While India loves to flaunt its big brother status among its neighbours near and far, as far as its buzzing economy goes, along with the giant strides made in science and technology (Martian exploits et al) it wouldn’t hurt to pause a bit and look closer as there might just be a few humbling lessons, especially with regard to tourism, that can be learnt from these nations.
This realisation manifested itself in several ways while yours truly was on a backpacking trip recently to Cambodia. This tiny country, tucked between its more popular neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam, largely relies on imports and possesses a currency that is almost non-existent (4,000 Riels = 1 US Dollar). Tourism, thanks to its stunning Angkor Wat temple is a huge draw, attracting tourists from across the globe throughout the year.
As one trekked through these impressive temples, soaking in stunning examples of Hindu and Buddhist art, the pride and civic sense of the local population towards this UNESCO World Heritage Site left one speechless. No spitting, littering or graffiti could be spotted. Outside, it was a pleasure to not be greeted with advertisements, hoardings, or technicolour lighting (read: CST’s garish venture). One was informed by a hotel owner later, of how plans to have a connecting rail network around the site were scrapped in a flash, fearing damage to the ruins.
Sites are primarily managed by the Cambodian Authority for the Protection of the Site and the Development of the Region of Angkor, along with support from another country. It was a matter of pride to note that even India’s Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had a hand in the restoration of one of them – at Ta Prohm. But it also made one wish for the ASI to look inward — case in point being the appalling condition of our very own UNESCO World Heritage Site at Elephanta Caves. Further, at some sites even as portions were being restored, the meticulous handling of such preservation work was done with least inconvenience to tourists.
This apart, basic amenities – clean restrooms (remember Modi’s Independence Day speech?), useful signage at most points and authorised guides made a world of difference for a hassle-free experience. Despite its huge scale, the cleanliness of every site (no trace of litter) and adequate number of bins self-explained the importance given to this gigantic site.
In retrospect, it made one wish for our tourism ministry to learn a lesson or two from some of its low-profile Asian neighbours on how to manage its heritage, treasures and legacy with respect, and in the best way possible for the rest of the world to admire.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day