Protests and violence in three Indian states, and untimely rains lashing many areas, have hit the tourism trade hard. An indefinite strike over demands for a separate state in West Bengal’s Darjeeling hills has caused visitors to take to their heels. They have been instructed to leave the hills to avoid getting caught in the protests that have led to pitched battles between police and supporters of the Gorkha People's Liberation Front in the past few days.
Darjeeling's tea plantations are a beloved tourist destination not least because of the cooler temperatures
Prolonged protests by the Gujjars, a nomadic tribe in Rajasthan, a favourite state on the tourist itinerary, a strike by transporters in Jammu and Kashmir, a violent call for a separate state of Gorkhaland in Darjeeling in West Bengal… None of this is helping the government’s “Incredible India” campaign, which is aimed at changing perceptions of India in the mind of the global traveller and has as its maxim that the Guest is God.
Even though it’s off-peak season in Rajasthan because of the intense heat there are always foreigners wanting to visit the exotic state. This year, however, Rajasthan has suffered a double whammy -- first the terror strike in May, in which over 60 people were killed, and now the Gujjar agitation, which has left road and rail links badly affected. The protesting community took to the streets of the north-western province about a month ago to demand a lower status.
Tourists who planned to revel in the cool climes of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Darjeeling have also been left sorely disappointed, as agitations and heavy rain put a damper on their plans. Many tourists have gone to safer destinations; some have even left the country. There have been massive cancellations.
Upbeat about general state of tourism
But Rakesh Kumar, a tourism official, is upbeat about the general state of tourism in India:
“All the tourists that come to India are aware that no place is safe. Terrorist attacks have been taking place all over the world and India is no exception.”
“These are rare cases that happen in some part of the country. The same goes for agitations. Most of the agitations in India are local and do not affect tourism as such.”
His words are backed by the government figures. There has been no apparent decline in the number of tourists visiting India. At the end of May this year there had been an increase of 12 percent in tourist inflow, compared to the first five months of last year.
India is as safe as anywhere else
Many tourists, like Amna Sharif from Pakistan, who is currently visiting Rajasthan, are not put off by the bomb blasts and agitations: “I feel India is as safe a place as anywhere else in the world. I come from a volatile country and I was in London on 7/7 and in Bangkok when the coup happened there. I don’t think the world is safe or unsafe anywhere these days.”
Nonetheless, the US and British authorities have issued advisories to their citizens to keep a low profile while travelling in India. American visitors to Mumbai have been warned to take “extreme caution” while driving or walking on the roads during heavy rains and consequent flooding.
Officials at the tourism ministry hope that the rains will die down and the state authorities will get a grip on local agitation so that “Incredible India” continues to be a destination of choice for world travellers.