In this episode of Swarajya Conversations, we talk to Karnataka’s Minister For Tourism, Culture And Kannada, C T Ravi.
Watch the interview here:
The air is festive in the country what with Dussera just round the corner. And in Karnataka, all roads lead to Mysuru for the naada habba or the state festival, as the Mysuru Dasara is called.
Mysuru Dasara offers a glimpse into all that the state has to offer — the majestic parade of the tall tuskers, the cultural extravaganza, and the grandeur of heritage. However, there is so much more to this state than its Dasara celebrations.
For instance, the state anthem describes it as a ‘sundara nadi vanagala naade’ as it has umpteen varieties of flora and fauna — be they the Bandipura Tiger Reserve and National Park, the Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary or the Dandeli Reserve Forest.
Or as the poet further says, ‘jaya hai rasa rushigala beedey’ it has umpteen number of temples and mathas and is a hub for religious tourism.
But a lot of this doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. In other words, the tourism potential of this state has been left untapped. To discuss this and a lot more, Swarajya interviewed the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Kannada, C T Ravi.
Edited excerpts follow.
One half of the state is dealing with conditions of drought while the other half is yet to recover from the floods. It is not a great time to have inherited this ministry. Areas like Madikeri, your hometown, or even Hampi, have all been affected by floods. How are you looking to kick-start activity in these areas and reinstate them as tourist places?
We can’t prevent natural calamities. But we can take measures to reduce the impact and rebuild the places. This time around the floods in North Karnataka happened mainly because of the heavy rainfall in Maharashtra.
In Malnad, landslides have happened because of heavy rainfall in a short period of time. But since this is seasonal, there isn’t like a prolonged long term impact at least on the tourist destinations. They are protected.
Some places like the Ballala Rayana Durga, or excepting Coorg and Kuduremukha regions, maybe, the rest of the regions have not been affected so much. But tourism is a long term plan and so we will rebuild these places successfully.
Tourism generally doesn't feature among the top priorities of any state — and understandably so — but Karnataka's tourism potential is still latent and much can be done about making it more attractive to tourists. How do you plan to go about it, in terms of connectivity and building awareness and the like? Is there a new tourism policy that would address these issues?
What I have in mind is, what we need is, to make a comprehensive tourism plan for Karnataka — as to what needs to be done.
I have already visited 6-7 districts and in the next two months will visit all the districts of the state and review. What we have done first is to identify the tourist spots.
We have identified that we have over 1500 heritage spots — both state and central heritage sites. Along with that, we have identified 41 tourism circles — in which 319 important sites have been marked.
Firstly, we are a secure state. Compared to many other states we are a very safe and secure state. Any tourist first and foremost thinks about safety. Secondly, connectivity — at all our tourism circuits we need to ensure connectivity.
Thirdly, hospitality — we need to check if there are different ranges of accommodation facilities — be they budget hotels or star ones — we need to look at the hospitality sector. Fourthly, cleanliness and providing basic hygienic facilities.
Fifthly, information about these places. We need to update the existing information.
Also, tourist who come here seek experiences. Experience tourism has greater demand today — unlike in the past when people came here mainly for religious and temple tourism.
But then adventure tourism happened and so on and with changing times, tourism is also transforming.
For instance, people come seeking experiences. Say a village experience is what they are seeking. We have to provide these experiences. So on a trial basis, this Dasara, we have thought of introducing the agricultural traditions/experience for visitors — to give them a village experience.
Similarly, we are looking at identifying such options in all the parts of the state and offer a village experience to tourists. Identify and register houses and families who can be made part of this programme, train them to offer native food, native folk songs, and the like — a complete village experience for tourists.
Not create any of this artificially but offer an organic one. We are thinking along these lines.
Also, we are a state with a very rich cultural heritage — the cultural experience that Coorg offers, for instance, is completely different from what you will get in Mysuru or Mandya, while the coast has a totally different cultural experience to offer.
Be it North Karnataka or Kalyana Karnataka or Central Karnataka — the experiences are completely different — be it in food, lifestyle, cultural heritage, folklore, or language.
Linguistically too, while Uttara Karnataka offers one experience, Kodagu has our bhaashe speakers who you will only find in Kodagu and nearby areas like Sullya. The experience offered by the Kannada of Kundapura is completely different from that offered by Mandya.
For instance, with Mandya Kannada, it is difficult to figure out if someone is abusing you or praising you! This kind of multitude of experiences is what we want to offer to people and are planning for the same.
If we market and promote this right, we do not need to create anything artificial. If we just provide good information, hospitality, atmosphere and promote it right, our tourism can do ten times better than what we are doing right now.
Talking of information, involving stake holders is important — it is not possible to develop information without involving them — so why not create a system where you can involve them also — maybe as guides or trained personnel?
Surely we should involve the locals but not in a way that leads to creation of slums around these sites. I had been to Manikyadhara, it falls in my district. Although I was born there and grew up there, I go there very rarely now. So when I went there recently I saw this line of shops that have created a slum. This should not happen.
We need to create a model, and then train the locals and maybe accommodate them within that setup. If we let slums develop, it will be counter-productive.
It is the same for Hampi. Hampi is our pride. The story of Hampi gives me goosebumps. Anyone who visits Hampi feels proud about our culture. But it also awakens and alerts us.
When it is the question of such a site, we need to plan how we can go about showcasing it, how it can be showcased best. We should involve the locals but we need to train them in such a way that they can facilitate tourism there.
A native market should be setup. But we must also see that there is no exploitation [of that market].
Atithi devo bhava is what we believe in. And so, we should ensure we look to hosting tourists with the same feeling. This will go a long way in inducing a positive feeling among tourists and they would want to visit us again.
People from whichever part of the world they be should feel like coming back to Hampi, over and over again. This is the kind of environment we need to create and we look forward to work in this direction.
A lot of international scholars and photographers have had to experience a lot of difficulties. What can be done to ease the rot of permissions, which is currently very bureaucratic?
Look, we have a unique concept with Jungle Lodges. Now when we get international tourists there, they will have to follow the rules and regulations. Just because they have permissions, they can’t take it for granted that we will waive the rules.
We do permit and facilitate travel and our KSTDC and the like are here to facilitate tourism. Compared to many other states we are blessed to have everything in Karnataka, except maybe for snow, we have it all here.
For that too, if you go to Himavat Swamy Betta you get a feel of what it is to be on a snow-clad mountain top. Not of the Himalayan range maybe but the experience is no less satisfying.
And what we have as our cultural heritage — the kind of cultured and ‘susamskrata’ people we have, only facilitates tourism.
Tourism development is one thing – what about the tourism website?
We will update the tourism information centres. Another thing on the cards is creating an information portal like Wikipedia — that can be updated by locals — with the history of the place and the like.
And, since I also have charge of the culture ministry, we are planning this new project of documenting the history and culture of every village. This too shall be available online and on the website.
In one year’s time, do come back and question me. You will know then if we have done any work or not. I will then talk with results.
Right now, I am studying my region, comparing it to other states in the country, and discussing with various experts about how we can take our state tourism to an international level.
This is the study stage, then comes the planning stage followed by execution. Right now, for the next two months, I will focus on studying. Then we will plan with various stakeholders and experts and after we have perfected this plan of action, we will get to executing it.
Like you rightly said, budget allocation for tourism isn’t high; that’s because the priority sectors for a government are different. For a government, building a house for a poor man, providing drinking water and health facilities are priority. For instance, with the flood situation, the priority now is in constructing houses.
But I have confidence that we can develop a PPP (public-private partnership) model; we can try such development through the CSR funds from corporates.
A few good corporate houses can be involved and asked to adopt these heritage sites. Like animals and wildlife are adopted, we can seek their involvement by asking these corporate and business houses to adopt these sites.
Someone would have gone from a small town and made it big. We can ask them to develop the heritage sites back in their hometown and ask them to get involved in the development tasks of their own towns. Policy and plans will be ours, and this is a win-win situation.
As this will also bring indirect taxes, generate more jobs as well as ensure the capital that they invest in these ventures does bear them some fruit. We are planning in this direction because we are not yet at a stage where the government can do everything on its own.
Coming back to information, we have to talk about setting the narrative right. At a lot of places, the information at the sites on plaques and boards is restricted to ‘who built it when’ but the story of its destruction and desecration remains untold.
There is an adage: ”One who doesn’t know history cannot make history.” Only if one knows his history can he make history. Given this outlook, it is important that the people of today know the true history of a place — the real truth — not the exaggerated one.
For instance, with the same fervour that we say ‘Tipu Sultan fought against the British’, with the same fervour we should also inform how Tipu’s father, Hyder Ali invaded the state of Mysore.
The stories of the atrocities that took place, be it in Malabar, in Kodagu or in Mangalore under his reign, should be told. And how during his rule he had Persian replace Kannada as the administrative language.
History should tell the real story and in that case if some ‘masala’ or additions are made to those events in which we can take pride in, it is not wrong. But additions to those stories that make us bow our heads in shame should be avoided.
Our historical tales should fill us with pride. As important as it is for our countrymen to know of the grandeur and glory of Vijayanagara, it is equally important that they should know what led to the destruction of Vijayanagara. Because, should a similar situation arise in the future, one should be ready to face it.
How Mayura Sharma became Mayruav Verma, we need to tell these tales. Of how a ‘swabhimani’ young man built the Kadamba Empire. Kempegowda’s foresight and vision and how he built the city of Bengaluru should be told.
The real and true tales of history must be told. Tipu Sultan ‘s contributions should be spoken of, so should his atrocities.
Be it the Marathas or the Chalukyas, Hoysalas. The stories of the Hoysala empire gives me goosebumps. From the time of the Shatavahanas our state has contributed —from the Stone Age to today’s IT-BT age, these stories have to be told.
How do you intend to tell these stories?
Once we get the basics right, maybe through sound and light shows. For instance, the story of the stone fort of Chitradurga gained popularity only after Ta Ra Su’s novel Durgastmana. [Ta Ra Su is T R Subbarao, a famous Kannada novelist.]
It became a matter of pride for the people of Karnataka. The tale of Onake Obavva’s bravery, of how a daughter of this state — a Dalit girl child — wielded the staff and stood in defence of this land is one that infuses pride at all times.
Such tales maybe we can tell them through sound and light shows, or in other forms; we will think about it.
You have mentioned the need to highlight different regions. I come from the coast, and would like to know what plans to you have for the same.
See, for instance, our Kambala itself, I haven’t seen it anywhere. We can make it a world attraction. Our Yakshagana can be offered as an experience to international tourists; for instance, clicking a picture with those dressed up as Yakshagana characters can be one such.
We should work around the folk culture we have. I was telling you about the fisher folk. We should take tourists to a fisherman’s house, show them how fishing is done here, and get them to cook seafood as an experience. In this way, we can create various experiences.
There are ways to do as many things as we can think of. We can explore and attract tourists in so many ways and we will do it.
The museums are not in a great state. The folk museum in Mysore, for example, is in a shambles. Given that museums provide access to our past, is there any plan to fix the museums?
Yes, there are issues with museums. We will have to involve experts and specialists, provide training to the existing workforce and address these issues.
We have plans to setup international tourist centres, for instance, in places like Mangalore, Mysore, and Hubli.
Plus we can have local museums that showcase the local and regional culture and heritage. You can have a Malnad museum, one in Karavali. There are as many opportunities as ideas to work in this field.
Talking of ideas, Union Home Minister Amit Shah proposed this idea of Hindi as a unifying language. As the Kannada minister what would your views be?
See, he didn’t propose Hindi in place of Kannada or in place of Tamil. As a communication language in the country, it is good if we have Hindi, is what he has said. There is a reason for it too.
Forty five per cent people in the country now know Hindi. The other 55 per cent may not know it but like we have English as an international communication language, why not have Hindi as a national communication language? We should have one of our own, right? It is for this reason he said it.
It is not against any language.
Amit Shah’s mother tongue isn’t Hindi, it is Gujarati. Even Mahatma Gandhi had said this and his mother tongue was not Hindi. And this idea hasn’t been proposed by Amit Shah alone.
The same was espoused by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, as well as Ram Manohar Lohia. Jawahar Lal Nehru too did voice the same thoughts as did P Chidambaram. But if they say it, it is not a dispute!
A few people with a destructive mentality believe they will turn activists by just protesting against Hindi. But there is no need to protest. Let us protect what is ours, let us safeguard Kannada and do whatever needs to be done to promote it.
But at the same time, what is wrong if we acquire and accept Hindi as a communicative language in the country? I do not see anything wrong with it.
When we have no aversion towards English, why have it towards Hindi? Does anyone say it is wrong to learn English? Similarly, why not learn Hindi?
Let us passionately learn Kannada but let English and Hindi too stay. For a Kannadiga, if he knows Hindi also well, he can be a national leader. Like English brings him opportunities at the national and international level, so will acquiring Hindi. Amitji spoke in this light and I take it positively.
As for those who take it negatively, those are the kinds who have always taken every such move negatively. I see it as a positive action though.
You have spoken about safeguarding and promoting Kannada. But the Kannada and Culture website is in such a sorry state. There is nothing even for those who know Kannada. It looks more like a booking site for the various auditoriums in the state. When your government is all for Digital India, what do you have to say about this?
We need to update it. Being the technology hub that Bengaluru is, if we do not use technology right, who else will? We have to update it. We are thinking about it and will change its form and format completely.
Coming back to Mysuru since Dasara is just ten days away, Mysuru can be developed as a heritage city. Maybe modelled on the lines of Bali, which has a similar feel with almost everything having a heritage value. Any plans to do this? Also, can we look forward to getting Dasara a GI tag which the Kumbh Mela has? \
There are more than 180 heritage buildings in Mysuru, some of which are in good shape, some of which are dilapidated. We have just discussed this in the cabinet meeting a few days back.
So, we will have to plan the restoration and maintenance of these structures while ensuring that their original heritage character is kept intact. The other thing we have on mind is to give a heritage look to some of the entry points to the Mysore palace – make them the way they were at one point of time. So we are looking at giving some spaces the heritage look.
There is a street in Paris, I think, which has a heritage look — the spaces inside may all be modern but the exteriors have a heritage look and that is what we are thinking about.
Also, we have sent a DPR (development project report?) for the Chamundi Hill under the Prasadam scheme which is at the stage of being passed.
Under the central government’s Swadeshi scheme, we will send a proposal to develop Mysuru as a heritage city, which means whoever constructs any building or structure, the exteriors will have to have a heritage look. We are thinking on these lines.
All these plans are in their initial stages but the problems appear only at the implementation stage. Ideating is not problematic. It is not easy to change people as we wish to, but we will plan.
Now that Dasara is almost here, would you like to invite people for the Naada habba?
We have a song “Mysuru Dasara, eshtondu sundara”, they say, ’eshtu kannidru saaladu’ (one pair of eyes will not suffice) — meaning it is not possible to capture the beauty of Mysuru Dasara.
So I invite everyone to come along with your families and witness Dasara in Mysuru. Dasara should stay in your memory forever. I urge everyone to come witness the grandeur of the Jumbu Savari, and the mighty Mysore Palace.