More border areas in Uttarakhand could be opened to boost tourism: Gen Rawat
Foreigners had unlimited access to Uttarkashi district until the 1962 India-China war that forced the government to put Harsil under the restricted areas list and seal Nelong valleyUpdated: Nov 06, 2017 13:38 IST
Indian Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat has said the scenic areas dotting the India-China border areas in Uttarakhand could be opened for tourists in order to boost the income of the local communities in the state that is ranked 17th in the country in terms of tourist arrivals position.
“Tourism in those areas (scenic border areas) got restricted to a certain extent owing to the army establishments we have in the state. It is now time those restrictions were relaxed to pave the way for more tourist inflow...,” General Rawat, who originally hails from Uttarakhand, said on Sunday.
He was speaking at RAIBAAR (message), an event hosted by the Uttarakhand government as part of a “build up” for the 18th State Foundation Day on November 9. It is an initiative to bring the state’s distinguished people on a single platform to promote it as an investment destination.
State tourism minister Satpal Maharaj said in May that foreign tourists may be allowed to visit Uttarakhand’s three scenic spots - Mukhba, Harsil and Bagauli in the border district of Uttarkashi - without restrictions as they might be exempted from acquiring inner line permits - a travel document issued by the Centre.
India, China war changed rules
Foreigners had unlimited access to Uttarkashi district until the 1962 India-China war that forced the government to put Harsil, the Himalayan town surrounded by snow-capped mountains, under the restricted areas list and seal another border area of Nelong valley whose magnificent landscape is strikingly similar to that of Ladakh.
Nelong valley was thrown open in 2015 for Indians. But people can go there in limited numbers after acquiring an inner-line permit from the administration.
Maharaj had said he would request Gen Rawat to exempt foreign tourists from acquiring inner line permits. “If the request is granted, all three scenic spots would be accessible to foreign tourists, which would give a boost to the locals’ income,” he told the Hindustan Times.
The army chief said the central Himalayan region (Uttarakhand) was endowed with a number of spots no less scenic than Switzerland. “Whenever my friends share with me their programme to visit that country (Switzerland) I suggest that they instead visit Harsil,” he pointed out referring to a scenic spot in Garhwal.
Gen Rawat said the hill state was ideal for adventure tourism such as mountain biking.
Caution against unbridled development
“We can develop tourism facilities on the pattern of Bhutan, which is a popular destination for mountain biking. People in that country earn $100 per day in lieu of providing facilities like tented accommodations to mountain bikers,” Gen Rawat said.
Gen Rawat, however, cautioned against “unbridled development” in the name of tourism promotion.
“We should always ensure that the tourism model for the state, which is known as Dev Bhumi (Land of Gods), should be in keeping with the distinct identity of its own,” he suggested. “The focus should be more on developing village tourism and on creating more homestay facilities so as to attract more and more tourists to the state,” he added.
Lack of facilities
Army Chief General Bipin Rawat also said that the lack of education and health facilities were responsible for forced migration from the hills of Uttarakhand and said the creation of better facilities in these sectors would stop people from leaving their homes.
“Lack of education facility was the reason why my parents migrated from our ancestral village. My mother continued her education in Dehradun and completed her higher education at a college in Delhi after her family migrated from her ancestral village in Uttarkashi,” Gen Rawat, a native of Pauri Garhwal district, added.
Gen Rawat said even army soldiers hailing from Kumaon and Garhwal regions prefer to stay in Dehradun or elsewhere in the plains after their retirement. “They don’t settle in their ancestral homes in the hills for reasons of non-availability of the two basic facilities - health and education.”
The army chief suggested that those who have migrated out of the state should collect funds and invest them in their places of origin. “The process, if adopted, would help create more facilities in the central Himalayan region giving a push for development in the region,” he pointed.
‘Do not be tempted’
The army chief cautioned that one flip side of tourism development was that it leads “vested interests” to occupy land.
“So, it is necessary that the locals don’t get carried away by the temptation of making money and by selling their precious land,” he further cautioned.
He added that the suggestions made at seminars for the state’s development should not remain buried in files.
“All those suggestions should be acted upon and implemented,” Gen Rawat said assuring that the army would continue extending whatever help is required.
Tourism, especially religious tourism, is one of the biggest sources of income in Uttarakhand and amounts to around 5% of the gross state domestic product (GSPD).
There is no dearth of scenic attractions for tourists in Uttarakhand, but, except for some well-known centres, they still remain to be fully developed or enabled to accommodate the flow of tourists.
The Uttarakhand government is formulating a comprehensive policy for strengthening infrastructure in the existing destinations and for developing newer destinations to ensure a “quantum jump” in the arrival of high-end tourists, a senior official told HT in September.