We, the Government
By HUGH & COLLEEN GANTZER
The Mussoorie Winter Festival, aka The Carnival, 2019 is over. We, in this little hill-station, are settling back to our quiet lives, welcoming the street-lights which brighten our forested roads in the 5 o’clock gloaming when the winter-line flares over the twinkling constellations of the Doon. We live in a really magical place and, for a few days, we tried to package and market it to our visitors from the restless, choking, disgruntled plains. Did the Festival enhance our tourism image? We asked that question to a large number of our fellow citizens. All of them gave clear answers. A few were happy to be quoted. Two hoteliers, at the opposite ends of Mussoorie, said that the occupancies of their hotels had shown a rise on the days of the festival. One claimed that the rise had been as much as 80%. The other asserted that, before the festival, tourists came only for the Christmas break. Now they booked in for all the six days of the Carnival. All the people we spoke to admitted that the Carnival Committee had learnt from its experiences. Judging from their attractive programme, only two events were scheduled to start after 4 p.m. Night events tend to get out of hand so the Committee, wisely, tried to bring down the curtain before dinner every day. Many traders admitted that there was a feeling of youthful enjoyment among visitors: “I saw them dancing, singing and enjoying themselves on the streets.” Clearly they were our ‘demographic dividend’. When people relax on a holiday they are not tight-fisted: particularly Indian tourists who are courted by the tourism industry world- wide! Significantly, however, no traders admitted that their businesses had prospered during the Carnival. An ‘Inspector Raj’ reaction?! Most people said that preparations for the festival should have started in October or November. They claimed that planning had begun only in the first week of December. In our experience, dedicated teams start working on international festivals at least a year in advance and put in a great deal of effort to enthuse local stake-holders to act as volunteers. We found a dangerous absence of such grass-roots commitment. In fact a common surly feedback we got from those who felt left out was “This festival was for the benefit of the rich and powerful and those who wanted to curry favour with the government officials. So, they excluded us!” We also get an undercurrent of resentment, never openly expressed, from some Landour folk. They, too, feel left out. This is regrettable. Mussoorie started in Landour and it has still retained much of the character of old Mussoorie. We don’t need to treat the Cantonment Board as beings apart, even though the attitude of some faujis is abrasive! Landour is a treasure trove waiting to be revealed. Some unusual suggestions were made by Shalabh Garg. His family has been part of our traders’ community for generations. Unafraid of backlash, Shalabh presents two radical solutions. Irked by the traffic jams which have marred our festival, Shalabh proposes that only State Transport and Garhwal Mandal buses be allowed into Mussoorie. He argues, with cold logic, that day trippers add to our environmental problems without making significant contributions to our welfare. He also proposes that guest houses without parking facilities should be banned. Finally, we feel vindicated by the growing success of Garhwali cuisine. Roadside food stalls were very popular, particularly the Savoy Hotel’s, presided over by Chef Prakash Negi. Also, Dwarika Semwal’s ‘Jaadi Sanasthan’ which sold packaged ingredients from Garhwali farms. We had first suggested promoting mountain fare decades ago when we had been commissioned to do Tourism Resource Surveys by, both, the GMVN and the KMVN. At that time, a Garhwali friend had asked “Who will eat Garhwali food?” Since Garhwal is known as Dev Bhoomi, the obvious answer to that is “Gods, Goddesses and Tourists.” The socio-economic potential of promoting a boutique cuisine, based on ingredients grown in fields under our high, ultra-violet, skies, watered by glacial ice- melt, and breathing unpolluted air, can have an irresistible appeal to beleaguered diners around the world. We could be looking at the next Gourmet Revolution! Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year!