Ayodhya – Opportunity for Indic Model of Tourism
Visuals of millions of lamps lighting up the city of Ayodhya make our hearts swell with emotions. Do we all not celebrate Diwali because it was first celebrated in Ayodhya, many eons ago. Ayodhya is standing at an important juncture in its history.
Traditionally tourism in India was driven by the pilgrim towns like Ayodhya, Kanchi, and Kashi. Pilgrims regularly visited them following a calendar of fairs and festivals or their own resolve based on the stage of life. Besides religious rituals, people visited sacred places to spend time with the learned sages and saints. It was time to contemplate in an environment conducive to learning.
Since the liberalization of the economy, we have seen all kinds of new-age tourism that has worked in the west being experimented here. Be it wineries in Maharashtra, casinos in Goa, adventures in mountains, or underwater in the coastal regions. In terms of our habits, we have moved away from staying in a hotel only if you did not know anyone in town. Currently, by default staying in a hotel even if you have family and friends in town. The network of all kinds of accommodations from minimal bed and breakfast places to high-end luxury resorts leave us spoilt for choice.
Some properties have become a destination in themselves. Where you can get yourself pampered in a way that is brag-worthy in your social network – both real and digital. All these have seen reasonable success. But they miss the vital rootedness in Indic travel traditions.
City of Ramayana
Ayodhya, the city of Ramayana and many illustrious kings of India, is at the heart of Indian ethos. The city is just coming out of the neglect of at least a millennium, with the building of Sri Ram Mandir. It will by default attract devotees and tourists from around the country. As well as the world, much more than what it can accommodate. Now, will the city be ready to handle so many visitors, is one question everyone has? Ample work is being done to handle it in terms of hard infrastructure. Tourism economies organically learn to handle the business that walks up to them. Innovative solutions, including Jugaad will pop up as the demand builds up.
However, the point that everyone seems to be missing is that of soft infrastructure. Ayodhya is our opportunity to define an Indic way of travel. It is our opportunity to develop a city that is rooted in its historic past. The city that carries forward the aura of its spiritual essence and that has the capability to lead the world in terms of soulful aura experience.
Ayodhya has at least three walkable Parikrama Paths. The shortest being within the city. The longer ones are 5 and 14 Kos or roughly 15 and 42 KMs. These can be made into mud walking tracks like Govardhan Parikrama in Braj, with native trees mentioned in Ramayana with facilities to rest under them. More importantly, halts on these paths can be documented, their stories narrated by the priests or through other mediums. The whole design can keep the pilgrim rooted in the aura of Ayodhya.
Instead of museums meant for the remains of dead societies, we can create spaces where the living traditions can be experienced first-hand. There are ample Ramayana performances from around the world to invite to perform here. It can be the place to nurture all forms of arts, at least 64 of which are mentioned repeatedly in our scriptures. Let the visitors learn how to make flower garlands or masks used in all kinds of Ramayana performances or to sing or dance or tell stories, creating an ecosystem that sustains the art and the artists.
Ayodhya is full of Tirthas or sacred water bodies. Despite the city being located on the banks of the perennial Sarayu river. All of these can be rejuvenated with their annual celebrations performed as prescribed. This might just help us reconnect and respect our water bodies. Have another reason for pilgrims to visit the city.
India has always led the world spiritually. Divinity here has attracted pilgrims and travelers since time immemorial. Most of our pilgrimage places are displaced with their original sacred geography distorted. Ayodhya gives us that unique opportunity to re-create the sacred geography that leverages modern technologies but stays rooted in the Indic Philosophy of Yatra.
Indic way of travel
What is an Indic way of travel? Well, it is a deeply conscious journey to widen your horizon, to learn, to build your endurance. To travel as much inwards as outwards. It is an opportunity to engage in things like serving others through Seva like Gau Seva, in charity like Anna Dana. To meet people unlike you from far and wide, and exchange knowledge and experiences. To indulge in experiential learning of art and craft. It need not be your regular luxury holiday place with an artificial swimming pool. Instead of world cuisine on a platter, let the food from temples delight you the way it does in Puri.
Let Ayodhya define, showcase and lead with an Indic model of tourism.
Edited for this online publication.