Dr Satyajit Das
Since 2019, the Covid-19 global pandemic has been vigorously affecting the tourism sector in the entire world not excluding India as well as Assam. Apparently, tourism is the most fascinating industry for Assam because it had generated a huge amount of revenue for the Government of Assam and simultaneously created some opportunities for the solution of unemployment problems, particularly among the deserving educated unemployed youths. It is not only that tourism being 'the industry of least cost of investment with higher return' is capable of generating higher income for the state.
It is a welcoming step that recently the newly formed BJP-led Government of Assam has declared two more national parks – Raimona and Dehing Patkai. Assam may be called a veritable paradise of green nature and serene natural scenic beauty. From this point of view, the varieties of flora, fauna and wildlife are needed to be provided with major importance in their protection and preservation in order to maintain ecological balance. For that purpose, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are very essential in Assam. The main thrust areas of Assam Tourism are its natural beauties and various species of wildlife, wetlands, lakes, rivers and hills. The Brahmaputra and the Barak valleys as well as rainforests and forest areas provide abundant natural resources. Along with all these, adventure tourism may be initiated although some activities of adventure tourism are already organized or operated in various parts of Assam. There is tremendous scope for river tourism which is not yet explored fully. The tea gardens are the formidable resources for attracting tourists but tea tourism is not yet boosted satisfactorily. It is the common belief that inflows of tourists both foreign and domestic are attracted to Assam only because of its natural treasures and abundance of wildlife and rich biodiversity. The two natural World Heritage Sites of Assam comprise the Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park, both of which have been contributing a lot to Assam Tourism by attracting tourists from the rest of India and abroad. So, it is clearly understood that Assam Tourism is only confined to nature-based tourism.
It is not understood why our Government and the Tourism Department are not thinking of exploring the scope of a wide range of other forms of tourism in respect of which Assam has been lagging far behind in comparison to some other states of India and countries of the world. For example, Assam is a land of great historical chronicles for a long past. Several dynasties were ruled in different periods of history. Their legacies and souvenirs have been reflected through the ancient remains and monuments, ruined sites and remnants, ancient royal palaces, architectural and sculptural works, metal and stone scriptures etc., all of which are now under the authority of the Archaeological Department of the Government of Assam for its excavation, renovation, maintenance and preservation. Besides, Assam has been bearing a great witness to religious confluences. The evidence of the Saiva religious sect of Hinduism has been witnessed by various Siva temples of ancient-medieval ages found in different parts of the state. In the same way, the Saktism sect of Hinduism has been witnessed by the great Kamakhya temple of Guwahati and the Tamreshwari temple of Sadiya. The Vaishnava Xatra instit-utions and Naamghars are located in various places of Assam bearing great testimony of Neo-Vaishnavite religion as well as the reformative movement of Hindu religion in Assam led by the great Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva and his chief disciple SriSri Madhavdeva.
All these are regarded as tangible cultural heritages of Assam. Thus it is seen that Assam is a rich treasure house of cultural heritage. Cultural heritages comprise folklore, historical, religious and archaeological resources. Another unexplored area of tourism is the folklore or folk cultural resource abundantly available in the entire state. All the folklore resources belong to the large number of ethnic groups comprising tribes and non-tribes which have inhabited Assam since very early periods of history. Each ethnic group has its own arts, oral traditions, customs, rituals, festivals, fairs, and folk performing arts including music, dances and dramas, crafts and paintings. These folklore resources are also termed folklore heritages.
For the preservation and development of cultural heritage and folklore heritage, cultural heritage tourism and folklore tourism should be promoted in the existing and potential sites and spots of Assam. Thus it is seen that there is a strong basis and ample scope for the promotion and development of cultural heritage tourism as well as folklore tourism in Assam. But it has failed to draw the attention of the Government of Assam as well as the Central Government. It is very surprising and shameful that in spite of having a strong basis for promoting cultural heritage and folklore tourism in Assam, there seems to be no awareness and initiative of the concerned Tourism Department under the Government of Assam and more importantly, there is no proper awareness among the general masses regarding this cultural heritage and folklore tourism in Assam. In this context, it would be unjust if we do not mention that in some states of India, especially Rajasthan and Kerala, the cultural heritage and folklore oriented tourism have been properly promoted and practised in different corners of both the states on the basis of a variety of colourful cultural heritages and folklore resources.
So, in this context, it is our fervent appeal to the honourable new Tourism and Cultural Affairs Minister Bimal Borah and honourable Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma to take initiative and bold strategy for the promotion and development of cultural heritage and folklore tourism as soon as possible along with nature-based tourism like wildlife tourism and eco-tourism. Even the 'Tourism Policy of Assam, 2017' has not mentioned for promotion and development of cultural heritage and folklore tourism in Assam though the 'Tourism Policy of Assam, 2008' mentioned a little about cultural heritage tourism and natural tourism where folklore resources for tourism development were not properly included.
At last, the present Tourism Minister of Assam is earnestly appealed to do some extraordinary tasks with untiring effort for initiating the cultural heritage and folklore based tourism in Assam for the overall development of the tourism scenario with a view to attracting a large number of tourists both domestic and foreign after the Covid-19 Pandemic situation is over.