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From the Highlands to the Islands

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By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

The Kumars are Mussoorie people as we are. They were born, educated, married and sent their children to Mussoorie schools where they had been educated. The Kumars decided to go on a holiday along with their three children, they chose to fly from our 2,000 meter elevation Himalayan Resort across the entire length of Peninsular India over, the deep blue waters of our Ocean to the surf–fringed islands of our Andamans. These islands have grown up from the submerged peaks of submarine Indian mountains on which colourful corals have established themselves, sediments from the Himalayas and the peninsular borne by our great rivers have been deposited and coconuts and other vegetation from the mainland have been swept out and struck root to create great green forests.

The British converted the principal island Port Blair into a Penal Colony and established the notorious cellular jail for political prisoners. Their Governor lived in a stately home in the now haunted Ross Island. The Kumars lived on Havelock Island during their holiday. This is their story woven around letters written to us by the five members of their family. They are fascinating because they bring out five different aspects of the tourist experience. We hope this will serve as an eye-opener to our state tourism authorities who seem to have a blinkered and very dangerous view of tourism.

Holidaying on a beachside is always what we want to do as we live in the mountains, said Nitin. We chose Andamans because of its quietness and lesser crowd. Secondly I wanted my children to explore new places. We could actually see so many different colours of the sea (which I was not able to see on most of the Indian beaches.]

The infrastructure is up to the mark. Cleanliness is impeccable. All categories of hotels are available in most of the islands. People are courteous and sweet. Overall I would rate it 10 on 10 (Nitin Gupta).

Nitin’s words bring out the force that drives most Indians: ASPIRATIONS. No nation in the world can match the aspirational drive of ourIndians. Every Indian parent wants his or her child to do better than they themselves have done. Next, new experiences are an essential part of such needs. A common Indian expression is “They have gone to the abroad’. If they have experienced unusual people, places and things it becomes a valuable aspirational achievement. Finally, high levels of hygiene and social politeness are always respected and valued.

Nitin’s wife POOJA has a different take on their Andaman experience. She is awed by the vast blue expanse of the ocean. She is also touched by the sight of a butterfly resting on a flower. That mysterious aesthetic sense that lies in most human beings plays a major role in the appreciation of a tourist attraction. The world’s greatest tourist attraction is the Taj Mahal while the story of the Emperor’s love for his wife touches most hearts, the undying affection evoked by the Taj Mahal lies in its perfect aesthetics. The towers perfectly balance its dome. It is difficult to explain what this balance means, but it is also difficult to deny that it exists.

The tourism promotion of our state shows a crass absence of any aesthetic sense. Our copper smiths, wood carvers and weavers have incorporated traditional motifs into their products. Why have they not interpreted the meaning of such designs? Our traditional festivals commemorate historic events. Why have these not highlighted the origin of these events? In all the highlands of the world bards link remote villages with tales of their legendary ancestors. Why has our Tourism Department not published such tales? And sold videos of them along with translations into the official languages of India. Pooja’s sensitivity to the aesthetics of her Andaman experience exposes the enormous gap that exists in the promotion of the tourism product of our own Highlands.

Pooja’s Andaman’s experience can best be summed up in a Japanese haiku style.

‘’He and I watched the rising moon afar sitting on a swing that touched the shore. And made the memories to be cherished forever and ever more..’’

Can anyone capture such memories when hurtling through a tunnel bored through a mountain or dangling from a ropeway, or even speeding down a mountain road carved in defiance of all safety regulations? The Kumars” elder daughter, SAAMRAGYI GUPTA went diving using a Self–Contained Under-water Breathing Apparatus accompanied by a professional diver. In addition, she writes: “The part I loved best about Andamans was its authenticity, how simple the people are, how much they are in love with their own homes, food and lifestyle.”

Tourism is, essentially, a people to people experience, not a high-speed technological encounter, and this was brought out by their second daughter, Manasvi Gupta of Class 9 Wynberg Allen School. She says: “my trip to the Andaman Islands was really an extraordinary one. It is different to the places I’ve been before. People really loved their homes that they found ways to prevent tourists from littering the sea. I’ve always loved the sea. I really felt at peace there because the islands are really connected to nature.’’

Reservation of the environment must be the main concern of tourism on an earth threatened by climate change.

Finally, there is the letter from the Kumars’ son Utkarsh Gupta of Class 3 Wynberg Allen School. He writes: “I went to the Cellular Jail to see the light and sound show, also went up to the 7th floor Light House and saw the endless sea and did the jet ski.’’ Here a young boy experiences history, physical activity and jet powered mobility in unforgettable tourism encounters. Tourism is education.

The collective experience of the Kumars, in the Andamans should inspire our Tourism Department to offer such a complete package. Tourism is a holistic experience not just a holy one! Can we replicate the Island’s offerings in our Highlands?

(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.) (The opinions and thoughts expressed here reflect only the authors’ views!).