What are the new initiatives of Gujarat Tourism?
We are promoting Gujarat in a big way with some upgradation of existing facilities and introduction of new tourism concepts. We are making big museums, exhibitions and other basic amenities for tourists. As a state, Gujarat has almost everything to offer including the coastline, Gir forest, Mahatma Gandhi’s presence, Buddha circuit and so on. The USP lies in the festivals which include the Rann of Kutch jamboree, Navratri and the innternational kite-flying festivals. These are attracting a lot of domestic and foreign tourists. Now, we have identified seven big golf courses and documenting our birds to develop niche tourism.
How many tourists visited Gujarat in 2017?
We had around 4.5 crore travellers last year, an increase by 17 per cent from the past two years. Out of them, 98 per cent were domestic tourists and two per cent were foreign tourists. We are getting a lot of travel agents on board to know what foreigners are expecting from us.
The Ministry of Tourism has announced 2018 as the Year of Adventure Tourism. How are you working towards developing it?
This is one area that we will be focussing on. Though we have forest safari within the sanctuaries, and organise paragliding and mountaineering expeditions, we will soon be coming up with guidelines for better supervision and safety.
You have recently launched “border tourism” in Gujarat. How has the response been?
We started the concept on December 16 at Nadabet in Banas Kantha district and since then it has picked up really well. As part of the package, tourists are taken to the Pakistan boundary to get a look and feel of the place. There is an exhibition centre which showcases the way BSF patrol guards live there. By sunset, the tourists are taken back to the BSF camp and they get to see the beating retreat ceremony. The only difference between Wagah Border and Nadabet Border is that the latter is one-sided.
What was the idea behind developing an international Buddhist circuit?
In the 1960s, remnants of Lord Buddha were found in a casket recovered from Meshwo Dam in north Gujarat. This has been being preserved at the Baroda Archaeological Museum in MS University. We are planning to come up with a big Buddhist complex that will house 150 m-high statues of the Buddha and host exhibitions showcasing Buddhist sites, culture and tradition. Maybe, we will develop the tourist sprawl near the riverfront or the reservoir. We have worked out a circuit that takes you through the Buddhist caves and viharas that are mainly found in Junagadh, Gir, Somnath and Bhavnagar. We have already identified these under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme and are getting a lot of support from the Central Government. This will attract a lot of tourists from East Asia.
How are you promoting the sites of the Indus Valley civilisation?
We have two sites showcasing the Indus Valley culture. One is in Kutch and the other is in Lothal, more than 50 km away from Ahmedabad. We already have a museum which is being upgraded. Along with the Ministry of Shipping, we are coming out with a National Maritime Heritage Complex where culture, handicrafts and artifacts of that period will be showcased. Even the Maritime University is under construction. We are the nodal agency for the entire project.
Gujarat has one of the few sun temples in the country which is the biggest attraction for pilgrims. Any special plan?
The sun temple in Modhera in Sana district is already under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme of the Central Government. To expand this, we are planning to make Modhera village into a solar energy-based self-sustainable unit along with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. We want to make it a world class tourist destination.
How is the Dandi Heritage Circuit shaping up?
It is already under way and we are stretching this to the Dandi beach at Navsari so that the tourist can experience the most important phase in Mahatma Gandhi’s life up close. We are also building a big Dandi Museum, showcasing his teachings and philosophy, and making it interactive, especially for the younger generation. We already have the basic infrastructure in Rajkot, Porbandar, Ahmedabad, Sabarmati Ashram and others.
Photos: Alwin Singh