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Celebrating Smart Tourism in Punjab

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It is acknowledged as the very cradle of civilisation. Blessed with being one of the most fertile regions in the world. Inhabited by bravehearts, people known the world over as enthusiastic, courageous, hard workers who are as hospitable as having a great zest in life. Punjab, the land of rivers with verdant fields that feed the nation, is proclaiming its rich history, cultural legacy, architectural wonders to woo tourists from world over and leave them amazed, writes Priya Yadav of Elets News Network (ENN).

“It is time that the world discovers the glory, the magnificence of Punjabi culture and discover the beauty of its palaces, forts, the richness of its rural life, cuisine, the passion and art of people as showcased in its handicrafts.”

Punjab is not just about the iconic, world famed and reverred Golden Temple, the nerve centre of Sikhism. It has architectural wonders to boast of that leaves travellers amazed. A traveller coming to Punjab gets treated to not just visual feasts – as the emerald fields, beautiful Gurudwaras, forts and palaces offer but gastronomical feasts as well. The rich cuisine of the State, drawing heavily from the good life people live in the villages, leaves the travellers satiated in more ways than one. For several decades after the country’s independance in 1947, Punjab’s potential as a tourism destination remained unexplored mainly, as the focus of respective Governments remained primarily on agriculture. However, as agriculture has hit a plateau in the State, there is a growing realisation that tourism can be developed as a source of revenue and employment generation, given the rich cultural legacy the State has which is of immense appeal to a foreign tourists. The present Government has laid strong emphasis on promoting tourism in the State and as such within few months of coming to power, has come out with a draft for State’s Tourism Policy. The same is set to be implemented after it gets nod from the cabinet and is passed by the State Assembly.

NAVJOT SINGH SIDHU
Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Government of Punjab

Punjab has rich history and endless number of stories of extraordinary bravery. We now have to ensure that these are made known to our younger generation and to people outside the State.”

The beauty of Punjab, its rich and simple village life has been captured most beautifully by Bollywood and in fact it is the tinsel town which has glorified and popularised the State’s beauty. From the sun kissed yellow mustard fields which captured the imagination of the entire country as Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan sang songs running through these in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, or the emerald green fields around Mughal Sarai Doraha, shown in Rang De Basanti – Punjab has inspired film makers for decades.

Acutely aware of the State’s potential, the department of Tourism, under the leadership of Sardar Navjot Singh Sidhu, has got busy formulating a policy for promoting films. The policy is likely to be unveiled soon by the Government. This will facilitate filmmakers shooting in the State and also promote local talent besides making facilties available for film making and post production.

“Punjab has rich history and endless number of stories of extraordinary bravery. We now have to ensure that these are made known to our younger generation and to people outside the State. The new tourism policy whose draft we have already prepared will showcase Punjab as a must see destination for global and domestic traveller,” says Navjot Singh Sidhu, Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Government of Punjab.

As you travel through the sprawling sun kissed fields, punctuated by blue canals and endless streams, one comes across red mud and brick structures, with impressive gateways, that are distinctly Mughal in character. These are the Sarais that the Mughals built on the Grand Trunk Road for the benefit of their perpetually moving armies. This is where the travelling soldiers would halt, rest, eat before they moved on. Some of the Sarais, Dakhni Sarai in Nakodar, Jalandhar which has 124 cubicles built around a courtyard with a well, Doraha in Ludhiana, Shambhu in Patiala with its magnificent suites, are ready to come back to life.

The State government has acknowledged the dilapidated condition of these pieces of magnificent history and decided to turn these places of neglect into star centres of attraction for tourists. “It is unfortunate for us that big fat Punjabi weddings, as they are called, are being hosted in places like Rajasthan. We are determined to turn this around and have decided to renovate and let out these iconic sarais for the use of hosting magnificent weddings. Lit in the backdrop with their opulent structures, these venues will be exclusive and most sought after in future,” said Sidhu, giving a glimpse of what the new tourism policy entails.

It is often said about Punjab that the culture the State has is – agriculture. With a view to exploit this vast potential, the tourism department has of late increased its focus on what has come to be called “ Farm Tourism”, “Rural Tourism” . Showing the way are many successful entrepreneurs who are attracting and hosting large number of foreign travellers on their farms.

“The idea is to let people live the life on a farm, even if it is for a short time,” says Harkirat Ahluwalia, the owner of Citrus County Farms in Hoshiarpur. “ Its the perfect way to break away from the madness of city life, soak in the pleasure of countryside, enjoy its chores, be one with mother Earth. At the same time, we do not want people to give up the comforts of civilised life and so have come out with the concept of glamping — camping with glamour thrown in a good measure.”

The farm stays are offering exclusive services as they show how meals are cooked the traditional way on wood fuel, letting the guests go to the fields and pick fruits and vegetables, interact with villagers, be part of village rituals and ceremonies besides offering endless opportunities of taking pictures.

When you think of forts, Punjab does not spring to mind instantly. It is this picture that the State government is keen to change. “Punjab has beautiful forts and palaces which are waiting to be discovered. We are now going to promote these in a big way so that people come to know about their significance. For instance, few know that the oldest surviving fort in the country is in Bathinda which has been in existence from 90-110 AD. The bricks here date back to Kushana period and it was here that Razia Sultan, the first woman to take charge of the Delhi throne was incarcerated on her defeat and dethroned,” says Shivdular Singh Dhillon, CEO of Punjab Heritage Tourism Promotion Board.

Another beautiful example of the forts is Gobindgarh Fort in Amritsar which has recently been developed as a repository of Punjab’s history, a unique live museum. The famous Kohinoor diamond was housed here before it was taken away by the Britishers. Then there is the beautiful Jagatjit Palace in Kapurthala, modelled after the Palace of Versailles and built by the then Maharaja Jagatjit who was impressed and influenced by European architecture.

Tune into any radio channel and it will not be possible not to come across music that is not influenced by Punjabi beats. Punjabi music has inspired music directors across the country and the globe in a way that is beyond imagination. Punjab celebrates its music in a big way.

“It is time that the world discovers the glory, the magnificence of Punjabi culture and discover the beauty of its palaces, forts, the richness of its rural life, cuisine, the passion and art of people as showcased in its handicrafts.”

“A national musical fair, held every year in the month of December, is acknowledged to be the oldest music festival in the world. Started by Baba Harballabh in the memory of his Guru Swami Tulja Giri in 1875, it is the only music fair of its type in India and even, abroad. The best of the country’s exponents of instrumental and vocal music deem their careers incomplete unless they come and perform here,” says Basanta Rajkumar, executive director, Punjab Heritage Tourism Promotion Board. Also, great people from all walks of life look forward to attending this gathering. In 1929, Mahatma Gandhi had attended this fair.

Punjab as a destination offers something for everyone and even nature lovers are not left disappointed. The State boasts of impressive wetlands which attract thousands of migratory birds from across the world every year. The Harike, Kanjili and Ropar, wetlands offer excellent opportunity for ornithologists and series of activities are organised by the department of tourism to generate awareness among travellers of the natural wealth the State possesses.

The State’s handicrafts are also popular and known for their beauty the world over. The richness of the land is reflected in its handicraft. You get to see their skill woven even into the footwear, daily dresses, carpets even as villagers mud-plaster the walls of the house and then, create motifs and designs on the mudded walls. Thin straws of glass are used for basketry works, which is another Punjabi craft that is immensely popular. Mats, rugs, carpets, curtains and hand fans are woven using these straws. Embroidery is another extensively followed work of art, known in the State by various local names. Phulkari, an intricate needle work, is extremely popular and is mainly taken up by village girls.

It is time that the world discovers the glory, the magnificence of Punjabi culture and discover the beauty of its palaces, forts, the richness of its rural life, cuisine, the passion and art of people as showcased in its handicrafts. It is time for the State to arrive on the world stage as the most sought after destination.

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