunities in the district will also increase. “Take the examples of Sohra and Mawlynnong; even running a shop in those areas is a big business. Our district has the potential as there are many beautiful places. The only thing is that we need proper infrastructure,” he added.

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