(This article was originally published in Mid-Day, June, 11th 2015)
Make a big splash for Maharashtra
With the rain gods knocking at our doorstep, it’s a matter of time before Maharashtra’s parched landscape comes alive in different shades of green. Undoubtedly, it’s also the best time to explore its forts, valleys and stunning topography. Experts share what our state tourism department can do to showcase our treasures in the best way possible.
It’s an open secret that the monsoon is the best time to explore and enjoy Maharashtra. The manner in which the landscape transforms from a dry, dull brown shade to a green carpet, with gushing waterfalls, roaring rivers, and gurgling streams, is a marvel of nature. Travellers of every kind eagerly wait to experience this phenomenon. While nature does its job pretty well, there’s much the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) can do to enhance the monsoon experience for travellers and trekkers. Who better than our travel operators and tour planners to throw light on ways and solutions to put things in the right perspective and give the home state its due?
1) More power to the local
AREA OF CONCERN: A common suggestion that emerged from most experts is to involve local residents in managing and maintaining the tourism destinations. Inir Pinheiro of Grassroutes explains, “Tourism during monsoons is centered around waterfalls, streams, and forests, and these fall under the jurisdiction of the forest department or village panchayats. Tourists, while enjoying the nature, end up defacing sites by littering. Apart from making the area unsafe and unclean for future tourists, this will destroy the place in the long run.
Fees and fines: Pinheiro proposes empowering local communities to charge a fee from the tourists frequenting their villages, and also impose a fine on tourists who create nuisance (after consuming alcohol/drugs) or dirty the area. This will not only ensure cleanliness and safety but become a source of livelihood for the villagers.
Livelihood matters: They could also be trained to offer support in case of falls and accidents, which are frequent due to the wet terrain. Sudeepta Sanyal of The Blueberry Trails feels involving local youth and training them to become certified trekking leaders will be helpful for the trekking enthusiasts in the state. These youth know their region like the back of their hands, so it will be a case of utilizing their knowledge and provide them with employment. She adds, “The State Tourism department should develop more homestays and encourage ecotourism as these will create an additional source of income for the villagers. It should also give a thrust to local cuisine, art forms, and other activities as part of its tourism promotion activities.”
Route cause: Rajesh Math of ByeByeCity suggests managing and promoting the many trekking trails, again by involving locals. He elaborates, “The State Tourism and Forest departments can join hands to involve locals in maintaining the trekking routes. People in the base villages can be roped in to provide parking facilities, guide services, camping support, and food for a fee.” He suggests that they can also help chart trekking routes so trekkers don’t get lost and maintain a record of people going for and returning from the trek so that a rescue operation can be launched if anyone does not return.
2) Protect, Maintain, Facilitate
AREA OF CONCERN: A state with the highest density of forts in India, Maharashtra could create its own Machu Pichu, if those with power also have the passion to do so. But sadly, most of these monuments are in a bad condition. Prateek Deo of Life Away From Life wonders why these proud possessions of the state are neglected. These forts attract many people across the year
Information is key: Deo has a few suggestions, “Provide easily available information on the forts and directions to reach; provide/improve sanitation facilities; and provide better medical facilities.”
Regulate sites: He also wants the State Government to regulate trekking to these monuments and create and implement clear dos and don’ts on treks so that the area retains its beauty and sanctity.
Better Infrastructure: Sanyal points out road development as a key issue. Well-maintained state highways will help do away with the bumpy rides that are now required to reach the interior towns and villages, away from any national highway. According to Pinheiro, providing changing rooms near waterfalls will be an added advantage for tourists. Again, villagers can manage
d such facilities. Women travellers will find it very convenient as they can also enjoy a good drench.
3) SHOWCASE MAHARASHTRA’S MONSOON MAGIC
AREA OF CONCERN: Considering that Maharashtra is mesmeric in monsoon, Sanyal feels that the Tourism Department needs to do more to promote it as a monsoon destination. Also, the state is in general, considered safe for women. Sanyal feels promoting this aspect will encourage women who want to travel but may not do so, considering the safety aspect.
Tie-ups are crucial: Jayesh Paranjpe of Western Routes suggests MTDC should tie up with private travel organizations and travel enthusiasts. “They should plan and execute one-day or weekend trips from cities such as Pune, Mumbai, Nasik, Aurangabad, and Nagpur to different monsoon destinations. Such MTDC-branded trips can have stays arranged in different MTDC resorts,” he believes.
Customised tours: In addition, each MTDC property can offer conducted tours or customised day trips with guides to interesting places close to the property. Paranjpe also wishes that MTDC
to would actively promote these season-specific tours through different channels so that it reaches all types of audience. He strongly feels that MTDC needs to function more professionally, the way Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, or Goa tourism departments do.
The possibilities are endless. What we lack is the will, or is it the passion? As travellers who have extensively covered Maharashtra, we feel the state could give Kerala a run for its money if the authorities only put their heads together and showcase the home state’s many wonders and treasures across its rich topography.