Why India is worth the trip
Noh Yeon-jie, 27, a student, was in India five years ago.
Despite her ups and downs, “the trip helped me grow as a person and expand my horizons. I came back with unforgettable memories,” she wrote in an email.
Kim Hyung-dong, 32, a marketing specialist, has been thinking about where to spend his week-long vacation in summer. Asked if he’d consider India as an option, he said. “No, not really!”
“I heard about poor sanitation in India. I don’t want to get sick after drinking water or eating food.”
These comments speak volumes about where India is in tourism and what it has to do more.
The world’s seventh largest country with 1.2-billion people is rather remembered for its poverty. An Academy Award winner “Slumdog Millionaire” which offered a glimpse into slum life drew crowds across the world.
A lack of roads, railways, clean water or electricity is what people deal with everyday, but Indian Ambassador to Korea Vishnu Prakash says the much-heralded poverty only adds to India’s diversity, and that shouldn’t obstruct people from deciding to travel there.
His argument has a point.
Behind shortcomings is a history that stretches out almost 75,000 years, bearing invaluable remnants of heritage.
The nation was once under the influence of the British, Dutch, French and Portuguese. It had Islamic states for several centuries prior to colonization and Persians and Greeks attempted to conquer it. In the 1st century AD, merchants from India and the Roman Empire were actively engaged in trade.
That left the northwestern part of the country with a pronounced Islamic presence, meanwhile the South and Central India with European influence. The northeastern part of the country where it borders China offers the most beautiful scenic views thanks to Mt. Everest.
“Once you go to India, you get addicted to its sights, sounds, smells, and colors,” the ambassador said.
According to statistics from the embassy, India had 5.7 million tourists from all over the world in 2010. The United States was on top, drawing almost 930,000 tourists. The number of Korean tourists was 95,587.
The total figure is growing rapidly, according to Prakash, as the figure jumped to 6.3 million last year, an increase of 600,000 in one year.
With the help of a simplified tourist visa application process in Korea, he was confident that the number from Korea will also rapidly increase. The new service began two months ago. The two governments are even discussing a visa-on-arrival, which the ambassador very much hopes to realize soon.
Inside India, an ambitious project to lay out basic tourism infrastructures is underway, costing $1 trillion between 2012 and 2015.
“We do have an infrastructure deficiency. This is a constraint. We’re working on that — good roads, good communications, budget hotels and so on. But it is a large country, and will take some time,” Prakash said.
For Korean tourists, the Gold Triangle that connects Delhi Agra and Jaipur, World Heritage sites, places of Buddhist pilgrimage and Kerala are the most popular destinations.
To maintain the flow, the embassy together with Incredible India office brainstorms tour packages, and make brochures in Korean language. They also participated in the Korea World Travel Fair which took place in Seoul.
On top of already popular sites, the ambassador added two of his recommendations: Rajasthan, a province in the west, and Goa, a beach town in the southwest.
Prakash said the province offers ancient cities in a desert and in a lake and different palaces that were built under heavy Muslim influence.
About Goa, “I’ve been there. It’s so different from the rest of the country,” he said as to why he likes the town.
Prakash is a traveler himself.
Being a civil servant at India’s foreign ministry has seen him travel to more than 100 countries over the span of three decades. He was posted to Russia, the United States, Japan, Egypt and Pakistan. Right before coming to Korea, he was spokesman for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
What is his favorite place outside India?
“It’s Bhutan,” he said. “I always joked with friends that Indian lungs are not suitable for Bhutan. It has a pristine beauty. Tranquility engulfs you. That’s amazing.”