Not a day passes without reports emerging from Uttarakhand of preventable fatal accidents involving tourists, in particular. Be it unskilled drivers from the plains going off hill roads, or young persons with promising futures being swept away while bathing in the rivers.
How can these be prevented? The solution lies in every local playing the role of voluntary tourism officer, lifeguard and guide in a proactive manner. Indeed, it should be mentioned in tourism advertisements issued by the government that tourists ought to try and be accompanied by or move under the advice of locals. They already do advise visitors to utilise the services of drivers with hill experience. Those driving their own vehicles should be provided booklets by the police and a few verbal tips on the basics of hill driving and the courtesies involved. One does find signage in this regard on the hill roads, but these should be improved further and be more specific. Dhaba and hotel workers should proactively provide information about local conditions as well as the do’s and don’ts when entering forests, bathing in rivers, etc. Even simple advice about not eating a peach plucked straight from the tree without removing the fuzz on the skin could save a tourist a lot of discomfort!
Locals are usually the first at the site of an accident or disaster. As such, as part of the state’s disaster management plan, groups of youngsters in every area should be provided training in anticipating, preventing and responding to accidents and disasters. They should also be provided the necessary equipment.
Government and legislators need to realise that loss of lives does not just involve human tragedy; it represents a major economic loss to society. Essentially, the bill has to be picked up by the system. Much has already been written about the world’s highest percentage of road fatalities in the country and the loss it represents. What needs to be emphasised is that with a bit of good sense all around, these can be considerably reduced.
In some countries, truck drivers are connected with each other by CB (Citizens Band) Radio and advise each other about road and other conditions, even ask for help when needed. Drivers of commercial vehicles, in particular, listen to FM Radio. As such, they can be issued advisories about local weather conditions, landslides and other problems over FM. Of course, the role of the police in regulating traffic and discouraging bad driving remains primary, particularly by preventing overloading of the public transport vehicles plying in the state.
Basically, it is much better if good news emanates from Uttarakhand if money is to be made from Tourism. Although the number of domestic travelers continues to explode, there is a point beyond which bad news will deter the better quality of tourist from visiting.
Even more distressing is that mishaps and negative experiences are affecting those visiting the more accessible of Uttarakhand’s destinations, like Mussoorie and Nainital. These and other hill destinations are becoming the favourite destinations of the high-earning and high-spending young persons of the NCR wishing to get away for the weekend. It must be remembered, however, that international destinations are just as accessible to them and only involve a little more spend. If they fail to get the bang for their buck here, it takes little for them to take a flight elsewhere. In the long term, that could turn into a trend extremely damaging to Uttarakhand Tourism.