Tourism boom

Print edition : October 10, 2008

Banana boats introduced by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation at Mudaliarkuppam Rain Drop Boat House on East Coast Road are a great hit with tourists.-V. GANESAN

The Tourism Department and the TTDC have embarked on a slew of measures to boost tourism in Tamil Nadu.

ON a late Saturday evening, when State government employees generally enjoy a holiday, Dr. M. Rajaram, Commissioner of Tourism, Tamil Nadu, and his staff were at their office in Chennai. They were watching a film made by the National Film Development Corporation on tourism centres in the State. All of them were amazed at the sheer variety of tourist spots in Tamil Nadu and its capital, Chennai. At the discussion later, Rajaram, who is also the Managing Director of Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC), said: Nothing impacts like visuals. Screening films is an important part of our job. We should showcase our States variety [of destinations] to the tourists.

For the sheer variety of tourist destinations, Tamil Nadu is unbeatable: magnificent temples, churches, forts, palaces, beaches, hill stations, wildlife sanctuaries and bird sanctuaries, museums, Jaina sites with incredible bas-reliefs of Tirthankaras and yakshis, rock-art sites, Iron Age burial sites with menhirs and cairn circles, sites with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, and so on.

Of the 21 monuments the UNESCO has recognised as World Heritage Monuments in India, five are in Tamil Nadu. They are (1) the Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) complex of the Pallava period which includes rock-cut temples, the monoliths of Five Rathas, the worlds biggest bas-relief called Arjunas Penance, and the Shore Temple on the edge of the sea; (2) the Brihadisvara temple, built by the Chola emperor Raja Raja I at Thanjavur; (3) the second Brihadisvara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, built by Raja Raja Is son Rajendra Chola; (4) the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram, near Kumbakonam, built by Raja Raja II; and (5) the Nilgiri Mountain Railway with its snug little coaches pulled by a steam engine that winds its way up the verdant Nilgiri hills.

What is more, Tamil Nadu is a year-round destination. In summer between April and June, tourists, even if they are day-trippers, can enjoy the pleasant weather in hill stations such as Kodaikanal, Udhagamandalam, Yercaud and Yelagiri. During the rest of the year, tourists can choose their destinations depending on whether they are beach buffs, archaeology aficionados, adventure lovers or the spiritually inclined.

The Tamil Nadu government has taken a number of initiatives in the past two years to promote tourism in the State, said Rajaram. The States unique selling proposition is that it has places of heritage tourism, spiritual tourism, rural tourism, ecotourism and adventure tourism.

The State stands third after Delhi and Andhra Pradesh in attracting tourists. As many as 3.2 crore domestic tourists and 11.79 lakh foreign tourists visited the State in 2005. The figures were 5.06 crore and 17.53 lakh respectively in 2007.

The Tamil Nadu Tourism Department won three national awards from the Union Ministry of Tourism and Culture in 2006-07. They were the Best Rural Tourism Project award for the Chettinad region, the Best Collateral Publicity award and the Best Non-governmental Organisation award for the performance of the Irula Tribal Womens Welfare Society (ITWWS), Thandarai village, near Mamallapuram, for initiating activities that generate income along with tourism promotion.

M. Rajaram, Commissioner of Tourism, Tamil Nadu, and Managing Director, TTDC.-V. GANESAN

The ITWWS, run by Irula womens self-help groups, maintains a nursery for herbs and runs brick kilns. D. Reuben Solomon, its chief executive officer, said that when Zai Whitaker established it in 1996, the place was plain land and the hills were barren. Determined work by the ITWWS has turned it green now.

The Tourism Department and the TTDC have now embarked on a slew of measures to boost tourism. We have launched a programme called Virunthinar portrudhum, virunthinar portrudhum (Let us welcome our guests) to attract more tourists, enhance their stay and project a better image of the State, said Rajaram.

Under this programme, tourist-friendly autorickshaws have been introduced in Chennai and Kanyakumari; temple staff have been trained to be friendly towards tourists; traffic police have been sensitised to be courteous towards visitors and ensure that they are not fleeced by touts; railway porters and airport employees have been asked to be polite towards them.

An important initiative that has drawn praise is the popularisation of lesser-known tourist centres. The centres historical sites, pilgrimage centres and hill stations have been chosen with an eye on their potential to attract tourists. The hill stations are Yelagiri, Valparai and Kolli Hills. Other destinations include Pulicat with the remnants of a Dutch-built fort, a Dutch cemetery and a bird sanctuary in the backdrop of a massive spread of backwaters of the Bay of Bengal, and Tranquebar with its Dutch-built fort.

In 2007-08, the State government sanctioned Rs.12.12 crore for the development of infrastructure in 20 such centres. It will meet 10 per cent (subject to a maximum of Rs.1 crore) of the cost that private entrepreneurs spend in building hotels, amusement parks, golf courses, and so on to attract more tourists to lesser-known centres.

In another important initiative called Destination Development Project, the government has taken up the development or beautification of the Chettinad region in Sivaganga district, the temple town of Srirangam in Tiruchi, the Vellore fort, and the Marina beach in Chennai.

The irula tribal Women's Welfare Society's nursery for herbs at Thandarai, Chengalpet.-M. KARUNAKARAN

The Chettinad region is famous for its palatial houses, with their extraordinary stucco and wood work, of the Nagarathar community. It is also known for its imaginative layout of villages with a temple, a pond and houses around, and the rock-cut temples of Pillayarpatti and Kunrakudi.

With Kanyakumari-Nagercoil-Suchindram-Padmanabhapuram becoming a hub of tourism, S. Raju thought it fit to establish Indien Hermitage, a resort hotel with nine plush cottages on the foothills of the mountains that overlook the Western Ghats. It is situated at Marungoor village, between Suchindram and Nagercoil.

A perennial attraction for art-lovers and tourists is the Mamallapuram complex, 60 km from Chennai, with its rock-cut sculptures of the Pallava period dating from circa A.D. 580 to A.D. 715. The monuments come under four categories: rock-cut caves such as the Varaha cave, the Koneri mantapa, the Yali mantapa and the Mahishasuramardini cave; monolithic structures such as the Five Rathas; the bas-reliefs of Arjunas Penance and Goverdhanadhari; and structural temples such as the Shore Temple, the Oilikannesvara temple and the Mukundarayanar temple.

The Tourism Department has its eyes focussed on medical tourism also. In a pamphlet brought out by the Department, State Tourism Minister N. Suresh Rajan points out that Tamil Nadu is a leader in eye care, oncology, orthopaedics, and kidney transplants. A patient coming to Tamil Nadu for treatment can visit tourist destinations as well. A medical tourism information centre has been set up in the Tamil Nadu Tourism Complex in Chennai. About 30 government and private hospitals have travel desks too.

Incredible India, Enchanting Tamil Nadu, Experience it Yourself is the catchy byline that the TTDC uses nowadays. The TTDC organises more than 30 package tours. They include half-a-day Chennai sightseeing tours, one-day Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram tours, a six-day South India tour, an eight-day Tamil Nadu tour, a seven-day tour called Mookambika tour, and two separate 14-day tours, to Mumbai, Ajanta, Ellora and other places, and Puri-Gaya-Kasi-Allahabad.

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