Investing in infrastructure to develop the tourism potential of Uttarakhand is a priority for the north Indian state, its chief minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, has said.
In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye, Dhami revealed the state government’s plans to work with the hospitality sector to enhance the appeal of Uttarakhand’s pilgrimage sites and scenic spots. Tourism is key to the economic growth of the state, which was formed in November 2000.
Figures from the government show that the number of tourists visiting Uttarakhand rose from 22 million in 2014 to 39 million in 2019.
“Our government is committed to the development of the people and pilgrimage sites in the state of Uttarakhand, and for this, various schemes, roads, and construction of international airports are bringing about a drastic change,” Dhami said in London.
He was in the UK earlier in the week to attend two roadshows, in London (26) and Birmingham (27) to attract investment in the state.
Dhami said, “Many British businesses are operating in India. We are seeking capital investment in the hospitality, tourism, technology, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and food processing sectors.
“We have jointly created a land bank of 6,000 acres at various locations across Uttarakhand. “We will allot those sites to industrial groups as per the requirements, considering ecology and pollution threats.”
Uttarakhand, at the foot of the Himalayas, in north India, is home to several pilgrim sites, such as Rishikesh (where the Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi), Kailash Mansarovar, Kedarnath, Haridwar and Badrinath.
India’s first national park and home to the tiger, the Corbett National Park, and the Rajaji National Park, known for its elephant population, are also in Uttarakhand.
Delhi is about 160 miles to the south of Uttarakhand and Dhami said it took two hours to reach state capital Dehradun, following the construction of a new four-lane motorway.
“Major cities like Haridwar and Rishikesh are very close to Delhi. Currently, you can easily reach there in three to four hours by road from Delhi. Dehradun is also connected to various cities in the country by 37 flights,” Dhami pointed out.
With the River Ganges flowing through the state, Uttarakhand also attracts adventure tourists interested in white water rafting, trekking or bungee jumping.
One of the best-known attractions of the state, though, is the Kumbh Mela, where every 12 years thousands converge to take a dip in the holy river.
Devotees also visit Char Dham – the four religious sites of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri, as well as Panch Prayag, the confluence of rivers in five sites that ultimately form River Ganga.
Dhami said, “To make the journey to the famous Char Dham easy, we are building an all-weather road. Due to our efforts, a total of 4.2 million people have come on the Char Dham Yatra this year despite bad weather.”
He added, “We are connecting the entire Uttarakhand state with a road network and creating infrastructure so that the journey to the major cities, towns and pilgrimage centres of Uttarakhand will become easy. This will be helpful to the industry, too.”
Dhami noted that a road to Pithoragarh in the east has already been built and soon, the road to Lipulekh will be built, making travel to Kailash Mansarovar “very easy”.
“Travel will become easier, with shortened time and it will be less expensive,” he said.
Uttarakhand is one of India’s fastest growing states and while tourism has flourished, “it has
come about predominantly organically, without coordinated planning,” according to the state government.
Dhami said, “We have made a three-year plan for the construction of the Haridwar-Rishikesh Ganga corridor; ghats, roads and cities in these two towns on the banks of the Ganga will be constructed and beautified. We are constructing a ropeway to make the journey to Kedarnath easier.”
He added that work had begun on developing the Hemkunt Sahib pilgrimage.
Situated at an altitude of around 4,329 metres along the Hemkund Lake the Gurudwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib Ji is a revered Sikh shrines, visited by thousands of pilgrims every year.
It is said that the tenth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Govind Singh, meditated by the banks of Hemkund lake.
“Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi’s dream project, the Rishikesh-Karnaprayag rail link, is also progressing,” Dhami said, referring to the easy access of Char Dham pilgrimage centres in Uttarakhand.
The proposed railway line will connect towns such as Devprayag, Srinagar, Rudraprayag, Gauchar and Karnaprayag through Dehradun, Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal, Rudraprayag and Chamoli.
Dhami explained plans to develop the hospitality sector and tourism in the state.
“We are building an international airport at Pantnagar, near Nainital. So it will become easy for everyone to come to Uttarakhand from abroad.
“We are collaborating with various hotel groups to build hotels in various yatra dhams and cities in Uttarakhand, with a 100 percent subsidy. We have entered into a memorandum of agreement [MoU] with the Goa government, so that tourists to Goa who enjoy the seaside will also be able to travel to the Himalayas.
“We are shaping plans to create around 100 new tourist destinations, for which we will lease land to the hospitality sector for elite locations. We will build hotels, resorts, etc. at various places,” the chief minister said.
Uttarakhand will collaborate with leading Indian hotel groups such as ITC, Oberoi and Mahindra Hotel Group, and is also scouting for options abroad, Dhami said.
A document from the Uttarakhand government cited a World Tourism & Travel Council (WTTC) report that projected India as the seventh largest tourism economy globally and forecast the sector to grow at seven per cent between 2017 and 2027.
Dhami told Eastern Eye, “We have signed an MoU worth Rs 1,000 crore with the Mahindra Group. And, after Rishikesh, AIIMS Hospital is now being constructed in Udham Singh Nagar.”
He said consultants McKenzie Global had been hired to help double the state’s GDP by 2025.
Dhami added, “We have brought many reforms to help make Uttarakhand become a leading state.
“We implemented the Deendayal Upadhyay Home Stay Scheme so that tourists can enjoy the beauty of the state by staying with locals. Under this programme, local residents will get a good house with subsidies and low interest and their income and knowledge will increase by hosting tourists in their homes.
“We are working to increase self-employment; to help people get jobs in remote areas. We are promoting the cultivation and processing of apple and kiwi fruits.”
Ski resort deal signed
Pushkar Singh Dhami, 48, has been the chef minister of Uttarakhand since 2021. He is from the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose leader Narendra Modi is India’s prime minister.
While in the UK earlier this week, the Uttarakhand government signed deals to develop a ski resort and for a cable car project, Indian media reports said. Agreements with a tech company to invest in Lithium battery plants in the state and with Fira Barcelona, which deals in convention centre management and specialises in organising business fairs, were also signed, the reports added.
Dhami paid tribute to Modi’s leadership, saying “a lot of work is being done and various schemes have been implemented for poor, marginalised people, tribals, backward caste people and youth.
“People are seeing Modiji as their guardian. The construction of the new parliament building, the vaccination drive during the pandemic… currently there are many works and schemes.
“Modi-ji is rebuilding India and it is not wrong to say he is the Vishwakarma of modern India. India has proved it is capable of becoming a world leader through the 112 decisions taken at the recent G-20 Summit.”
On his tenure as the chief minister for the past two years, Dhami said, “Religious conversion is a big problem in Uttarakhand at present. We are working to solve it.
“We have been working continuously and have taken many decisions. A committee we set up for the Uniform Civil Code took the views of a total of 238,000 people and spoke to leaders of religious organisations. We have extended the time of the committee by four months and hope that we will get its draft in due time. After that, we will take a decision.’