The second edition of Almora Festival will be of even larger scale and a plethora of activities have been planned. Also, Ranikhet will be completing 150 years and a big edition of Ranikhet Festival is scheduled, says Nitin Bhadauria, District Magistrate, Almora, in an exclusive interview with Souvik Goswami of Elets News Network (ENN).
As the District Magistrate of Almora what are your thoughts on making the hill station a global tourist hub?
We have to focus on our core competencies – our location in the heartland of Himalayas and our rich Kumaoni cultural heritage. Known as the ‘Cultural Capital of Kumaon’, Almora district has something to offer to everyone – from the spirituality of Jyotirlinga Jageshwar Temple to the tranquility of Binsar Bird Sanctuary.
What has been the legacy of Almora which inbound tourists should know?
Katarmal Sun Temple is the largest Sun Temple in India, where Soorya Devta is still worshipped. Swami Yogananda Paramhansa who wrote ‘The Autobiography of a Yogi’ meditated in a cave near Dwarahat, thus making it the birth place of Kriya Yoga. Haidakhan Temple, Manila Temple, Dol Ashram, Sheetla Mata Mandir and Doonagiri Temple are the other important temples located in the district. A Shiva-Shakti temple circuit is being developed with accommodation and other facilities for the tourists.
Almora takes a pride of place in the modern history as several luminaries have spent considerable time here. Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote parts of Gitanjali at Tagore House in Almora. Swami Vivekanand came to Almora thrice and meditated at Kasar Devi. Vijaylaxmi Pandit owned the Khali Estate in Binsar and Nehru family would spend their summers here. In 1942, during the Quit India Movement, several national leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and Maulana Azad were arrested and spent time in Almora jail. Almora is also the birthplace of architects of modern India – Bharat Ratna Giving Ballabh Pant, Sumitra Nandan Pant, Shivani and BK Pandey. The danseur Uday Shankar had an Academy in Almora. Lama Govinda Alfred Sorensen, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Timothy Leary and DH Lawrence spent considerable time in artistic pursuits in Crank’s Ridge, now known as Kasar Devi area. Oscar nominated actress Uma Thurman spent part of her childhood in Almora.
Ranikhet and Kausani are idyllic tourist destinations while Marchu-la on the banks of Ramganga serves as an alternative gateway to the world-famous Jim Corbett National Park, away from the hustle-bustle of Ramnagar. We are also developing adventure sports activities in Almora – be it Paragliding in Dinapani, Water-sports activities in Kosi Barrage, Rock-climbing and Rapelling at Kalimath and Rafting in river Ramganga from Bhikiyasain to Marchu-La.
Almora is also known for its festivities. Shed some light on that aspect too.
Almora is known for the fervor with which it celebrates all the festivals – be it the ‘Baithki Holi’ which is sung based on the Classical Hindustani Ragas or the ‘Khadi Holi of Kumaon’, played with flowers and dry colours. Almora is known for its Dussehra, which is the third most famous in India, after those at Mysore and Kullu. The effigies of Ravana family, numbering around 35 are pulled throughout the city and then burnt in the University Stadium. Almora’s world famous Ram-Leela spread over a period of 10 days is a sensation for the senses. The actors sing their lines live based on classical raga-based songs in sync with the musicians playing different instruments.
How the place is positioned as a preferred tourist destination when it comes to staying with world class experience?
Almora district also has several interesting staying options to offer – be it the exclusive ‘Nine Furlongs’ or ‘The Kumaon’ in Kasar Devi to the heritage ‘Mary Budden Estate’ in Binsar. ‘Solluna Resort’ and ‘Le Tigre’ in Marchu-La are perfect for a vacation in the Terai foothills while ‘Itmeenan Estate’ in Jainti and ‘Ananta Rasa’ in Sheetlakhat offer a breathtakingly beautiful view of the Himalayas. For the budget traveler, around 200 home-stays offer affordable stays with an authentic experience of Kumaoni culture and cuisine.
What were the highlights of ‘Almora Festival 2018?’
We have kick-started the Almora Festival in partnership with Elets Technomedia in 2018 featuring an array of artists and activities. Monali Thakur, Nizami Bandhu, Sankalp Khetwal, Pavandeep Rajan, magician NC Sarkar and Jagar-singer Preetam Bharatwan were some of the star performers. On the sidelines, several competitions such as Kumaoni Masterchef Cookery Competition and workshops such as those for Kumaoni Aipan art form were organised.
Kosi Rejuvenation Eco-summit focusing on the river Kosi Rejuvenation Project was organised at GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Kosi-Katarmal were organised which featured participation from diplomats, top academics and bureaucrats including Nikunja Sundray, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India was the Keynote Speaker, who dubbed it as a project of national importance. The project has won the first prize at National Water Awards in River Rejuvenation Category, where the district team was felicitated by Shri Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Water Resources, Government of India.
The three-day event also featured PAHAL – the Buyer-seller meet providing a platform for local produce, handicrafts and handlooms. Jagadeesh Gobardhan, High Commissioner of Mauritius in India was the Chief Guest at the event. The event featured several buyers such as Trifed and Khaddar. Business of more than Rs 10 million was transacted.
How did ‘Almora Festival’ helped in the resurgence of Brand Almora?
Almora Festival has been a hugely successful event with more than 25,000 footfalls. An event of this scale and magnitude gas been unprecedented in the history of the city and has written a new chapter in the city’s 500 year old history.
What are in the offerings for ‘Almora Festival 2019’?
The second edition of Almora Festival will be even larger in scale and a plethora of activities are being planned. Also, Ranikhet will be completing 150 years and a larger edition of Ranikhet Festival is scheduled. A plethora of activities will also be planned in the temple town of Jageshwar aimed for the spiritual soul. Marchu-La Festival is being planned for visitors of Jim Corbett Park in October. In addition, Crank Festival was organised at the Uday Shankar Natya Academy, Almora in May. The aim is to boost the cultural activities in Almora and increase the tourist flow.