On September 25, two days before World Tourism Day, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took charge of the Braj Teerth Vikas Parishad (Braj Pilgrim Development Council) as its chair.
Several bureaucrats from the concerned departments have also been nominated as members with other members of the council to be pooled from prominent state-based personalities who boast a deep and thorough knowledge of the Braj region (Agra, Mathura, Vrindavan and Aligarh area) in UP. Besides these, anyone who donates more than Rs 10 crore towards the development of the region will also be honoured as with a membership on the council. Orders to this effect have already been issued.
With Yogi chairing an important seat in the tourism sector, the UP government, for the first time, is emphasing on touristry related activities. To catch the tour traders and travellers before the winter vacation, the UP government is convening a three-day extravaganza in the form of a ‘Holiday Expo 2017’, with a tagline, ‘Your Destination for Holiday Contrivance’. Starting on October 27, the activities will carry on until 29 of the month.
At the three-day event, the government has invited travel and tour operators, business houses, and travel enthusiasts to interact and explore opportunities for selling and promoting tourism in tier one and two cities of UP.
Before launching the event, the department has already spruced up its website and has introduced a mobile application as well, to make it swift and swanky for traders and travellers.
However, the government seems focussed solely on the promotion of sites important to the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. This stands in stark contrast to the now extincy policy of Uttar Pradesh where tourism stood synonymous to the Taj Mahal.
“Previous governments did not try to promote other places which are located in many small cities of the state but which can be a big attraction for tourists because of their historical and cultural importance,” said one official from the Tourism Department.
Yogi Adityanath, immediately after taking over the state, had clarified his agenda of Hindutva and his aim to promote Hindu religious places under the revamped tourism programme.
In his maiden budget, CM Yogi had allocated Rs 1,240 crore for the development of tourism circuits after Ramyana, Krishna, and Buddha. The government has already released Rs 100 crore for the renovation of Banke Bihari Temle in Vrindavan - the land of Krishna. An allocation of Rs 250 crore was also done for Ayodhya - the kingdom of Ram and for organising a grand Saryu Aarti in Varanasi.
Giving importance to Hindu places of pilgrimage, the Yogi cabinet, on May 9, merged Mathura Nagar Palika and Vrindavan Nagar Palika and upgraded them into Mathura-Vrindavan Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation). The government also merged Ayodhya Nagar Palika Parishad and Faizabad Nagar Palika and upgraded them into Ayodhya Nagar Nigam. Vrindavan and Ayodhya are traditionally associated with Krishna and Ram.
“These places are visited by hundreds of tourists annually; their upgraded state would bring better funds that can be used for better tourist facilities in these cities,” Power Minister Srikant Sharma had said, justifying the government move, while sharing the cabinet decisions with media persons.
The government is already focusing on its mega publicity of the Ardh Kumbh, scheduled in January 2018. Plans are on to amplify the magnitude of other events which as yet had been celebrated at local level, such as Navratri Mela in Vindhyachal.
Doubling down on their promise to revive Hindu places of pilgrimage, the focus of the government is on cities like, Ayodhya, Mathura, Varanasi, Chitrakoot, Vrindavan, and many others. Places, such as Naimisharanya in Sitapur district or Bateshwar in Kanpur are also getting prominence. Even Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur (where Yogi comes from) has found a significant space in the publicity agenda of the UP Tourism Department.
There are nearly 100 other places that are lesser known and less popular, which the government has enlisted for their development. These include Magahar, which is known to have the grave of Hindi poet Kabir Das, Sheetla temple in Kaushambi, or Ghuisarnath Dham in Pratapgarh. The list is long and includes practically every district of UP.
The interesting aspect of this scheme is that the government has identified places of Hindu importance even in cities dominated by minorities; for instance, the Parashuram Temple and the Durvasa Ashram in Azamgarh or Achaltal in Aligarh or the Siddheshwar and Loddheshwar Mahadev Temples in Barabanki.
After the festival of Deepavali the government also has plans to start chopper rides for all religious places in the state with a minimum fare of Rs 2,500 per person. For this, the government has invited proposals from the private players.
The UP tourism website also confirms the government plans to hire professional services of an advertising agency to market the state tourism to domestic and international tourists.
Sources in the Tourism Department confirm that the deadline to complete all schemes relating to tourism is before the parliament elections.
Alka Pande is an independent journalist, travel blogger & photographer based in Lucknow. She writes on issues relating to government policies, environment, health, business, and human resources.More columns by Alka Pande: