One State, many worlds

Print edition : September 18, 2015

The Mysuru Palace had over 3.24 million visitors in 2014. Photo: By Special Arrangement

A Yakshagana artist. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The Karnataka government embarks on an ambitious plan to make the State one of the most preferred tourist destinations in India and the world at large.

FLOATING down the Cauvery in a coracle in the monsoon can be a hell of an experience. Yes, you have strapped on your life jacket and your guide has been travelling down the 14-kilometre stretch of the river between Bheemeshwari and Galibore for decades. But the fast-flowing river—thanks to the monsoon rains and the sudden release of water from the upstream Krishnaraja Sagar (KR Sagar) dam—the gyrating coracle, the wild buffaloes that eye you with suspicion from among the trees and the ever present crocodiles can give you the goose bumps. Yes, you’re in the wilderness, with imposing hills on either side of the river, but then you are not totally out of touch with civilisation and creature comforts. That is what Karnataka’s tourism can offer you. Eco-tourism packaged to suit even the most fussy and urbane of travellers.

A trip to Mysuru, a few years down the line may never be the same if the State Tourism Department has its way. You will be able to go on an organised urban walking tour (like the famous London Walks) through the labyrinth of historic lanes and gullies of a heritage city where palaces and temples are juxtaposed with outlandish domes and turrets.

Lush green forests, pristine beaches and calm blue seas, sparkling white waterfalls and cool highland retreats, and endless plains. Add to this the rich and diverse wildlife habitats, heritage sites, pilgrim centres, and the excitement of Yakshagana (folk theatre). You will find all this in Karnataka, one State, many worlds. Karnataka is nature’s kaleidoscope at her best. The Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru is the third busiest airport in the country and connects the State to every part of the globe.

So it is no surprise that estimates of tourist traffic to the “country within a state” are set to go up from the present 110 million to 210 million by 2024. Estimates also indicate that investments totalling Rs.54,000 crore, half of this from the private sector, are likely to flow into the tourism sector over the next five years. This will help create over three million jobs in the sector. The Tourism Department has approved 319 project proposals with a proposed investment of around Rs.950 crore. Of these, 126 projects have been completed.

Sandwiched between Kerala and Goa, the two States with aggressive and sustained tourism policies, Karnataka has had to work hard just to keep pace with them. With over 118 million tourist footfalls in 2014, Karnataka was ranked the third most-preferred destination among domestic tourists. In 2010 and 2011 the Mysuru Palace, also known as Amba Vilas, was on The New York Times’ 31 must-see places on earth. The palace saw over 3.24 million visitors in 2014.

Plans and policy

The State government has embarked on an ambitious plan to make Karnataka one of the top two destinations in India and one of the top 50 in the world. According to Tourism Minister R.V. Deshpande, the vision is to “develop Karnataka as a safe, sustainable and most-favoured tourism destination”. In 2013, the government constituted the Karnataka Tourism Vision Group to provide a road map to put Karnataka on a par with the best destinations in the world. The Karnataka Tourism Policy, 2015-2020 states that the government “will follow a non-discriminatory approach to promote balanced regional development by attracting investments from the private sector and local entrepreneurs”. Deshpande said the government “will strive to create an enabling environment for safe and sustainable tourism in Karnataka and lay emphasis on providing a quality experience to tourists”.

G. Satyavathi, Director of the Department of Tourism, said the mission of the policy is to “promote tourism products and services which will encourage repeat visits, increased length of stay and spending by tourists, stimulate economic growth and raise the quality of service to global standards, even while preserving the social and cultural fabric of the State”. The policy objective is to accelerate and facilitate private investments and promote entrepreneurship in the tourism sector, motivate and enthuse different segments of society to contribute towards its development, and provide a “total quality” experience to visitors.

In order to develop quality tourism infrastructure and support facilities, the government set up Karnataka Tourism Infrastructure Limited (KTIL) and enacted the Karnataka Tourism Trade (Facilitation and Regulation) Act (KTTFRA), 2015. Satyavathi said: “KTIL is an enabling mechanism that will help us to mobilise bigger projects and create infrastructure in the public-private partnership model and bring mega investments into the tourism sector. It will also ensure safety and security of tourists and strengthen accountability at various tiers of government.”

Under the KTTFRA, the government has called for detailed project reports to develop and create tourist friendly facilities in Old Mangaluru town (Dakshina Kannada district), Srirangapatna town (Mandya), Maulangi falls and Haliyal Fort (both in Uttara Kannada) and Kittur Fort (Belagavi).

The government has given the nomenclature “preferred tourist districts” to the Cauvery basin districts of Mysuru, Mandya, Chamarajanagar and area that come under Kanakapura taluk of Ramanagaram. A Cauvery River Gallery, replete with a simulator, will be set up in Mysuru. Tourist Plazas are being set up at Pattadakal, Karwar and Mysuru.

In a first of its kind, the Tourism Department has encouraged corporate groups to invest in tourism projects through their corporate social responsibility initiatives. The Kavla caves near Dandeli in Uttara Kannada, has been adopted by the West Coast Paper Mills, the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary near Mandya by Sandur Manganese and Iron Ores Limited, the Lal Bagh Gardens by the Bangalore Chamber of Industries and Commerce, the Hoysala temples in Belur and Halebeedu (near Hassan) by the Coffee Day group, the Government Museum in Bengaluru by Jindal Iron and Steel Limited and the Venkatappa Art Gallery by the Tasveer Foundation.

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