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Comments on Minister Satpal Maharaj’s views



By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

The Garhwal Post of 5th Feb carried an interesting interview with our Minister of Tourism. It dealt, largely, with his views on Homestays in the state. And a few other related topics. We have lived in Homestays in Goa, Malaysia and New Zealand and believe that, if they are well run, they could greatly enhance the bonds of a very personalised relationship between the tourist and the host. But, if they are badly managed, then they could have a disastrous impact on the image of the host country.

Here are brief excerpts from the article, and our comments on them.

He declared Tiwadgaon Marod as a Tourist Village. We have lived in Tourist Villages in both Rajasthan and Bihar. The huts in them were specially built to accommodate tourists visiting great annual fairs. THEY WERE NOT OCCUPIED BY LOCAL PEOPLE WHEN THE FAIR WAS NOT IN OPERATION. Consequently, by calling our villages as Tourist Villages the wrong impression would be created. What, exactly, did our Minister mean by “declaring” a village as a Tourist Village?  Were the huts in them built specifically for tourists? Or were they the huts of village folk open to hosting visitors? Did a normal village qualify to be called a Tourist Village only if a specified number of local homes accepted tourists as residents? If so, what was the criterion to give a village the title of a Tourist Village? The Ankita Bhandari tragedy would have given a bad image to our state’s Home Stays. What steps have been taken by our Tourism Ministry to refurbish this fouled image?

He suggested that Uttarakhand’s Kandali Ka Saag and Mandua Roti be promoted in the same manner as Makke Ki Roti and Sarson Ka Saag are famous in Punjab. He further suggested that homestays and hotels in the state should serve Chausu,  Bari, Phanu, Pahadi Raitaas as well as western food. In principle these are excellent suggestions but they would require government intervention to carry out taste-acceptability trials for some years. For this the Minister must intervene to get our Catering Colleges and qualified chefs to conduct trials. We have made this suggestion in this column often. This would also call for innovative culinary experts to tweak flavours, cooking methods and presentation of the dishes as Celebrity TV Chef Gordon Ramsay has been doing around the world. Then we need expert marketing.  As we have said, very often, an increased demand for Highland products could cause a reverse migration to the Ghost Villages and enhanced border security.

We were surprised that the Minister was not asked any questions on the adverse impact of the Joshimath disaster. This is a clear case of cumulative and successive  negligence by many political parties from as far back as 1976. But even though our state inherited this calamity-in-the-making, that is no excuse for any neta or babu to be cleared of liability.  Reportedly, the Mahesh Chandra Mishra  Committe had suggested that heavy construction should be permitted after evaluating the ground situation. Who gave permission for multi-storey hotels to operate, cheek by jowl, in Joshimath’s endangered land? But now that the Joshimath issue has reached Jantar Mantar dimensions, we shall not dwell further on this civic blot in the present column.

Finally, the Minister’s babus should tell him that there is a vast difference between Tourism and Politics. Politicians are interested in Footfalls. Tourism, however, is an Economic Activity. Cash-flows are its measure of success. The more a tourist lingers in a place, the more he adds to that place’s economy. As working lives speed up with the digital revolution, the need to slow down our leisure activities increases. We need to unwind to survive. The slower we pace our off-work hours the more attention we can devote to our high-speed work. And the more we spend unwinding S-L-O-W-L-Y the more our tourist-spend will spread over a large area. Tourism has the largest Multiplier Effect. Since tunnels and cable cars isolate travellers from the terrain through, or over, which they pass, they limit the spread of the tourism rupee.

Wisely, the Minister refrained from mentioning these two Himalayan destabilising activities!

(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 first-person 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.)