As their boats remain anchored to the shore for months, livelihood of several boatmen in Dawki has been severely hit. The coronavirus pandemic has been a death warrant for the tourism industry in Meghalaya.
Sixteen months on, lives of people has drastically changed. Nothing is same anymore, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic loss of human lives worldwide and presents an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and the world of work.
It has dealt a heavy blow to the tourism sector in Meghalaya as not just the government, but people engaged in the sector, too, have been hit hard. The state had opened tourism for a brief period of time in December but with a surge in COVID-19 cases, Meghalaya Government banned entry of tourists.
Ever since the onset of the pandemic, boating for tourists, which has been one of the most important livelihood opportunities in some of these remote villages near Dawki in West Jaintia Hills district, have been hit.
Most of the youth in Umsyiem and upstream in village Kongwang in East Khasi Hills district, who ply their trade on the Umgnot river in Dawki, have their livelihood now hanging in uncertainity.
“With no tourists coming, we have no job opportunity now. Most of us are in our homes doing nothing. There are hardly any other job avenues," said Don K Mawshun, one of the boatmen in the area.
For some years now, the Umgnot River has been attracting tourists by the hordes because of its crystal clear waters. In some of the pictures circulated by the tourism department, the river bed can be seen and the boat seems to be riding on thin air.
Mawshun said that in Umsyiem village most of the youths have taken to boating and the business has been lucrative. “We conducted several trips in a day for the tourist on the Umgnot before the pandemic,” he added.
Each trip on the country-made cost Rs 800 for four persons for an hour’s ride. Apart from the pristine locations with surrounding hills, the other added attraction is that Bangladesh is just across the River.
He said many people also love the idea that they are riding on the international border. Across the border, in Bangladesh, the boat ride provides a glimpse of everyday life in that country.
There are two boating points in the area –Shnongpedeng-Umsyiem and the other is Dawki. Due to the booming tourism for the past four-five years and promotion by the tourism department several other youths from faraway villages like Darrang have also taken to boating.
However, with the outbreak of the pandemic, the tourism sector in the state is hit hard.
With Meghalaya reporting a weekly positivity of 14.05 per cent between June 28 to July 4, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan expressed concerns as he sent a letter to Meghalaya Chief Secretary MS Rao stating that eight out of eleven districts are reporting a positivity rate of more than 10 per cent.
In the letter he said, “Ri Bhoi is showing a staggering increase of 14.1 per cent in weekly new cases over (the) past four weeks."
Further he added, “The districts of East Garo Hills East Khasi Hills, North Garo Hills Ri Bhoi, West Garo Hills, West Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills have reported more than 100 new cases in the week ending 4th July 2021, with East Khasi Hills reporting 1176 cases."
With a high positivity rate and the case fatality rate at 1.67 percent, which is higher than most of the states in Northeast, Meghalaya still has to wait for a while to allow tourism.
Those people associated with the sector too have to wait a while.