By HUGH AND Colleen Gantzer
Minister Satpal Maharaj has, reportedly, said that he would like to see more tunnels bored through our mountains, presumably to speed up Tourism Development. If this is correct, then he should revise his opinion. Here are some points he should consider.
- Tourism is not a wild dash from destination to destination. Particularly today after the choking confinement of Covid. Driving through tunnels is a suffocating experience which will give a negative image of our state. In fact we must change the old tagline of ‘Simply Heaven’ to HORIZONS UNLIMITED. This will indicate both the visual reach and the opportunities available in the tourism sector in Uttarakhand. But to concentrate our outreach on Pilgrim and Religious Tourism is to preach to the converted.
- Don’t forget, Mr Minister,that you have been elected to serve the people of Uttarakhand, not your High Command; not even the UK Sarkar. None of these have elected you. You have been elected by the common people of our state: the little roadside chai-walla, the widow who ekes out a living selling forest honey while trying to sooth the bee-stings on her face and arms, the boy who peddles roasted peanuts because he has three brothers and sisters, a weak mother and a drunkard father. Common people, Mr Minister, forgotten people but they are as much your responsibility as that resort owner who made a big donation to your party’s funds and is now smugly waiting for his returns. But, oddly, Mantriji, they are all your voters, or will become voters. If you look in the Dustbin of History, Mantriji, you will find many who ignored the Little People.
- Quite apart from making sure that the Tourist Rupee fertilises the grassroots of our state’s economy, please remember that no one can predict the next tourism hot-spot with certainty. It could be at the next bend in the road where a casual traveller spots a fabulous view. Or a spring gushing from the foot of a banj tree which cures a tourist’s chronic asthma. Or a village grocer whose wife weaves scarves of goat hair and hemp-fibre with patterns resembling Fairisle. These are hypothetical situations but you could encourage the SDMs to compete in suggesting ideas to be developed as Tourist Attractions and give wide publicity to the three most likely to succeed.
- Uttar Pradesh, we learn, is planning to develop a Film City. When we were invited to tour the Ramoji Film City we learnt that such places pride themselves in saying “Come with an idea, and the finances to support it, and leave with your film”. In a Film City, visitors can walk through sets ranging from Haunted Houses, typical villages, airports, Mughal Gardens: you name it, they have it. You can also be filmed in a mock movie sequence. It’s an amazing experience besides being a profitable tourism venture. Sequences from movies shot in our state should be an essential part of our tourism publicity, updated regularly.
- Our Tourism publicity is old-fashioned and ham-handed. We must find out what tourists from other states want. Set up Discover Uttarakhand centres in every state capital where anyone can download images of Uttarakhand free. If properly handled, this could also generate considerable advertising income without touching the aam admi.
- Finally, tunnels destroy the highest economic benefit of Tourism, its Multiplier Effect. A rupee stashed in a locker generates no economic activity. A rupee paid to a small tea-stall, swiftly passes through the rural economic chain generating wealth at every step. Here is a simple version of economic chain reaction of a rupee: dropped into a rural grass-roots economy. Traveller~ Teastall~Milkman~Herdsboy~ eduction~politics- a Neta. Globally, all across time, the Multiplier Effect has been one of the great assets of Tourism. Tunnels curb this and should be avoided.
These are just a few ideas which should fall well within the remit of our Tourism Ministry. We do not need to risk further disturbing the equilibrium of our young, earthquake-prone mountains which, like a growing child, are still rising and Unstable.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 firstperson articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)