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Rajasthan is a hot state, is severely discriminatory towards its women, yet it is a very popular tourist destination, especially for its women tourists. What is the secret of this?
Disclaimer: This is not to provide information about what to see, where to go and what to eat in Udaipur. It is a first-hand account of trying to understand the reasons behind the popularity of a not so large city, with a not so blessed climatic conditions amongst tourists, both Indian and foreigners.
Rajasthan is the largest state of India regarding area. It is famous for its traditional handicraft, handloom, dupattas, jutis, Rajputana architecture, and food. It is also infamous for its extreme hot weather and the prevalence of illegal social practices like child marriage and human trafficking. It is also seen as a state that is hostile towards women.
However, this does not deter tourists from all over the world (including India) from visiting various cities and towns of this historically significant state. Apart from its capital city of Jaipur, other places like Ajmer, Alwar, Bharatpur, Chittor, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Mount Abu, Neemrana, Pushkar, and Udaipur are popular tourist destinations. And that is a lot of places in a single state! While each of these cities has attributes like easy availability of Rajasthani handicraft and handloom goods, mouth-watering food and historical sites to explore that make them a traveller/tourist’s heaven, for a long time, I had been wondering what makes Rajasthan special? Why is that the state that has this ‘travelling unfriendly weather’ such a popular tourist destination?
This question was more or less answered when I visited Udaipur with my mother in late February of 2016. The purpose of my visit was two-fold – academic and touristy. After presenting my paper in the 5th Northern Regional Social Science Conference that was organized by the Indian Council of Social Science Research in Mohan Lal Sukhadia University, my mother joined me for a short trip from Guwahati (our hometown) in this beautiful city. Now, the reader must keep in mind that my mother is often tough to please, who expects nothing but the best in most situations. And that is why the city of Udaipur becomes so central to this narrative as by the end of the four-day trip, even my often hard to please mother was utterly bowled over by the beauty and charisma of this small city.
While natural beauty and historical reputation are vital in making a place significant and popular, it is the place’s people who hold the key. Udaipur delivers regarding its people, who are extremely helpful and very welcoming of tourists. As we were two women on the prowl, and it my mother’s first trip without my father, she was a little worried about our security. But to our utter surprise and delight, we found the city pleasantly safe with a good and well-connected transport system (buses, autos, taxis).
It was then when I started thinking about the question that I initially raised – why Rajasthan? The presence of infrastructural facilities like street lights and a good and well-networked local transport system makes it much easier for tourists to navigate within the city. This is not just true of Udaipur, but most cities in Rajasthan that I have been to. And of course, with the rise and flourishing of taxi services like Uber and Ola, things have only become better. It is, however, also worth mentioning that we did not see many local women accessing these public facilities. The reasons for that are deep-rooted in Rajasthan’s societal structure that restricts the access of women to public places. But one can see the foreigners and tourists (especially women) strolling around till late in the night.
Therefore, when we are looking at making places more tourist friendly, it is also necessary to think about accessibility. And it is not just Udaipur, but also other cities like Jaipur, Jaisalmer, and Jodhpur in Rajasthan that is very popular with both foreigners and locals. It also helps Rajasthan’s cause that it is geographically close to India’s capital city New Delhi and there are frequent flights, trains, and buses that connect the western state with Delhi.
But this is not to say that this is the only reason why tourism is flourishing as an industry in Rajasthan. A lot is also determined by the kind of marketing and promotion that the state has done to encourage tourism. To give a small instance, the beautiful Bagore ki Haweli complex is the site of a ‘cultural performance’ every evening, and the tickets are sold like hot cakes. There is a queue to buy these tickets that start one or two hours before the performance begins! This evening of cultural performance gives the region’s folk performers a boost, and a chance to showcase their talent in front of so many enthusiastic people as they are in the limelight. This is particularly impressive when we think of the challenges that many folk arts are facing with increasing use of modern technology.
The overall program is very well-managed, and to facilitate the interests of the artists, one can only take photographs by paying an extra amount (Rs. 150 for Indians) apart from the ticket rate of Rs. 120 (for Indians). In my opinion, it is an excellent marketing and promotional strategy that helps these folk artists earn a little more money. However, one can also argue that this would invite the danger of exoticizing local cultural practices. But to be fair, to advance their cause, it is possibly worth taking that risk.
This four-day trip made me realize that tourism is an experience that goes beyond beauty and history. It is also a lot about feeling safe and enjoying mundane activities like walking, shopping, sitting by the lake and so on in a new place. And Udaipur does just that.
Image source: By Geri from Biel/Bienne, Schweiz (Paläste von UdaipurUploaded by Ekabhishek) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
(The writer is a Ph.D. research scholar, a sociologist by training and writer by habit.)
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