Naxalite terror keeps tourists at bay - Jharkhand fails to attract visitors despite having some of the best scenic spots in the country

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By OUR CORRESPONDENT in Ranchi
  • Published 6.10.05
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Ranchi, Oct. 6: Jharkhand can rightly boast of featuring on its map some of the most scenic spots in the country. But they are not exactly attracting tourists, even those from the neighbouring states, who were once frequent in their visits.

There was a time when places such as Ranchi, Netarhat and Parasnath were popular tourist destinations, especially for those from neighbouring states including West Bengal. During holiday sessions, like the Durga Puja, it would become difficult to get bookings in hotels here. But frequent spurts of Naxalite activities have ensured a steep decline in tourism over the last 10 years.

A pity, considering the richness in terms of locations the region has to offer, some of them considered hot spots for tourists from the world over. Netarhat, surrounded by dense forests, is famous for its breathtaking scenic beauty.

Whereas Betla, with its luxuriant forest cover and rich fauna is one of the earliest tiger reserves in the country. Not just nature, religious sites too would attract people from all over the country. Like the famous Parasnath temple, one of the most important and sanctified of holy places for the Jains.

Laxmi Narayan Rajgarhia, a member of the executive committee of the Federation of Jharkhand Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FJCCI), who also runs a travel agency, said: ?There was a time when hotels on Station Road would double their tariff seeing the huge influx of tourists during the puja holidays. But now they keep on waiting with fingers crossed.?

Very few turn up. Fear has ensured that they plan their holidays to safer destinations. Rajgarhia attributes this decline to the increased Naxal menace in Jharkhand.

?Before the formation of Jharkhand, there were only a few districts under the grip of Naxalites. Now there are 18 such districts. Moreover, our people (of Jharkhand) do not have proper training on how to treat tourists. Guests have not been shown enough welcome, perhaps,? he added.

Former general manager of India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) and Hotel Ranchi Ashoka, M.N. Chaudhari said places such as Netarhat, Betla and McCluskieganj were hot tourist destinations until 10 years back. He also said Bengalis would come in large numbers as they loved nature.

?They would come in groups to enjoy the serene beauty of Netarhat and waterfalls like Hundru, Jonha and Dasham around Ranchi. But it seems these spots have been crossed off by tourists,? he said.

?A fear psychosis persists in the minds of tourists, who read about Naxalite episodes from time to time. People are still coming to Ranchi from other states but mostly for business purpose. They come for a while, stay in a hotel, go to Nepal House or Project Building and then go away,? Chaudary pointed out.

S.K. Sinha, a manager with the Punjab National Bank said: ?Forget about visiting Netarhat or Betla, we are even scared to visit the nearby waterfalls. Recently, I came to know about incidents of loot at Jonha. In this situation, it is but natural to avoid going to Jharkhand during the vacations.?

McCluskieganj, which also used to attract tourists from West Bengal till a few years ago, is no longer a hot spot. The place came into limelight for the wrong reasons. Recently, well known actress Rupa Ganguly (of Draupadi fame from the popular serial Mahabharata) and her team members were looted when they were there for a shoot.

Similarly, Kiriburu, which tourists used to frequent in the puja holidays, no longer holds the attraction for tourists it once did.

A senior official of the Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation however said, though the number of tourists coming in from other states has gone down in the recent years, the corporation has taken several measures to revive tourism in Jharkhand.

?We have already done bookings of over Rs 2 lakh for tourist bungalows at Netarhat and Betla alone, for the puja holidays. And the bookings are still going on,? said the official elatedly.

He said three travel agents from Calcutta have been hired to facilitate bookings of package tours here.

?A road show was organised last month in Calcutta to showcase our tourist spots. That had a good impact. Moreover, we are also publicising these spots through the electronic and print media,? he pointed out.