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Fiona Fernandez: Green channel for Maharashtra

The monsoon is an opportune time for the gods at the state’s tourism department to effectively repackage its tourist attractions

It’s that time of year. As the monsoon covers the state, its topography transforms almost magically. Stunning, diverse shades of green cover every corner. Brooks overflow, streams gurgle and rivers come to life; our forts stand resplendent, washed off their grime while our hill stations appear like jewels of mist amid the Sahyadris. Maharashtra looks its vibrant best.

A week ago, we received a mail from the state’s tourism department that suggested several options for monsoon themed getaways at their outposts. We could have been reading this mail in June 2006: what with similar offers and ‘attractions’. It jogged our memory to the many occasions when we’ve dropped by some of these destinations. The flashback wasn’t pleasant. We were reminded of this one time in particular, when we headed to Sinhagad. While the citadel left us in awe with its robust fortifications, the onsite maintenance — be it the horrific, shriek-inducing washrooms or the litter-strewn pathways — highlighted the utter neglect and disinterest to invest in this slice of history.
Of course, adding to the insult, its walls were marred with graffiti – the claim to fame that the irresponsible tourist carries like a badge of honour. Our encounters during stays at Alibaug and Bhandardhara left a similar feeling — awesome locations, below average facilities.

We suspect this column might end up like a laundry list of sights that need a desperate look-in. But the fact remains that over the years, very little seems to have been done to attract the tourist with incentives or options that are on par with privately-run hotels and resorts. The gap is too wide to bridge. In contrast, a visit to state-run facilities in other states like Kerala, Uttarakhand and closer home, even Goa, are eye openers, where facilities and services are pretty much on par with the rest, especially for the middle-class, VFM-seeking tourist.

With monsoon being peak season for tourism, this should have been the time when authorities wooed tourists and went to town about Maharashtra’s rain-kissed sites. One is forced to think aloud — what are the takeaways from umpteen ‘study trips’ that our babus make a beeline for? Shouldn’t they be held accountable for making zero effort to improve the apathetic conditions in our tourist destinations? The condition of Mumbai’s UNESCO Heritage Site, Elephanta Caves is one such example where nobody seems concerned. To hell with the condition of the historic caves and the infrastructure that feeds off tourism on the island.

Tourism can be an ideal instrument to measure any state’s commitment to its natural treasures. Smart cities are fine, but how about putting the ‘smart’ into its tourist attractions? If implemented quickly, and with expert advice, it can be a win-win situation for the state and tourist. It’s all about moving ahead when the signal changes to green.

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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