Beckoning diversity

Print edition : July 16, 2010

The Mysore Palace is a must-see destination for international tourists.-M.A. SRIRAM

THE uniqueness of Karnataka lies in the variety of tourist attractions it offers. The State is a veritable mini India: it showcases modern cities alongside heritage and pilgrim centres of the old world. At one end, some of its monuments are recognised as the cradle of stone architecture of the old civilisations; at the other, it boasts the Silicon Valley of India.

Foreign tourists are usually attracted to the culture and heritage of Karnataka, while domestic tourists are tempted to visit the State for its hill stations, pilgrim centres and wildlife sanctuaries. The State is home to two world heritage sites, 44 major monuments, five national parks, 21 wildlife sanctuaries, two waterfalls that are ranked among the best in the world, and 320 kilometres of coastline. Its capital, Bangalore, is one of India's most cosmopolitan cities.

The State government's Department of Tourism has divided the tourist attractions into five sectors. The first targets the budding historian and is titled Heritage Karnataka. In this sector the tourist can visit places like Hampi (see separate story) and savour the beauty of the ancient temples of Badami.

The richness of Chalukyan architecture in the cluster of 10 beautifully chiselled temples at Pattadakal and the cradle of Hindu temple architecture at Aihole will also fascinate tourists. Bijapur's Gol Gumbaz and Mysore's Royal Palace are majestic structures that cannot be missed.

For the wildlife enthusiast, Karnataka is a smorgasbord of delight. Among the sanctuaries and national parks are the Bannerghatta National Park, the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and the B.R. Hills Sanctuary. There are several tiger habitats. A variety of migratory birds are found at the Kokkrebellur pelicanry, the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary and the Mandagadde Bird Sanctuary.

For the romantic tourist, Karnataka has several hill stations with vistas of unmatched beauty Madikeri, the little coffee capital of India; Kudremukh; Agumbe; Kodachadri; and Kemmangundi. Mangalore and Karwar are only two of the major coastal towns in Karnataka that one must visit.

Divine Karnataka offers spiritual succour for the religiously minded. Shravanabelagola is a prominent Jain pilgrimage centre and home to Asia's largest monolithic statue, which towers up to a height of 58 feet (7.4 metres). Dharmasthala, Sringeri, Gulbarga and Udupi are also prominent pilgrim centres.

THE NAQQUAR KHANA museum on the Gol Gumbaz premises in Bijapur.-

Cascading Karnataka boasts the highest waterfall in Asia the Jog Falls. The tiny island town of Shivasamudram, where forested hills and lush green valleys hold the Shivasamudram falls, forms a retreat of great natural beauty. The Abbey and Iruppu Falls are smaller but no less beautiful for that.

The State has adopted a new tourism policy for a period of five years, 2009-2014. The aim is to make tourism the State's principal economic activity, generating employment and revenue, and make Karnataka one of India's top two tourism destinations by 2016-17.

The policy also aims at creating a culture of tourism in the State with the active involvement of all the stakeholders.

The State's previous tourism policy (2002-07) encouraged the development of tourism by fostering a congenial environment for private investors. The present policy takes this approach forward and targets a larger market. It emphasises the emerging trend of MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) in the tourism sector. It also focusses on hitherto ignored areas such as health, wellness, cruise, adventure, wilderness, and heli-tourism.

It envisages public private partnerships (PPP) that will bring massive investments into destination-creating projects as well as into regular projects through appropriate structuring and innovative financing. It also aims to facilitate the private sector (both international and national) to develop world-class, world-scale projects that will be sub-destinations on their own. The government is now looking at how to address the shortage of cost-effective accommodation for tourists. There are also proposals to increase road connectivity and develop tourist destinations and circuits and also quality manpower to promote tourist attractions.

Culture and heritage tourism forms an important thrust area. Home stays will be encouraged, for which a strict regularisation policy is proposed to be brought into effect. There are proposals to construct exhibition and convention complexes and theme and entertainment parks in and around Bangalore.

THE BADAMI CAVE temples in Bagalkot district draw many tourists.-M.A. SRIRAM

Cruise tourism will be developed along the coast, with Mangalore and Karwar as major hubs. Cruise ships of international standards will be built through PPP. An eco-tourism zone will be declared in an area stretching from Coorg to Karwar; a chain of nature camps called jungle trails are expected to come up in this zone. Adventure tourism will be encouraged with activities such as trekking, mountaineering, rappelling, angling, river rafting, para-gliding, water sports, scuba diving and nature walks.

Health and wellness tourism will also be developed. Karnataka's potential in traditional systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha will be tapped to make the State a sought-after destination for healing.

The Department of Tourism will lay stress on tourism as a discipline of study and will bring together various institutions that offer programmes in tourism and related areas. Degrees and diplomas in tourism will be awarded by accredited institutions and universities. There is also a proposal to start a Tourism Police Force to take care of the safety aspect.

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