We, the Government
By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
May is our visitors’ month. When summer lambastes our great riverine plains, people flee to the hills. Friends, acquaintances and barely remembered contacts drop in. That requires determination: our cottage is not on the beaten track to any popular site in our little town. In fact, there aren’t many heritage sites left in Mussoorie. Most of them have been gobbled up by the ‘developer’-babu-neta nexus and the few that remain are endangered by, so-called, ‘progress’.
But in spite of the self-serving obsession of the, so-called, monitoring bodies, there are still a few attractions that have remained beyond their reach: literally, hundreds of kilometres beyond their reach. Because of our unique location we have retained our enormous horizons over the vast Doon Valley from the south-east to the south-west, and to the distant, white-crystal peaks of the Eternal Snows from the north-east to the north-west. These Heritage Horizons are what brought British retirees to settle in our town in the first place. They are our most valuable tourism assets today.
Sadly, our so-called tourism professionals are blissfully ignorant of the fact that tourism is a highly specialised activity. It is the world’s largest industry dependent not only on the prevailing socio-economic conditions of tourist-generating countries but, more importantly, on the subtle pressures that influence holiday decisions. Pilgrim traffic is a good example. Traditionally, pilgrims realised that they might not be able to survive the rigors of their yatra. They performed their last rites before they left. In other words they accepted the trials of the pilgrimage as soul-cleansing austerities. How, then, do today’s heli-pilgrims justify their flights? Frankly, they don’t have to. They have taken advantage of a Creator-given facility which the Almighty did not provide to their predecessors!
As pilgrimages have evolved, so, too, have holidays. There are the low-budget, day-tripping visitors who are the bane of business-people in holiday resorts. They may be the netas’ vote-bank but they don’t serve the interests of the destination. The pollution they cause is greatly in excess of the amount they contribute to the economy. Far more valuable are our well-heeled visitors. They are trying to get away from the dominance of the small-screen: the desk-top and the cell-phone. Instinctively, their tired eyes want to reach out for the long view, the horizon-stretching vista.
Mussoorie has these in far greater measure than any other hill-station in India, possibly in the world. It sits on a spine offering a 360 degree span of vistas. This is what we must develop.
Taking a cue from Maharashtra’s Matheran, we should establish View Points. These should have coffee-table sized, weather-proofed, relief maps with side-mounted indices of identified highlights. If local entrepreneurs want to install a pay-and-view telescope, restricted to a specified arc, alongside every map, this would add to its attraction. There is room for many such View Points on the high slopes of Mussoorie. We also see the potential of marketing postcards, booklets and pamphlets giving the significance of the places shown on the telescopes. These would, immeasurably, increase the depth of the Mussoorie experience adding to its historical, cultural and mythological significance. Moreover, if these some of these sites are suitable to hold snack bars, run on strictly environmental-friendly lines, so much the better.
We must keep in mind that the prime objective of all these steps is to improve the economy of our little town. We do not need hit-and-run day trippers. We want long-staying visitors, who will patronise our hotels, restaurants and shops. Their disposable income will boost the economy of Mussoorie while respecting our fragile ecology, as well as the endangered existence of the villages of Garhwal surrounding us.
There is an encouraging tendency, among some of our business-people, to promote the uniqueness of the gentle Garhwali culture. If this catches on it will reverse the migration from the villages and lead to a very special positioning of Mussoorie among all the hill-stations of our nation. We have seen this happening in Kerala. But it cannot come from professional politicians who have a myopic five-year vision. It must be a people’s movement.
We believe that all this will be boosted when We, the Government, give an impetus to developing Mussoorie’s Heritage Horizons.