Tap latent tourist potential in South

The ‘Grand Canyon’ of India in Kadapa district can be created
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The ‘Grand Canyon’ of India in Kadapa district can be created

Highlights

While unveiling a 13-foot statue of Adi Guru Shankaracharya at his reconstructed samadhi at the Kedarnath Temple in Uttarakhand on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the third decade of the 21st Century would be the decade of Uttarakhand

While unveiling a 13-foot statue of Adi Guru Shankaracharya at his reconstructed samadhi at the Kedarnath Temple in Uttarakhand on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the third decade of the 21st Century would be the decade of Uttarakhand. He also inaugurated various development projects worth Rs 225 crore during the day. He exuded confidence with several development works at a great pace, the footfalls of tourists in next 10 years would exceed what the region had witnessed in last 100 years. He mentioned how a tourist circuit was being created with greater road connectivity to attract tourists from across the globe to Uttarakhand.

Well, both the Telugu States also have Shakthi Peeth and Jyotirlingas. In fact, temple tourism and Buddhist tourism can be developed on a large-scale and a southern circuit connecting Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal can be created. If a small State like Uttarakhand where tourism is the major revenue-earning sector can increase its tourist footfalls, why not the Southern States? In 2019, in the pre-Covid period, the arrivals in Uttarakhand were 37.58 million while foreign tourist arrivals crossed over 0.15 million making the Himalayan State the fastest-growing State in India, thanks to the massive capital investment and conducive industrial policy and generous tax benefits.

Unfortunately, in the two Telugu States, we keep lecturing about inclusive growth, investment-friendly State and want more and more industries to come and invest here. But beyond that the kind of focus that is needed is not there to develop other sectors which will not only earn good revenue but also create direct and indirect employment opportunities. Tourism development can be yet another factor that can attract more industries.

Tour operators too feel that they are unable to promote Telangana while the entire rush is either towards Gujarat, Rajasthan, Goa and the Himalayan region. In the two Telugu States, some tourism policy is shown on paper but no serious effort is being made to create necessary infrastructure towards creating a tourism circuit. Even budget allocations are meagre, not even sufficient to meet the salaries of the tourism department staff.

Not just temple tourism, there is a tremendous scope to develop beach tourism, spots tourism, river tourism etc., but the governments of the day are not focussing on these issues and are more embroiled in narrow politics and politicking.

The one and only major achievement of the Telangana government is the renovation of Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple in Yadadri. The renovation was taken up four years ago and the temple area has been expanded to 4.5 acres from just 2,500 square yards on the hillock. Construction of cottages in an area spread over 13 acres has already been completed and they will be ready for occupation by devotees at the time of the temple inauguration.

Similarly, bathing facilities, Pushkarini (bathing well), Vratha mandapam and other facilities are also ready. So far, about Rs 950 crore has been spent on the project. Of this, Rs 250-280 crore was spent on the renovation of the main temple atop the hill and the remaining on land acquisition, road works and setting up various facilities, Once it is inaugurated, it will certainly attract a large number of pilgrims and tourists and will be another Tirupati of Telangana.

Taking this as an example, the tourism sector in both the Telugu States should be accepted as a growth engine for inclusive economic growth. This requires concerted efforts. If the four State governments can sit together, identify the projects that can be part of tourist circuit and chalk out an action plan, the development of spiritual and religious theme-based circuits during the tenure of the governments of the day is not a difficult task. But the problem with the governments, particularly in the two Telugu States, is that they visualise being glued to power for decades, but do not work in tandem for overall development.

If Uttarakhand is a site for eco-tourism, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, too, can be places for eco-tourism where other themes may be added such as treks and hikes. Similarly, places of culinary interest or villages where communities maintain traditional lifestyles can be developed, which tourists may find interesting.

But, all this needs a large heart. Recognising the fact that if a circuit is created, all these States can be great revenue-earners, the respective governments need to offer a wide range of benefits in terms of interest incentives, financial assistance, subsidies, concessions, better road connectivity and development of domestic airports and rail routes. Unfortunately, we have seen that they are not willing even to reduce VAT on petrol and diesel by a few rupees. They, perhaps, feel the economy is so even a reduction of Rs 4 or 5 may lead to its collapse.

Tourism should be recognised as a major industry. From romantic couples to yoga lovers, adventure seekers and pilgrims, the two States have tremendous potential to attract tourists. If the tourism sector is given greater importance, it has other advantages as well. We can focus on developing unspoiled natural resources and educate people about the need for conservation of ecology.

We may not have snow-capped mountains, undulating meadows or dense forests like Uttarakhand, but we have enough exotic wildlife which can attract tourists. The potential of botanical gardens, bamboo shelters, promotion of Ayurveda, development of greenhouses for growing herbs and flowers for developing health tourism is vast. What is required is proper planning and political will. The village and even tribal culture can be showcased and promoted.

This will help in keeping the age-old culture alive and give a new dimension to the tourist sector. Similarly, we have a number of ancient monuments that include temples, caves, etc. All of them can be preserved and developed. Festivals can be promoted on a large scale. All that is required is less of politics and more of focussed governance.

Unfortunately, the interest the two Telugu States show in inviting industries is not shown in development of tourism. If that is done, it can be an added advantage to attract more industries as they look for leisure tourism. Industries are important but protecting ecology and nature and promotion of tourism is equally important. The Kutch area of Gujarat which was ravaged by earthquake is a money spinner today for the State. What Gujarat can do; the two Telugu States can do better. But we are lacking the determination which Gujarat and Rajasthan have shown.

There are certain basic steps that need to be taken at least to begin with. Besides promoting eco-tourism and cultural tourism, immediate focus is required in good maintenance of all the tourist spots, ban on plastic bags, development of areas around tourist destinations, proper training for tour operators, cab drivers and restaurant and hotel owners so that excellent accommodation facilities at reasonable rates could be provided. Use of social media for promoting tourism and generating awareness is also important. At the same time, improving road conditions and road connectivity is necessary.

This is one area where the development can be continuous and unending provided the states show interest in better governance learn to do things in a planned concerted manner.

As Modi said, "Today our culture, our tradition, and religious centres are seen with the same sense of pride as they should have been seen. The temple of Lord Ram is being constructed with pride. Ayodhya is getting back its pride after centuries. Just two days ago, a grand Deepotsav was organised and the entire world witnessed it. Beautification of Kashi (Varanasi) is also on. The work of Vishwanath Dham is on at a great pace and is nearing completion. A Buddha circuit from Sarnath, Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya has been formed to attract followers of Buddhism. All the teerthsthans related to Lord Ram are connected through a circuit."

This is how the Prime Minister took to marketing tourism. It's high time, the southern and the eastern States in general and the two Telugu states in particular emulated what the northern and the western States are doing.

If Uttarakhand can take pride in Adi Shankaracharya, we too can promote his teachings and preachings, since it is said that he had done tapasya for some time in Srisailam forest areas. Besides visiting the temple of Lord Mallikarjuna and Goddess Brahmarambica, there are some interesting places to visit in around the temple town. While driving on road, on the way there is Amrabad Tiger Reserve.

The political executive in Telangana will surely try to escape, saying how can we do everything in a short time, particularly when injustice was meted to the region in undivided Andhra Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh government may take shelter under the pretext that bifurcation blues are still haunting it. Well that is all past and a lot of water has flown in the rivers of Godavari and Krishna since 2014. If the governments feel that they will not accept defeat, they can convert both the States into real tourist hubs of South. Let's hope during the month of Karthik, the two ruling parties in Telugu States will get some awakening and there will be 'Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya.'

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