Let’s make India truly Incredible!

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 15 Jun 2018 09:42:21


 

By Aasawari Shenolikar,


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puttu Angaa, a driver-cum-guide is indeed very proud of all the culture and heritage of Bali - the tiny picturesque island of Indonesia - offers to the millions of tourists that throng it for sea, sand and sunshine. Without a shade of doubt, the temples in Bali are spectacular; the UNESCO protected sites are worthy of their tag and the many adventurous activities, a must on every tourists’ itinerary.


Bali is exquisite and like most other destinations in the world that tourists make a beeline to, offers innumerable amenities to the visitors, making their stay as comfortable as possible. The roads are without potholes, even the roads that connect the remotest places in far-flung villages are well-maintained, each sight-seeing place is dotted with restaurants that offer hygienic and tasty food that one can partake in surroundings that are spick and span. The most basic facility - clean toilets is on top of the priority list. So a visitor is not put to any inconvenience at the spot. Many restrooms ask for a small fee to be paid - Rs 5 to Rs 10 but that is minuscule compared to a ‘clean experience,’ an experience that is not to be found in the vast peninsula - our very own India.


After travelling to places around the world, I can safely vouch for the fact that India has much more to offer to the tourists in terms of monuments, natural wonders, lofty mountains and lush meadows, valleys decked with flowers and a coastline to be envied. It can be a one-stop tourist destination, catering to tourists with varied interests.


In fact if one compares the Goa Gajah temple of Bali to the Ellora caves, the Kailash temple would win hands down in every respect- the size, the grandiose sculptures, the intricate carving and the sheer beauty of the imposing structures that make Ellora a must for every tourist who plants a foot in this country with the aim of enriching his travel experience through its rich heritage and culture. But Ellora, the stunningly beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world, will lose out on cleanliness, it will lose on not providing even the basic amenities for visitors, it will lose on the touts who harangue the tourists and try to fleece them, it will lose out on the dignity that one must associate with structures of such magnificence.


When we compare river tourism of any European nation with that of our incredible country, the small nations, with their narrow rivers win hands down. Why? Because they celebrate with great fervour what nature has endowed them with, they advertise it and project it in such a manner that a tourist is compelled to indulge in these activities.

‘A visit to Paris is incomplete without a cruise on river Seine’. And so tourists throng the banks, buy tickets by the bucketloads and take a cruise on the river, whose width, probably, is equivalent to swimming four lengths of an Olympic-size swimming pool. Now take a look at our rivers! Have we ever given a thought that our majestic rivers, some that flow across half the length of the country, are far more spectacular in terms of size, in terms of the beautiful terrain that they flow through, in terms of the cultural, economic, geographical and religious importance that they have in the life of Indians? Sadly, we have been unable to market all that the river tourism can offer to the tourists in terms of a peep into the historical, cultural, spiritual and traditional facets of our great country.


We have failed to cash in on all this. The dirty ghats, the polluted rivers do not augur for promotion of any kind of river tourism. The Sandhya Arti on the banks of river Ganges alone cannot be the sole reason to rope in the tourist - what he looks for is cleanliness too - and that is a word that doesn’t exist in our dictionaries.


Comparing the historic Fort Taiaroa in New Zealand with any of the imposing forts built by the Mughals like the Agra Fort or the Sinhgad constructed by the Marathas under the able leadership of the great warrior Chhatrapti Shivaji Maharaj, would be akin to a bad joke. But with all the additional infrastructural facilities provided by Fort Taiaroa, it makes the tourist hub a far enriching and enlightening experience.


In most places, every sight-seeing spot has outlets that give out free literature, they have mementoes and stuffed toys that you are compelled to pick for their sheer artistic value. Tourists are bereft of this experience in our country. Tiny nations thrive on tourism alone and they are able to do so because they know how to promote the product, they know how to market themselves aggressively. So what can we do to make Indian tourism, already a growing industry, an incredible experience, a place where people would like to return over and over again?

We, a nation, have everything that many countries collectively boast of vast stretches of deserts, dense forests, undulating rolling hills with tea gardens and rice paddies, raging rivers making them ideal for adventure sports, rivers with calm waters, suitable for cruising, backwaters, breath taking heritage monuments, majestic temples and forts, colourful festivals to attract the tourists. We are a kaleidoscope of rich culture. But we also have paan stains defiling the monuments, plastics and rubbish littering the forests and rivers, phlegm coated walkways, urine stained stinky corners and proclamations of undying love etched on heritage structures, - all tarnishing the image of India on the tourist map.


However, it is not always about infrastructural facilities. It is also about the people.
We have the manpower - after all we are one of the world’s most populated nations, but we lack the willpower and the desire to make tourism a welcome experience. In fact surveys conducted by various agencies have come up with results that are shocking. Tourists feel unsafe. News about lone female travellers being raped or murdered certainly does not bode well for tourism. And God forbid, if you are caught in a situation where you have to deal with the local administrative machinery, it can be a hair-raising experience. So would any one want to return to a country where a vacation turned out to be an abusive and unwelcome experience? Certainly not!


Another reason for the ailing tourism industry is ‘Indians are unfriendly’. While that may not hold true for all, the general perception is that tourists are harassed, and ripped off by just about everyone - the restaurant owner, the autowala, the street vendor et al. In most places (abroad), you can safely leave your backpack on the beach while you frolic in the water. This is unheard of in our country.


I remember an incident, when Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, while working with a travel agency way back in 1985, had gone to Japan - probably his first foreign trip. When he returned he told us stories about the honesty and integrity of the Japanese. ‘I forgot my bag at the station, and when I realised this, I panicked. But when I returned to the station, my bag was where I had left it. No one had walked away with it. Such a relief!’
Can we ever think of this being a part and parcel of the psyche of our denizens?


Can we work towards being a tourist friendly and hope that warnings from foreign embassies like ‘exercise caution when travelling in India even if you are travelling in a group,’ asking ‘female travellers to observe stringent security precautions’ and ‘avoid travelling alone in hired taxis, especially at night,’ where every tourist doesn’t have to be on his guard all the time, a thing of the past? Can we, like Puttu Angaa, take pride in showcasing a country rich in culture, heritage and hospitality?


Yes, we can, if each one of us takes a positive step towards it. Let’s work towards making India truly Incredible, and make Atithi Devo Bhavo a reality and not just a mere rhetorical statement.