After ITM-2013, foreign delegates undertake Arunachal familiarization trip

Itanagar, Oct 23 (ANI): After Arunachal Pradesh was put on global tourism radar on being adjudged one of the winners of the Lonely Planet magazine India Travel Awards for 2013 on May 8, the three-day ITM-2013 held this month in Tawang, has left tourism ministry officials deligted with its success.

The state, known as the 'Last Shangri La on earth', was declared the second runner-up in the 'Emerging Destinations in India' category at a prestigious award ceremony, behind Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir, which were adjudged the winner and first runner-up respectively.

There were 204 business-to-business meetings between the local tour operators and foreign delegates from 20 nations at Tawang against 74 such meeting at ITM-2012 in Guwahati, a mind boggling 275% hike, according to state Tourism Secretary Sonam Chombay.

A team of 12 tour operators and journalists from Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar and France after attending the ITM-2013 has arrived here for a familiarization tour, which will cover Tawang, Bomdila, Itanagar, Ziro and Guwahati from October 21 to 27.

Tuki Jonkey and Choku Nana have been appointed as guides, said Duyu Tours and Travels director Duyu Tamo.

The team included tour operators Ching Kim Hai, Michel Smith and Lau Eng Choon (Singapore); HIa Aye Sandar, Myint and Min Lwin Oo (Myanmar); Siddharth Premkumar (Oman); Chananchida Prachumpol (Thailand); media persons May Thu Htet (Myanmar); Wan Hock Seng Wan (Singapore); Yu Kaneko (Japan) and Jean Louis Guy Luc Rysto ( France).

"We, the state tour operators, are thrilled at the overwhelming response," said Tamo, a state tourism awardee, adding "Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo, who had launched the ITM curtain raiser here on October 4, by greeting the people with "Paya Iincho" in Nyishi and ended with 'Jai Hind and Jai Arunachal," has sent a louder message globally."

Notably, the Arunachal Pradesh tourism department was felicitated by President Pranab Mukahrjee during the National Tourism Awards 2011-12 on March 18 for taking the 'Incredible India' initiative to new heights.

China has never formally recognised Indian sovereignty over Arunchal Pradesh and it took their surprise invasion of 1962 before New Delhi really started funding significant infrastructure since 2008. The Chinese voluntarily withdrew. Now, border passes are heavily guarded by the Indian military, but the overall atmosphere is extremely calm. Sadly, permits remain annoying and expensive enough to deter most potential foreign visitors.

Coincidentally, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had said - The sun kisses India first in Arunachal Pradesh. It is our land of the Rising Sun - here on January 31, 2008, is in Beijing today, while many of the 68 delegates are still in North East India, particularly Arunchal, which the Beijing mandarins should understand in right perspective for both the Asian giants to grow simultaneously.

There has to be reasons behind this spectacular outcome. The reactions and impressions of delegates (68 delegates from 23 countries and over 100 representatives from eight NE states and West Bengal) during their interaction with this editor were mostly positive punctuated with constructive suggestions.

"What a fantastic event! So much culture at place at a time is incredible and proves that Tawang is a god-blessed land. It is a lifetime experience," said Bollywood heartthrob Vivek Oberoi before accepting Chief Minister Nabam Tuki's plea to be the state's brand ambassador, and assuring Union Tourism Secretary Parvez Dewan: "I am at your disposal to promote tourism."

The union tourism ministry has spent 56 percent of its budget during the last six months, amounting to 28 per cent annually. The holding the Second ITM in Tawang reflects the central government's commitment to promote North East tourism, said Dewan.

"The people of Tawang are very soft spoken, nice and hospitable who greeted us smilingly," said Nguyen Thuy Tien (representative from Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Promotion Centre), Nguyen Minh Quyen (vice director from Ben Thanh Tourist) and Phan Thanh Vu (journalist from Vietnam News Agency), delegates from Vietnam.

"Tawang is inhabited by very friendly people and has striking similarities with Bali," said journalist Ketut Geriana Soputra and tour operator Bagus Sudibya.

"ITM was excellent," said Ulrike Reisen AG from Germany while taking pictures with the local cultural troupes before the inauguration of the Tawang Festival on October 20.

"Tawang justifies its name 'Last Sangri La on Earth'. Protect it for posterity," said few journalists and tour operators from Guwahati and Meghalaya.

However, Japanese travel writer Michiko Wakita resented Tawang as venue for the communication hazard.

"All the foreign delegates came by helicopter and go back by chopper. Where is the scope to experience the uniqueness of this place? Why not Itanagar as venue?" she wondered.

"Seeing is believing' and at Itanagar you would have seen nothing. Despite the trouble, the experience would be worth it," I replied.

Many expressed their dismay over the poor quality of roads, besides sub-standard internet accessibility and medical facilities at the global event.

Tawang, located at 10,200 feet along the Indo-China border, is famous for the Tawang Monastery, the second largest in Asia, and the birth place of the VIth Dalai Lama. It experiences heavy snowfall between November and January, with temperatures going down to minus 6 degrees Celsius.

The experience of the ITM could be a turning point for Arunachal tourism if those who matter get the message and act in right earnest! By Pradeep Kumar (ANI)

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