Tourism - A latent gold mine within

Maisnam Bomcha *

A temple inside Kangla - A place where the Kingdom of Manipur was established
A temple inside Kangla - A place where the Kingdom of Manipur was established :: Pix - Deepak Ningthoujam

"I wonder who recorded Nehru saying that he finds Manipur the Switzerland of the East. His compliments or otherwise, Manipur is beautiful. As regards the tourism potential of Manipur, we sit on a proverbial El Dorado."

Except for the want of easy connectivity and to a considerable extent, absence of prominently famous landmarks, religious or historical, Manipur has everything which a popular place of tourism usually is blessed with. Manipur's natural beauty, cultural magnificence and its rare as well as unique natural endowments more than make up its limitations. After all, no place on earth is blessed with all such factors; nothing is perfect.

The comparatively dismal flow of tourist to Manipur has been attributed to insurgency and the state of strife in the region. The assessment is flawed, conveniently. Peace and stability are important factors but it's not the sole determining reason in modern day tourism. Tourists, both foreign and domestic flocked Jammu and Kashmir during peak violence too.

Cases of abductions, of course, took place and the flow of tourist was reduced to a trickle. But only temporarily and the tourists returned as before. There was even a talk, though apocryphal, that the negative publicity of the abductions made people conclude on the assumed magnificence of those house boats: that people still go to sample despite the grave risk.

Tourism is an industry, a service. Needless to say that in the modern competitive world; products or services is advertised. Even the best products from the best company are publicized in order to sell well. Tourism is also advertised vigorously. Television is flooded with such campaigns, both of domestic as well as foreign. Tastefully made commercials of various state tourism departments inviting attention of potential tourists are a common sight on TV these days. It's 21st century; even spouses are advertised. Gone are the days of Sindbad, who used to set out for remote fabled lands informed by just grandma's tales.

Manipur is generally reputed as a remotely located violent but beautiful place with a rich culture and great sporting prowess. But only a little is actually known about it by the people outside. A good measure of the real value of Manipur is a reality in the postings of central government employees. Except for locals, virtually none wants a posting to Manipur. But once posted, people even resist leaving and everyone without exception praises Manipur and Manipuris.

So much so that, personnel belonging to the security forces always wish for a second posting knowing fully the risk to life. We need to attract tourists in an organised way. Engage professionals and organise aggressive campaigns. Nature has endowed us with plenty. We need to develop them. Jaisalmer, in Rajasthan is a very popular tourist place.

The Sam desert is one of the main attractions which makes foreign tourist visit Jaisalmer. The civil administration spends large amounts of money every year to uproot vegetation on the Sam desert to maintain the look of wild desolateness. With a little imagination and sincere efforts, many places in Manipur can become big brothers of Sam.

Considering the proven status of tourism as a major pillar of the economy in India and most parts of the globe, the present neglect of tourism in Manipur is criminal. Either the government is as usual clueless in its search for the best avenue to amass as much ill-gotten money or it is conveniently taking recourse to other excuses to cover up its lack of vision and political will. Manipur's potential as a major tourist stop of India makes it even more unacceptable. In 2011, India was ranked 5th fastest growing country in tourism. A whopping 121 billion dollars was earned from tourism and 39.3 million jobs or 7.9 % of the total was provided by this sector.

Globally, tourism is one of the fastest growing industries. In the context of our interest, in 2011, India recorded a huge 850.86 million domestic tourists. Planning and saving money to go on family vacations, particularly, is a very fast growing trend in India. Interestingly, Bengalis constitute a bulk of the domestic tourist in India. Geographical proximity and a cultural affinity are major advantages to attract them to Manipur.

Much of Manipur's economic woes can be improved by a thriving tourism. It naturally translates into creation of jobs and a fertile ground for private entrepreneurship. Small economic hubs in the remote places are a big possibility. Both in India and abroad, places of tourist attractions are created by undertaking huge projects.

Manipur is already blessed by nature with so many unique and rare features. Theme tourism is a latest addition to the list of attractions. India is increasingly known for its medical tourism and cultural tourism is an old time tested attraction. Khajuraho, in MP attracts a huge number of domestic as well as foreign tourists every year. Besides the temples, the dance festival organised every late autumn is the main attraction. Artists of various dance forms including our own are invited as performers.

With the availability of so many indigenous dance forms, we do not need any outside performers to excel Khajuraho in the dance festival. A festival of varied forms of dance and our martial arts with Sendra, Siroy or the Govindaji Temple as the venue has all the reasons to become a huge success. Only an imaginative showcasing is required.

If tourism is to actually flourish, Manipur may have to pay a small price. Every progress and advancement comes at a cost. But for every risk too, there can be safeguards.

It's a question of setting priorities. We are at risk of being engulfed by outsiders. I too strongly feel about the inherent hazards. Yet, for an economically backward state like us, clinging on steadfast to our isolation, which otherwise is already threatened, is somewhat akin to keeping a golden sovereign locked in fear of being robbed while the children starves.

All tourists are not going to stay back and thousands may not sneak in, taking the tourist guise. Checks and in-built safeguards can be put in place. We, the people are those safeguards. We have the option to give ourselves the opportunity to improve our lot, the honourable way.

I wonder who recorded Nehru saying that he finds Manipur the Switzerland of the East. His compliments or otherwise, Manipur is beautiful. As regards the tourism potential of Manipur, we sit on a proverbial El Dorado.

Many years back I was once associated with the Bharat Darshan programme of some Indian Foreign Service probationers and the group went to Sendra. It was unscheduled, a detour on the way back from Churachandpur, on demand by the visitors. Incidentally the IFS group was led by LalitMaan Singh who later on became the Foreign Secretary of India, assisted by Sujata Singh, the present incumbent.

Considering the security scenario and isolation of the Sendra tourist rest house, the leader of the party in consultation with the Manipur Rifles escort, gave only 15 minutes to the young enthusiastic probationers who all were instantly awestruck by the beautiful view from the hill top. They immediately got busy taking photographs from all conceivable angles.

The look of utter disappointment on those young faces was a mix of sympathy and amusement when time to move was announced after perhaps 20 minutes. One who looked particularly sad uttered weakly, "Such a beautiful place, so little time". When reminded of the risk to their personal safety, they moved towards the waiting bus, protesting unanimously that there can't be insurgency in such a beautiful place.

* Maisnam Bomcha wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition) as part of "Different People, Different Places, Different Times" column
This article was webcasted on Ocotber 24, 2013.

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