TODAY -

Has the tourism department ever ventured out to learn anything?

By Debanish Achom *



I read a post by a young man from London on a travel forum, who wanted to know how to reach Imphal. I found his story interesting, so I emailed him. His grandfather, who was with the allied forces, had died somewhere in Imphal in the battle against the Japanese in WW2.

He had been trying to reach Imphal to lay flowers at the war cemetery. When he contacted British and Indian authorities while applying for visa, they told him to stay away from the region. Besides, he got discouraged with more paperwork. Applying for 'protected area permit' was a headache with all the explanations he had to give. This is not to be confused with 'inner line permit', which is not applicable to Manipur.

Then he tried to contact the Manipur tourism department. The less said the better about the department. You already know what must have happened to his efforts.

So he gave up at last. He managed to reach Kohima and stayed there for three days before heading back to Delhi and then London. In the last mail I got from him, he seemed upset. I reread it and quietly turned off my laptop. It occurred to me, a young man from the other side of the globe wants to come to that corner of the world where his grandfather lies. All he is asking for is a day to place a flower at the cemetery. But he is unable to do that because our tourism department doesn't care. Add to that the hostile attitude of the Indian government against any foreign tourist coming to the Northeast. And nobody would ever like to visit for a thousand years.

The latest report is that the state tourism department has started a drive for 'sustainable tourism'. It is a fancy thing. It makes the officials feel important and knowledgeable. It gives them something to work on, something to talk about.

But the point they are missing is that there can be no sustainable tourism without tourism first.

The department should before delivering high-talk about anything else firstly ensure that some areas are solely developed as proper tourist spots. I am not talking about the kind of 'tourist areas' that interest only us (locals). For us a river and a road are enough. We can drink by the stream and be happy.

But tourists want to see more and experience more. They also want to be accommodated to the area they are visiting. Ask yourself, how would you feel if you went to a nice hill station in the south, only to find that the locals don't want you coming there? But that is not the case. You yourself know how enjoyable it is to travel to a new place when the host people are nice.

This is a simple concept. It is also good for business, which means it is beneficial to both the tourist and the host. But no, in our state we have to first prove to tourists that we got big egos, we expect them to worship us, and then can step in.

In over 27 years since I grew up at home, I have not been to a single place in Manipur where a tourist can go alone, stay comfortably, enjoy some good food and indulge in sightseeing. But even when faced with this fact, people are so stubborn to believe Manipur is a tourists' paradise, because admitting that it is not will only hurt the ego.

I guess it is time for us to accept it and work towards being more open to tourists. Nagaland has gone a few steps ahead in this area. In the mainstream media Nagaland gets more representation these days because tourists who have been there vouch for the place through their stories and photos. This is how the world outside starts discovering you. And maybe even sympathise with your cause.

An Indonesian tale comes to my mind: a frog has been living under a coconut shell for years. It thinks the underside of the coconut is the sky. But it finally gets out and learn the sky is vast and infinite.

Think about it.


* Debanish Achom contributes regularly to e-pao.net The writer can be reached at debanish9a(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on June 28, 2011.



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