A trip to Rishikesh and Haridwar makes you understand the significance of better roads and infrastructure for India's tourism sector. But the importance of protecting the environment and heritage must not be forgotten in our big tourism push.
Tourism as an industry is important for any country and its economy. For the country as vast as India, it presents massive scope. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 Independence Day Speech also stressed the need to tap on the untapped potential of tourism in the country.
The number of Indians travelling to foreign destinations for holidays is increasing like never before. You need to visit any of our airports during the holiday season to know how Indians are flocking to locations like Australia, New Zealand or for that matter Thailand and Malaysia.
Prime Minister Modi has urged this audience to look for Indian destinations that are equally mesmerising.
However, the big challenge in that Incredible India vision remains the infrastructure. Driving world quality infrastructure throughout the country is essential to instil confidence among people.
Tourist destinations will flourish if you have world-class roads, air connectivity and top-notch security with tourist-friendly attitudes.
Needless to say, infrastructure development will be the key to attract tourists. But it is equally important to save the history of the place which has preserved India's cultural heritage.
A few months ago, on a trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh, I saw much broader roads. With four-lane greeting us almost everywhere. A lot of places we could see new construction work in progress along the route.
Haridwar is one of the holiest cities in India. The name is derived from the legend that it was here where Goddess Ganga descended when freed by Lord Shiva from his locks. It is Haridwar where Ganga enters the plains. Our stay was at Haveli Hari Ganga, a heritage hotel on the banks of the holy Ganges. A divine setting greeted us. The place wore a sense of history and spirituality.
The idea was to immerse in the spirituality of Ganga. The setting was perfect. The Haveli Hari Ganga provided an unhindered view of the river that was flowing east and would eventually meet the Bay of Bengal. Watching the river flow in itself is a feeling that immerses you spiritually. The Ganga Aarti at Har ki Pauri is another unmissable in Haridwar. It was a walking distance from Haveli Hari Ganga.
After Haridwar, we began our journey to Rishikesh, the land where Ganga finally leaves the Himalayas to begin its descent to the mainland. Rishikesh shot to world fame in the 1960s when The Beatles came to explore transcendental meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Rishikesh is also called world's Yoga capital due to the thousands of Ashrams that line up the highway leading to Kedarnath.
The roads have become broader and several hotels have mushroomed along the way. The increased and improved accessibility from Delhi to Rishikesh has also brought along with it its share of troubles. You see far too many cars and buses even in the night constantly breaking the silence of the mountains.
We stayed at Aloha On The Ganges. The place had a mystical view of the Ganga as it came out from the hills. With mountains on both sides and the holy Ganga in full glory below, it was a view to savour for the ages. Lakshman Jhula a famous suspension bridge connecting to villages of Tapaovan is a star attraction in Rishikesh. The ancient temples on the other side of Ganga offered a setting to behold. The silence of the mountains was broken only by the noise of the flowing water and the bells from the temples.
But once you move up, you see the side-effects of development. The quietness and solitude is the first victim. There are far too many construction works going on. Locals say the development comes at a cost.
"It has affected the way of living. Indiscriminate cutting of trees has its peril. A lot of the mud excavated while constructing a building or road gets deposited in the river. This makes upper soil loose while it also affects the flow of the river," a local who runs a river rafting club said.
It is a tricky situation. You need better roads but you also need to protect the originality of the place. Several environmentalists have submitted research papers to the government on the issue.
The methods that the government is taking or plans to take will be fruitless if common people, tourists and the locals don't join hands. As a citizen, we must come together to take a resolve that keeping the mountains clean and green is a collective responsibility. We need to save our mountains and rivers.
The tourists also will have to understand that every trip leaves a footprint. We need to protect our environment, our heritage.