We, the Citizens
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
RajPani stands for the Rajpur-Jharipani Nature-Heritage Trail.
It was the first road to link Rajpur to Mussoorie. This was the Bridle Path, the Mule-Horse-Trekking pagdandi, along which the British probably shepherded the Ranas, the hereditary Prime Ministers of Nepal, and their legendary myriad mule trains of gold, when they exiled them to Mussoorie. It was also, possibly, the ruggedly beautiful route on which the Brits escorted the Afghan Royals when they resettled them in a place in our town named after their fortress in Kabul: Bala Hissar. And since we are weaving veils of legends, let’s bring Kipling’s Kim up this wondrous road, and Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Poirot with his waxed moustache and his ‘little grey cells’ solving The Mysterious Affair at Styles which was, reputedly, a Mussoorie murder.
Tourists are lured by the marvels and mysteries as implied by Amitabh Kant’s marketing venture: Incredible India. You know what Incredible means!
So, to get back to the nitty-gritty of our post-Covid economic recovery, we need to tap into the public’s expectations. They have been locked in for many months. They want to spread their wings. They do not want to face the danger of being confined in small spaces like restaurants, tour coaches or even gondolas dangling on cables. They want to get back to wide open spaces, to have their cramped muscles stretched and tested, and to experience nature in a more intimate way than they have in their urban lives.
Our first campaign should, specifically, target the under-30s generation of double-income, no kids (earlier called DINKS). This restless segment is usually well-informed, wary of crowded situations because of Covid, and very eager to relate to nature because they have a shadowy sense of guilt that their generation brought on the Pandemic. They want to Return to, Recompense and Restore nature the way it was before the virus leapt into mankind because of our criminal insensitivity. They may not express it in so many words but those entrepreneurs who have cashed into this, often unspoken, need have profited.
An organisation called Eco Resorts, Odisha, seems to have invested heavily on tapping this Covid-generated urge.
Projecting the RajPani Trek, keeping this segment of tourists in mind, should reap rich dividends, fast. We must however, refrain from ‘developing’ this path. We have experienced trekking trails in Finland, Austria, Australia, Switzerland and the Lake District of England. None of them have, so called, ‘wayside facilities’. The trails are well marked, mapped, and covered by rescue teams, but there are no toilets.
Nature effectively recycles scattered biological waste from caterpillars to carnivores, but not the massed human waste collected in public loos. Who is going to ensure that toilets on trekking routes are cleaned every day with an adequate supply of water? Trekkers like fending for themselves. Unclean toilets, rank with dried ordure, will repel trekkers.
So will vehicular traffic.
We are told that a political family has a resort on this trail and wants to upgrade it to a motel. If the state uses the tax-payers’ money to convert this trekking trail into a vehicular track it will destroy the essential character of the trail.
But, if handled sensitively, the RajPani Trail will be unique.
It is the only trail that rises from the Teak and Sal lowlands to Oak and Conifer heights which can be experienced in an easy two hours of trekking. Roadside markers should point out interesting flora on the route, geological formations and views along with standing relief maps identifying significant highlights. The Nilgiris rule of inspecting all trekkers to prevent them from carrying any plastic, except reusable water bottles, and imposing heavy fines on defaulters, should be enforced. Guides should not be obligatory but should be encouraged as an additional environmental safeguard and to give employment to local people. A law should be passed to prevent entrepreneurs from selling goods or services on the trekking route; this should be enforced strictly.
We are very familiar with this invigorating Bridle Path. One of us has trekked up and down it, every week, for six months.
RajPani has the potential of being a perennial, growing, money-spinner for both Rajpur and Jharipani. Don’t spoil it by garish, tasteless, ‘development’.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour 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 is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)