Punjab’s Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs annually organises Sufi festival in Amritsar. Serving as a source of inspiration for youngsters, the festival has undergone drastic change over the years, says Jaspal Singh, Principal Secretary, Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Government of Punjab, in conversation with Priya Yadav of Elets News Network (ENN).
What are the main challenges in promoting heritage tourism in Punjab? Unfortunately, tourism in Punjab has not been able to flourish as it should. It has been on a backburner for long but since the last few years, large investment has been made in this sector.
During 1999 and subsequent years, Birth of Khalsa celebrations were made and Virasat E Khalsa came into existence. It is a museum of Sikhism, located in Anandpur Sahib, near Chandigarh.There is drastic transformation that has come up in Anandpur Sahib itself. An investment of Rs 2,500 crore has been made in the past three-four years for the revival of tourism in the State. It’s a very big investment for a small State like Punjab. Now we are at a stage at which we can exploit the improved condition of the tourism for the advantage of the people of the State. You offer services to tourists coming from across the globe, they stay in the state, spend money here and that in turn boosts the business of local people.
What are the plans for the expansion of Virasat E Khalsa?
The second phase of Virasat E Khalsa was launched by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in November last year. By and large it has been completed. There is a third phase in the pipeline as well which will be developed soon. The concept of this Sikhism based museum in itself is very unique. It is like an educational tour also.
In recent years, we have constructed a memorial for freedom fighters which is called Jung-E-Azadi. This is situated in Kartarpur near Jalandhar. This is also an iconic structure which has been inaugurated last year.
Besides, there is a memorial called Border Memorial near Attari, Amritsar. It is a beautiful structure. We have also made a large investment for the restoration of Ram Tirth Temple in Amritsar. Legend has it that Lord Rama’s sons Luv and Kush were born here. It is the same place where Luv and Kush confronted Lord Rama in a battle.
Punjab has a lot of monuments related to the Mughal history as well. We are trying to restore such monuments also. We have not been able to take advantage of the legends here — it is believed that Ramayana was written in Amritsar, also in Khemkaran, Sita is believed to have forgiven Lord Ram, hence the name.
Punjab is generally associated with Sikhism but it has religious legacy that makes it equally significant for Hindus and for Muslims – as we have Roza Shariff, Aamkhas Bagh — our intention is to build it into a circuit. Along the old GT Road you have Mughal Sarais — where the Mughal armies used to halt, stay enroute – like Doraha, Shambhu — all these are going to be developed into tourism attractions.
How do you plan to leverage the high footfall of the Darbar Sahib, also known as Golden Temple, to improve tourism in the State?
Tourism has not been given the kind of importance that is due to it. But with agriculture stagnating at a point, and limitations in developing other sectors, tourism has become all the more important. Tourism has potential to generate employment. In that sense, department intends to promote tourism in the state. We are trying to have a complete masterplan to achieve this purpose.
We are working with United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). A promotion and marketing plan for tourism will be put in place with the help of them . We intend to market the destinations aggressively. There are plans to develop other other tourist places as well.
Patiala has lot of heritage and culture to offer — a circuit is being worked out that will also include the attractions around it like Fatehgarh Sahib can be part of it. Kapurthala has huge potential and attractions like Jagatjit Palace, modelled on Verasailles in France, to offer. Then Amritsar is not just all about Golden Temple but has other places to go to like Gobindgarh Fort. Then, places around it have vast potential like Taran Taran, Khadoor Sahib, Harike.
Besides this, we also have Pushpa Gujral Science City. The biggest project of its kind in Northern India, the Science City has been set up in 72 acres of land in the of heart of Punjab, on Jalandhar- Kapurthala Road. It is intended to inclucate the scientific aptitude and temperament, to fire the imagination and creativity, foster the spirit of enquiry and exploration among the masses, especially in the young minds.
What is the policy on film promotion that Punjab government is working on?
We need to facilitate the shooting of films and screening of films. In small cities these are lacking. We need to provide facilities to those who want to shoot here — they need to inform the auhtorities, get permissions etc. We are looking at developing a Film City near Chandigarh, Mohali — will have facilities for shooting, post shoot etc activities can be done that will also generate jobs and opportunities for the local talent.