MP, the heartland of India, has the soul of universal appeal

-Anshuman Bhargava
Contd from previous issue
For the religiously inclined, MP has places like Ujjain, Onkareshwar, Maheshwar, all of which have multiple temples of significance. These places also have historical significance and their mention is found in art and literature of ancient times.
The Kumbhmela at Ujjain is a humungous affair where millions gather for the holy bath in the Kshipra on auspicious days. There is mention of Ujjain and Vidisha in Kalidas’ works. MP is a state which has seen amalgamation of several religions and hence here there are ancient temples as well as mosques, Buddhist stupas as well as ancient churches in large numbers, giving a peep into India’s religious diversity.
When it comes to history the forts and palaces of Chanderi, Gwalior, Maheshwar, Narsingarh, Orcha, Mandu and Islamnagar bear testimony to MP’s royal heritage and different kingdoms that ruled the state at different times shaping its present cosmopolitan form. Even pre-historic caves and cave paintings adorn MP’s jungles, making them UNESCO heritage sites.
Natural endowments of MP are as diverse as they are unique. From luscious hills to sylvan valleys, from rivers, lakes to plateaus and peaks, from hill stations to forests, from waterfalls to dams – the state has everything for a nature lover. To add to the experience, the tourism department has also started adventure sports at select destinations and eco-tourism getaways to connect people better with nature.
However, having said all that, there still are shortcomings in management of tourism in the state that hold it back from being the best – at least as far as public perception is concerned. When people think of Darjeeling or Shimla, Pachmarhi still takes a back seat.
When people think of Puri or Haridwar, Ujjain doesn’t become a first choice. When people want to re-live history, Khajuraho or Chanderi come second to Red Fort or TajMahal. Despite all the strides made in the sector, which no doubt deserve applause, there are many areas which still merit attention. For one, the recreation facilities at the tourist destinations are very limited in MP.
While in other states much is invested on things like boating, bungee jumping, para gliding, ballooning, trekking, rock climbing, rafting, camping etc. in Madhya Pradesh these avenues are still very limited. This is a put off for today’s tourists. Another image problem MP has to fight is its law and order situation.  Though it is a peaceful state by and large, with most people being very cooperative, helpful and accommodative, spike in rape cases in the last few years has certainly dented tourist confidence and send out the wrong signals. No state will be favoured where women are deemed unsafe and the government will need to do some damage control to win back people to its exotic locales.
It has to walk the extra mile to promote MP at the right forums globally – at places where it matters. We need to see giant hoardings of     MP at airports and bus terminuses, at rail stations and famous city squares. We need to find full page ads of vibrant MP or incredible MP donning the pages of international magazines.
This is how Goa and Kerala have drawn global attention. Today visibility is a key marketing strategy and even the best can get lost in the crowd if it is not advertised well. The government needs to focus its attention on these underpinnings and foundations that can make its projection strong and its efforts rewarding.
Among the fringe issues are the condition of roads in the state. Though much has been done, the internal roads and roads around major destinations are still not among the best and this is a major reason anywhere to put off tourist interest. We need to look beyond the highways and urban roads and bolster the interior infrastructure as well. Just a posh hotel in the jungle is not enough; the whole ecosystem needs to be oriented towards hosting tourists of different tastes – right from the variety of cuisines on offer to the attitude and approach of the locals of the specific region.
If there is a disjoint i.e. if the system is cut off from the ground realities and ethos that describe the cultural and historical uniqueness of a place, we lose tourism potential. Thus the synchronisation or the assimilation has to be more complete and perfect so that the cultural mores find resonance in all the experiences that surround a tourist’s outing.
 For this the government needs to train and inform the locals better and involve them in more creative or innovative ways to strike a chord with the discerning tourist in the ecosystem he is introduced to. This will make the tourist feel more at home and also open his eyes to new vistas of experience he cannot get anywhere else.
Unless we find newer ways to attract tourists, it will be difficult to change the scenario overnight and the growth in tourism will be slow.
The author is State Editor of The Hitavada newspaper  at Bhopal