As a result of studying in an international multicultural environment, I have met people from various parts of the globe. Many of them have visited India for varied reasons. Some people visited because they had business in India and the others travelled for leisure. However, there was one thing common amongst most of them. They either hated India or had mixed feelings about the country. Of course there were many others who loved their Indian adventure but even then, some of them had reservations about the state of the country.
India is an extremely diverse country. It boasts cultural, culinary, religious, attitudinal, linguistic and geographical diversity. Northern and Eastern parts of the country are protected by the majestic Himalayas with snow capped peaks and pine forests. The west is dotted with colourful palaces and camping sites in the golden desert. Dense forests cover the country’s central states and the south is outlined by beautiful beaches and the blue hills. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Jews reside in the country, mostly peacefully. The country also has 122 major languages according to the 2001 census.
However, despite being so diverse with so much to offer, I feel that the country has not realised the full potential of its tourism industry. While solutions to improve the international tourism industry in India calls for another post, in this post I will highlight the some things that are grossly harming India’s potential as a globally favoured tourism destination.
- Littering and Filth – A tourist visits a country with a mindset to click beautiful pictures, soak in the beauty of a place and relish the wonderful sights before him/her. However, India with its littered and dirty cities, rarely presents this opportunity to the tourists. I know that the country has a population of 1.3 billion people. I am also aware that it is difficult to manage so many people and enforcing cleanliness extremely difficult. Of course there is great poverty as well, which also makes it difficult to maintain cleanliness standards. This is because it is difficult to educate a person who is struggling to get a roof over his head about cleanliness and aesthetics. But the rich and educated also contribute to the problem. Therefore, I feel that the problem also lies in the attitude. The ‘It is fine to litter so long as its not in my backyard’ or ‘Everyone else is also littering around’ attitudes have prevented India from becoming a clean and green nation. As a result, many international tourists leave with a bad taste in their mouth. It is difficult to blame them and their faulty research. Saying that they should have known or expected India to be like this is like saying that India can never improve. Things are changing slowly in the bigger cities and I hope they change quickly.
- Staring and Harassment – This also boils down to an attitudinal problem. I spoke to many people who emphasised their discomfort on being stared at during their travels in India. This was especially true of the women. They were leched at, followed around at historical monuments, and sometimes touched inappropriately. Consequently, they felt harassed. Many people in the country feel that it is okay to stare at people. This is obviously a difference of cultures. I was not shocked when my foreign friends narrated their experiences with staring men in India. I have also been followed around while visiting tourist sites despite being accompanied by my parents. One time my father scolded the schoolboys for taking my pictures without my permission. It really kills the joy of exploring the place. One is suddenly conscious and anxious about what could happen next. A large scale awareness and educational campaign on gender sensitisation is needed in order to rectify this problem, particularly in the Indian hinterlands, where women are generally considered inferior to men.
- Basic Civic Sense – People pushing each other in queues, people spitting on the roads, cars honking at each other for no reason, two-wheelers driving in violation of traffic rules, and a complete disregard for rules and regulations, etc. These are somethings that may come as a shock to a first-time visitor in India. I am not saying that we can change suddenly for foreign visitors. But can we change for ourselves? It is no secret that India is chaotic. But does it need to be chaotic? Before blaming the government for everything that is wrong with India, mustn’t we first evaluate our own behaviours and see if they are contributing to this chaos? It might hurt the Indian readers but nobody likes to spend their holidays a hot mess. Unfortunately, India is a hot mess. While we can’t do much about the heat, but as responsible citizens of the nation, we could at least clean up the mess by evaluating our own behaviours and changing them if required.
This is not meant to be a rant against India. I love India and I see the potential in it. I have travelled to 24 countries. Nowhere have I come across such diversity. India has a lot to offer on its plate. But to attract more takers, it also needs to clean up its plate. Travel and tourism contributes 9.6% of India’s GDP. According to World Trade Centre, India is the world’s 7th largest tourism economy in terms of GDP. This is despite the chaotic hot mess that India is! I can only imagine where it would be if it cleaned up its act.