Kochi, Feb 7: An eight-member team of Sikkimese youth is on a 101-day cross-country expedition to familiarise their compatriots with the tiny Himalayan State, its natural beauty and tourist destinations.
Talking to reporters here today during a four-day halt in Kerala, the team members said as they travelled further south from their State, they were often asked whether Sikkim was a part of India.
''It is with the primary purpose of telling the rest of the country about our State and its natural treasures that we decided to undertake this cross country expedition,'' team member Manoj Chettri said.
The team, which is a part of the voluntary Sikkim Tourism Cooperative Society, was flagged off from Jorethang in southern Sikkim by State Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling on January 14 this year.
In the 25-32 year age group, the team comprised qualified tourism administrators, travel operators, trekking guides and a professional photographer.
Travelling by two Taveras, the team aimed at covering 26 States and five Union territories before landing back in Sikkim on April 23.
''The budget earmarked for the expedition was about Rs 2.25 lakh, partly met by the State Government and private businessmen, the tourism cooperative, member Kishore Chettri said.
Stating that Sikkim offered a great relief from the scorching heat of the plains, Mr Kishore said the snow-clad mountains, including the highest mountain peak in the country, Mt.
Kanchenjunga, offered ample adventure tourism activities like trekking, white water rafting, mountain biking and camping.
The entire State was now open to domestic tourists while foreigners were barred from certain areas such as the Indo-China border at Nathu-La, he said.
Mr Kishore said Sikkim received 300,000 domestic and 20,000 foreign tourists during 2006-07.
Acknowledging Kerala as a pioneer in tourism business, team member Tashi Gyatso Bhutia said they had an opportunity to interact with the State tourism officials, including Tourism Director Sanjay Kaul, and pick up tips about tourism operations and management.
Having already driven through West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the team later left for Coimbatore on way to Bangalore.