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Facelift For Destination India

Facelift For Destination India

March 26, 2010

Despite its diversity and abundant heritage India needs a facelift to attract more tourists.

As someone who’s traveled around Europe frequently over the past few years, I have often been amazed by how well marketed tourism here is, how the most insignificant relic of the past is so beautifully romanticized and presented to evoke a sense of nostalgia for the traveler. The Manneken Pis in Brussels, Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam or Stonehenge in England for instance – who would have thought these rather unspectacular remnants of the past would one day attract millions of tourists from around the globe simply because of the stories behind them? Hats off to the gimmicks of marketing for the moolah that they are raking in today.

But it isn’t all gimmickry either. I hugely admire the effort that has gone into restoring and lovingly preserving the rich heritage and history this rather magnificent continent has on offer. Nowhere in the world is the past so ubiquitous and yet so seamless in its co-existence with the present. Every European city has a character of its own. Some like Rome and Prague are open museums, while others such as London continue to evolve, audaciously confident in their adoption of the modern yet so strongly protective of their past. Across the continent, town squares and sometimes entire cities have been restored post the bombings of the Second World War and this really is testimony to Europe’s dedication in nurturing its architectural glory, its rich traditions.

In India, though, as we brazenly embrace the ‘plan as you go’ model of development, our heritage is pretty much an apology for what could have been. Nowhere is there evidence of planning, of shaping or enhancing the character of a place where the sensitivities of our legacy are kept in mind while going ahead with development. The usual case is that of a glorious B.C. temple or colonial monument buried under the outline of a plethora of nondescript high rises and shining new shopping malls; forgotten and done with. Not one Indian city has managed to retain an individual character, an idiosyncrasy of its own.

The Taj Mahal, for instance, is almost like an antidote to the town of Agra with its open sewers, dusty roads and mind-umbing noise pollution. You really do wonder what inspired Shah Jahan to erect his labour of love in this grimy little place. Barring the few monuments remaining, if you are looking for any evidence of the moguls having ruled India, Agra successfully manages to erase every remaining trace of them. The same goes for most other places too – Jaipur, Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Hyderabad – places that have so much to offer architecturally but are so beyond repair today.

Surprising, though, that this should be the case given that year after year we have had a steady rise in the number of foreign tourists coming in to the country. At a time when our monuments and temples (far older and far more mysterious than many of their popular European counterparts) could have been leveraged to boost this trend, a mind-boggling 100,000 of them lie in a serious state of dereliction. The government, instead of building the requisite paraphernalia around them, has left them rotting so that one fine day, they cease to exist altogether. Our annual GDP spend on tourism today is just 2.5%. Experts believe even if it is doubled, along with putting relevant marketing strategies in place, tourism could contribute to as much as 20% of our GDP, and only through these revenues could we protect what is left of our heritage.

Of course Western tourists, enamored as they are with India, might argue that the real character of the country lies in its chaos, its disrepair, its colour and its people; that trying to bring order would ruin the quintessentially Indian experience. Would it really? What do you think?


  • Taj Mahal India
    Taj Mahal India
    28.10.11 11:52 AM
    Despite its diversity and abundant heritage India needs a facelift to attract more tourists.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    30.03.10 12:50 PM
    I heartily second A Singh's last comment. A complete overhaul of Indian governmental systems is required before ANY lasting and consistent positive change can be effected, let alone in drawing more tourists to India.

    As it stands, I think 2.5% of India's GDP is plenty to be 'spending' on tourism. The bill for Incredible!ndia alone must be astronomical. Real life's a bit different, though - there's no Aamir Khan hanging around auto stands in Delhi rousing the rickshaw-wallahs into patriotic fervour and imploring them to treat every foreigner as their guest ( Jaya He!

    As Nikhil suggests in the article, however, the more wealthy tourist might certainly be put off by poor upkeep of national treasures and too many touts, but most people who come to India expect that. It's saddening, but for now a part of the experience to at least tolerate.
  • A Singh
    A Singh
    27.03.10 09:55 PM
    Lazy, I don't think it should come down to a choice between investing in heritage and eradicating poverty. As Nikhil states, further investment would equate to higher revenues thus boosting the government's coffers. Some undiscovered sites are near poor rural areas. Imagine the benefit to the most impoverished in terms of extra jobs and tourists contributing to the local economy.

    When I was in Srinagar last year I was disgusted to see the state of Dal Lake, once a draw to thousands of international tourists. There was rubbish everywhere and I whinged to my Indian cousin about how the government does not seem to care about its tourist industry. He turned to me laughing and then explained that the government gives J&K crores of Ruppes for the maintenance of the lake. "So where does all the money go?" I enquired. "Straight into the pockets of the politicians!" came the reply.

    So root out corruption to feed the poor, I say!
  • Lazy Pineapple
    Lazy Pineapple
    27.03.10 09:24 PM
    I agree to what you say about the west. I am currently living in UK and have visited many places here. They have definitely been maintained. The town where I live is called Lancaster and you can still see buildings as old as 1890 standing proudly in the market.

    But the fact remains that India is still not a rich country. We do not have enough money to eradicate poverty and so many people go hungry each day. It becomes a difficult choice in the end on where to spend the funds available.
  • A Singh
    A Singh
    26.03.10 04:14 PM
    It is a real shame that India does not protect its heritage, especially as it could earn much needed revenue from a boost in tourism in the process. But it does not need to be this way. I would recommend one standout example in India which should set the standard for all other heritage sites - Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. The whole tourist experience, complete with international standard audio tour, should give us hope that it can be done....if only there is the will!

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