By Chitra Ahanthem
[box type="quote" size="small" color="green" align="right"]The list goes on…but for now let’s hope the tourism department is reading this piece[/box]That Manipur has many things to offer to travelers and tourists alike in terms of places to see or as destination points is no secret. So when a team from the state taking part in a tourism mart came back with the tag of the state being an upcoming tourism destination, it was not a surprise. But one sincerely hopes that tourists and travelers when they do come to this “exciting destination” are not left unpleasantly surprised by how unprepared we are. Since it is the season of media censures and newspaper bans (not to forget the vitriol that will spawn on internet web pages in the form of comments and debates), let me hasten to add that one is not disputing the tag of a great destination. However I will vehemently dispute the nature of the destination(s) in Manipur.
Here are some reasonings behind my take:
- Social networking sites are often choc a bloc with positive comments and inquires following photo album updates of sights, scenes and locations of the state. The more adventurous even want to sample local cuisines (we will look into this too, but later) but anyone has any idea why none of the decent hotels in Manipur have the local cuisine in their spread? Check in any hotel and you will see their menus with the usual Chinese, Tandoori and Continental segments. Yes, local cuisine gets served at conferences and seminars but we are not talking of that.
- Accommodation issues are a sore point once those projecting Manipur as a tourism destination are thinking of taking them tourists to places beyond Imphal. The Government has to really spruce up the Government rest houses in the district headquarters at least. The tourist lodge at Sendra comes to mind mainly because of the buzz over the Loktak lake. Unfortunately, it stinks of urine and one is not clear whether it is open to hosting tourists. There used to be a private hotel (very small, and one that comes with no star rating) in Moirang but it soon became a dingy place. I recently saw the outer structure getting a new coat of paint (some rather hideous colour). One sincerely hopes that they have done something about the inside rooms as well: I distinctly remember a one night stay with a camera team that came in from Mumbai to video shoot the Moirang Lai Harouba. The bathroom had no water in the taps! Unlike tourists, travelers do not look at luxury but there is something called comfort. A clean bed and toilet-bathroom and home-made meals are often what takes it to make a great travel spot.
- Combine the first two points written above and one can see how unprepared we are! As far as the beauty of places go or the excitement factor goes, there really is no lack of places. Think Moirang and apart from Loktak lake, there is a huge scope for making the area the favorite destination for wildlife enthusiasts by introducing activities like camping at the Keibul Lamjao National park for one; angling around Sendra (that would mean taking away the Army psst..psst!). These and more can be done only after there is a proper accommodation set up at Moirang. But the same applies everywhere else once one moves away from Imphal. Think Ukhrul and one thinks immediately of the Siroi peak and the Siroi lily. But again, it is the same accommodation issue here too. Yet, if this factor gets taken care of, other areas in Ukhrul apart from the Siroi peak can be put on the tourist map. Think Nungbi, think of Khangkhui Cave, think Kachouphung Lake. Let’s now imagine a situation where accommodation gets taken care of (and for this, we are not talking necessarily only of big hotels but home stays or community efforts) and then we have the immense potential of bringing local community people as trekking guides (for Siroi peak), pottery tutors (for tourists who want to have a try at making pottery) besides of course boosting the traditional handloom and handicraft industry. The story repeats itself for every other district: think the Thanlon caves, think of river rafting on the Barak but….
- Before the tourists or travelers comes in from outside the state, ever wondered why the tourism department has not looked at home tourists? Most states have week-end getaways with accommodation logistics being developed precisely to generate income from within the state. There is definitely a huge market for this in Manipur as well.
This is going to be a bit longer than the usual end-point. Keeping in mind the topic, let me stick to a point format on what can be done or thought about:
- Adopt a heritage walk program for the Kangla. A light and sound show is a must and can bring in locals too, thereby generating money also for the concerned department. But a guided tour (in English) inside the fort is needed for tourists, which is also good news for the educated but unemployed section. Much like heritage walks, there can be a cultural emphasis too. There are various harvesting festivals in the state and there would be immense interest in them.
- Do something about the transportation segment. We do not have a pre paid vehicle system at the airport, which is supposedly being considered for an “International” tag. The distance from the airport to the hotels in town are very short as compared to the distances that gets commuted in other cities but the charge that the van/tata safari/auto syndicate charge on a mutually agreed upon rate (and hence, harder to negotiate and bargain with) is much steeper. There is an imperative need to have vehicle services registered and following a Government standard rate. Once this gets done, they must also get petrol from the government depot so they do not hike up the vehicle hiring rates when highway blockades comes calling!).
- There is a strong need to change the concept of the Sangai Tourism festival. Till date, it is a carbon copy of any other “Mela” in town: one sees the same stalls, the same agencies. All you see are glittering blouses and sandals and cheap plastic toys for children being sold at hiked rates. Yes, there is talk of bringing in “international stalls” but pray, how does that help tourist foot-fall? Instead, bring in new blood and new ideas. Think out if the box initiatives like perhaps a photo walk: call in paid registrations from within and outside the state. For those coming in from outside, give them subsidized stays so they can spread the word for the next festival.
- Ah well! The list goes on…but for now let’s hope the tourism department is reading this piece!