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Requiem for a Lost Fall



By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Climate Change has robbed us of our blue, wood-smoke scented, nostalgia of Autumn.

The threatened deluge was reduced to such an indifferent drizzle that even the koi carp in our goldfish pond came to the surface, goggle-eyed, wondering what all the ripples were about. The monsoon clouds came, and hung on like unwanted guests lingering at the gates. The promised deluge over two days was just a feather-dusting of a drizzle. We have learnt to take the predictions of weather prophets cum grano salis with a pinch of salt. They mean well but like the promises of many netas, they should not be taken seriously.

So perhaps, behind the dark, muscle-flexing, threats of cumulous, reality still prevails. Possibly, there in the wide blue skies above the heavy moisture pilfered from the ocean, flocks of Wild Geese still fly. They have bred and brought up their next generation in the high rich wetlands and lakes of Ladakh and Tibet, and now following some ethereal signal, they have attuned their biological sensors to the magnetic network of the Globe, and have taken wing. They fly in a perfect formation designed to take advantage of each others’ slipstream, every rising thermal, every prevailing river of air circling high above our spinning globe. The reckoning of their relative positions in the formation is maintained by their honks and quacks so that the birds relieve each other to take the stresses of the long flight.

This is the annual miracle of animal mass migration. Nature is attuned to this movement of living creatures and it accounts for the sustained and welcoming green allure of Uttarakhand. But then, into this natural, seasonal cycle human greed intrudes.  That insatiable hunger led to the terrible tragedy of the death of Ankita. This revolting conclusion homed into us when we read a report in the public domain that said: ”There are now at  least eight resorts within a 200 metre radius.”

Are they really resorts, or should we coin a new word for them: SLEAZEORTS?  Are these an extension of the room-by-the-hour Special Services reputedly offered by rest-o-rants on the Dehra-Mussoorie highway? Our Tourism Minister has, rightly, come in, all guns blazing, to clean up this apparent mess, but can he do it? We don’t think so. Let us move away from “Resorts” to the simpler “Homestays”. A national daily says: The  Government of Uttarakhand launched  the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Homestay Scheme covering  a total of 4,060 residential units that have been registered so far in rural and urban areas. And about 12,000 people have directly or indirectly received employment opportunities.

It is just not humanly possible for one Ministry to keep a systematic check on the security, hygiene, catering and minimum comfort levels provided by every one of these Home Stays. And yet, if the Government has publicised these Home Stays then tourists have every right to expect such guarantees. But if a home owner wants to invite a friend as a guest, what right has the government to interfere. During the start of the Pandemic, we recall that vigilant citizens of Bhatta Gaon, on the Dehra-Mussoorie highway, reported the presence of out of-state guests being hosted by one of their neighbours. The Civic Authorities took charge of the guests and transferred them to an isolated facility. This responsibility of the local Municipal and Panchayat Authorities should become the rule thereby divesting the Tourism Ministry of a responsibility that it cannot fulfil.

We shall come to a viable definition of Homestay in a future column.

Finally, we have noticed a growing tendency among Netas of felling large numbers of trees in the excuse of shortening the time taken to get between destinations. This is a specious argument to cover their greed to pander to the timber lobby. Tourism is, essentially, a leisure activity. It is not rush-there-rush-back competition. In an age when the Pandemic and the digital intrusion have blurred the lines between Home and Office everyone needs to Getaway, Relax, Unwind.  Such Leisure Travel also increases rural development opportunities and spreads the enormous Multiplier Effect of the Tourism Rupee.

Take a loooooong, slooooooo break: you’ll love it. And Autumn might come again.

(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.)