Indulge Yourself in Ethnic Culinary Experience the next time you Visit Kaziranga National Park

Natundanga: A culinary tourist destination near Kaziranga National Park

Nehal Jain | January 12, 2018 19:18 hrs

(Natundanga Village in Nagaon district of Assam)

A first-of-its-kind ‘Ethnic Culinary Tourism Enterprise’ has been set up on the fringes of Kaziranga National Park to add the flavour of authentic ethnic cuisine amidst the wildlife experience.

Visitors of Kaziranga National Park can now indulge in ethnic culinary experience amidst the peaceful surroundings of a Karbi village where they can savour the taste of authentic dishes like Dry Fish Powder (Hukoti), Dry Fish (Oakreng), Pha-ok Pen Hanserong (Pork cooked in roselle leaves), Pha-ok Pen Kimung (Pork cooked in bamboo tubes) and Go-ok Pen Kemung (Chicken cooked in bamboo tubes).

What is interesting about traditional Karbi food is that they’re prepared without oil and spices – sesame seed powder replaces oil and naturally grown herbs like Lopong leaves are used instead of spices. The Karbi community is dependent on bamboo and that is reflected in their cooking.

The culinary tourism enterprise is a collaborative approach by World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-India, Kaziranga National Park and Eco-Development Committees in Natudanga, a Karbi village situated in Nagaon district of Assam. With the aim to perceive food as a means to make the villages self-sustainable, WWF organised an “Ethnic food and hospitality training programme” where the villagers were provided training to prepare their own food in a much more organised manner. They were taught to maintain hygiene, prepare menus keeping a consistency in the quantity served. They were also trained in providing service and hospitality to the guests.

The “Ethnic food and hospitality training programme” was designed by Mitali Gogoi Datta, a Guwahati-based food blogger and Assamese food expert. She first visited the village in November to taste the food and know the traditional culture of the village. She found that the food was bland and it would be very difficult to bring tourists to eat such plain food. But she did see potential for improvement. So she came back to Guwahati, researched about Karbi food, learnt to cook those dishes properly by taking cooking sessions from a city-based restaurateur who serves Karbi food and then went back to Natundanga to provide the village women the proper training.

“Local cuisine is often much sought after by tourists as it adds freshness and provides a wholesome experience to a traveller in a foreign land. Food is the best way to showcase one's culture and I believe that there is massive potential to promote ethnic culinary tourism in Natundanga,” said Mitali.

Natundanga is important from the conservation perspective as it lies in a crucial connectivity zone – the Amguri wildlife corridor that links Kaziranga with Bagser Reserve Forest, Nagaon, and also the adjoining forested areas of Karbi Anglong. Natundanga is one of the four identified corridors that connect Kaziranga to Karbi Anglong. It provides a second home to Kaziranga’s wildlife, especially during floods.

WWF recognized that the contribution of local communities is essential to attain a model of conservation in the area. It formed eco development committees (EDCs) to attain a model of conservation that is inclusive and successful.

Talking to G Plus about the initiative, Dr Pranab Bora, senior co-ordinator, WWF-India said, “The local communities that inhabit the fringes of the Park play a very big role in conservation. But, only if the villagers are economically stable, will they continue to protect the ecosystem. If the economic situation of a village isn’t good, they tend to destroy the natural ecosystem by causing harm to the wildlife and adapting to detrimental acts of poaching and deforestation as a source of earning.”

A group of 18 members of Natundanga EDC participated in the training programme. The first day of the event involved intensive training on preparation of commercially saleable Karbi food, with an emphasis on taste, presentation, hygiene and hospitality. On the second day, the EDC members themselves prepared the menu under Mitali Dutta's supervision, on the lines of the training received the previous day.

The officials from the Kaziranga National Park and district administration, Assam Tourism and members of the nearest EDCs were invited for the food tasting, as this was a good way to give the Natundanga enterprise some exposure, as well as a demo on how to conduct themselves around tourists. The government officials were highly impressed by the hospitality shown by the villagers. They said that the enterprise has massive potential provided it is publicised and marketed correctly.

Moreover, they saw a direct linkage between the success of the enterprise and the continued success of conservation as the financial stability of Natundanga EDC will go a long way in securing their support for conservation.

Mangal Teron, President of Natundunga EDC, and a man of few words exclaimed, “I’m very hopeful that WWF-India will continue to extend their support and guidance to further develop the culinary tourism in the village.”

The village had tried to take up a similar initiative back in 2010, but without proper guidance and support it had crashed. The then enterprise received no footfall from tourists and the spirit of the womenfolk broke. But this year they’re hopeful that the enterprise will be a success due to the guidance provided by WWF and the support shown by the district administration and Kaziranga National park authorities.

Moina Togbipi, a local Karbi woman, said, “Earlier, we didn’t know about preparing menus and we weren’t really confident about preparing Karbi food for tourists. However, now we feel confident and proud of our food. We’re eager to prepare ethnic food for tourists who come to visit Kaziranga.”

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