Mumbai: There is definitely more to Maharashtra than Mumbai. The capital city has always helped the State shore up overall visitor numbers, thanks to its unquestionable position as India’s commercial hub. But over the years, aggressive marketing by other states like Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, coupled with the presence of sought-after tourist attractions and places of worship there, have led to Maharashtra losing its pre-eminent position on India’s tourism map. Reigniting the state’s tourism potential is the Department of Tourism’s plan to identify and market new destinations across Maharashtra and move the game outside Mumbai.
The Department of Tourism’s plan to identify and market new destinations across Maharashtra and move the game outside Mumbai will catapult off-beat locales across the State on to the tourism map. Bolstering agri-tourism, coastal tourism, adventure tourism, heritage tourism and the launch of the much-touted Golden Buddhist Circuit are set to be a game changer for the resource-rich State
According to the India Tourism Statistics 2017 released by the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), Maharashtra welcomed 11,65,15,801 domestic tourists, securing the sixth rank nationally (below Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh) and came number two in Foreign Tourist Arrivals (below Tamil Nadu) attracting 46,70,049 visitors. Maharashtra, once at par with Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, has fallen to third position nationally, below Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, despite its numerous leisure destinations and Mumbai.
In May this year, the State Government announced plans to promote 25 spots as top tourist hubs. The list will be a mix of beaches, mountains, valleys, heritage and cultural sites, and adventure tourism.
“Once we identify the 25 places, we will create a hub-and-spoke model,” says Jayakumar Rawal, Minister for Tourism, Government of Maharashtra. Under the model, three main hubs have been identified — Mumbai, Aurangabad and Nagpur — and attractions around these hubs will be promoted. Calling it a ‘golden tourism access’, the Minister said, “Instead of spreading our resources thin, we are trying to concentrate on places that have value for tourists.”
The government will design travel plans with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), or jointly with a private player. Apart from the Konkan strip and the State’s flagship tourism district Sindhudurg, Raigad Fort and Murud-Janjira may most likely make it to the list.
“With the new airports in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg set to become operational soon, there will be lot more foreign tourists coming to these places in the Konkan,” says Vijay Kumar Gautam IAS, Principal Secretary, Tourism and Culture, Government of Maharashtra.
The Ajanta-Ellora and Pitalkhora caves, Lonar Lake and Ahmednagar Fort will all be part of the spoke around Aurangabad, while tiger sanctuaries at Tadoba, Pench and Nagzira, native tourism in tribal areas, and historical sites in Gondia, Bhandara and Wardha will be part of the Nagpur spoke.
Subhash Goyal, Honorary Secretary, Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH), says, “Maharashtra has the potential to become a leading tourist hub, but its destinations were never marketed. Aurangabad and Nagpur have great potential, but the state has not marketed them. The Ajanta-Ellora caves are a popular destination, and if the state develops the site and employs guides in traditional attire, it will become another Taj Mahal.”
The State’s current Tourism Policy was released in 2016. The Department of Tourism (DoT) is planning to issue guidelines for the state’s new Tourism Policy over the next few months. The thrust will be on attracting private sector investments and putting in place adequate infrastructure facilities to speed up development of tourist attractions.
Principal Secretary Gautam said the new tourism policy could contribute to the state’s goal of becoming a trillion-dollar economy by 2025. “An industry survey showed that one tourist can create jobs for 16 people. With Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ vision for a trillion-dollar economy, tourism in Maharashtra has the potential to create 10 per cent of that target”.
Maharashtra has roped in KPMG, one of the Big Four audit and consultancy firms in the world, to help formulate a comprehensive tourism strategy to promote the state as a tourist hub. The firm’s mandate includes drawing a plan to brand Maharashtra as a favoured visitors’ hotspot, honing a marketing and publicity strategy, and managing tourism sector’s finances.
“Under the hub and spoke model, three main hubs have been identified — Mumbai, Aurangabad and Nagpur — and attractions around these will be promoted” – Jayakumar Rawal, Minister for Tourism, Government of Maharashtra
The government will also use KPMG’s expertise to strategise for theme-based tourism like agritourism, coastal tourism, adventure tourism and heritage tourism.
A high-powered committee for project planning, implementation and monitoring has been formed under the chairmanship of Principal Secretary, Tourism & Culture, which will seek KPMG’s help for the sector’s holistic development. To begin with, Maharashtra plans to develop Mumbai-Aurangabad-Nagpur as a tourism triangle on the lines of the Golden Triangle. A detailed project report will be prepared in three months. In road and rail infrastructure, Maharashtra fairs poorly. This is a major constrain for developing domestic tourism. To popularise the Mumbai-Aurangabad-Nagpur tourist circuit, it is necessary to upgrade the transport and infrastructure facilities in these three cities as well as nearby areas.
The aim is to develop the tourist circuit in a way that visitors first reach Mumbai, tour the Konkan coast, and then proceed to Aurangabad. Apart from the Ajanta and Ellora caves (in Aurangabad), tourists can also see the Ahmednagar Fort, which is close by.
They will also have the option of visiting religious places like Shirdi and Shani Shingnapur in Ahmednagar district. From Aurangabad, tourists can proceed to Nagpur for the jungle safaris. On the route, visitors will have an opportunity to witness local folk art, music and cuisine. The government feels the proposed Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway (Samruddhi Corridor) will help in developing the tourist circuit. The ‘UDAN’ scheme, to encourage air services among smaller cities, will also help in promoting this tourist belt.
Beach-hopping could soon become a trend across the Konkan. In another bold move, Government of Maharashtra has decided to develop tourist jetties to boost coastal tourism.
Some of the locations identified for the project include Kashid; Diveagar, (Raigad district); Underi (in the Mumbai harbour); Vengurla; Vijaydurg (Sindhudurg); Suvarnadurg; Bhatye; Purnagad, (Ratnagiri), Durgadi (near Kalyan) and Belapur in Navi Mumbai.
“The new tourism policy could contribute to the state’s goal of becoming a trillion-dollar economy by 2025” – Vijay Kumar Gautam IAS, Principal Secretary, Tourism and Culture, Government of Maharashtra
The project will also give a boost to the hospitality industry in nearby areas. “These jetties can be used for boat cruises and water transport. We are collaborating with the MTDC. The Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) will construct these jetties with funding from the Sagarmala Project,” said Vikram Kumar IAS, CEO, MMB. Kumar said that with timely approvals, work on the project was likely to begin in October.
Each jetty is expected to cost between Rs. 8 to 10 crore and each site will get a jetty and terminal building. Some sites have been approved while permissions for remaining locations are under consideration. These locations could also be used for water sports, docking houseboats, boating and passenger transport.The project also covers areas around Vijaydurg Fort and Diveagar Beach— popular tourist destinations. Private operators can also use these jetties to launch water-based tourist services.
Maharashtra has a very significant connect with Buddhism. Around 90 per cent of the rock cut caves by Buddhists in India is located in Maharashtra. Ajanta-Ellora, Elephanta, Pitalkhora and Karla together have almost 900 rock cut caves depicting Buddhism. “We need to work hard in developing, marketing and leveraging this unique proposition. We are in collaboration with the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh under the guidance of Union MoT to create a Golden Buddhist Circuit for travellers,” said Principal Secretary Gautam. The urgent need however is to have better connectivity to Buddhist destinations. The golden tourism access connecting Mumbai-Aurangabad-Nagpur which will run parallel to the Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway project (Samruddhi Corridor) should address this.
Adds Gautam, “We are soon opening a special facilitation centre to promote Buddhist Tourism and to support all concerned stakeholders. Just next to Ajanta caves we are planning to offer land to investors from other countries to create infrastructure to enhance the tourism experience. With JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and MoT support we have invested $15 million in creating a world-class audio visual centre at Ajanta-Ellora.”
“The Ajanta-Ellora caves are a popular destination, and if the state develops the site and employs guides in traditional attire, it will become another Taj Mahal” – Subhash Goyal, Honorary Secretary, Federations of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH)
Places to Visit in Maharashtra
Tamhini Ghat (Pune District; 53 km from Pune)
A biker’s paradise. Connecting the hilly regions of Pune to the coastlines of Konkan, Tamhini Ghat truly comes alive during the monsoons
Kaas Plateau (Satara District; 130 km from Pune)
Every year in the months of August and September, the plateau comes alive with 150 varieties of blooms that are all wild. The plateau is a UNESCO® World Biodiversity Heritage Site
Believed to be the tallest waterfall in India (500 m), Thosegar must also be visited on account of the
surrounding countryside with lush greenery and dense dark woods
Chikhaldara Coffee Estates (Amravati District; 250 km from Nagpur)
The only coffee estate in Maharashtra, at an altitude of 1080m above sea level
Purushwadi (Ahmednagar District; 160 km from Pune)
The surrealistic firefly mating dance in Purushwadi every year between May 23 to July 6 is an incredible experience
A picturesque shoreline running south from Mumbai all the way to Goa, the Konkan strip is peppered with picture-postcard beaches, fishing villages and magnificent ruined forts
Tarkarli Beach (Sindhudurg District; 385 km from Pune)
At 8 km, Tarkarli is the longest uninterrupted beach in India.
The waters of Tarkarli are clearer than any other beach and one can see to a depth of almost 20ft! Ideal for water sport and adventure activities like scuba diving, snorkeling and jet skiing
Tapola (Satara District; 150 km from Pune)
Heaven for water sports. Called ‘Mini Kashmir of the Western Ghats’. Famous for Shivsagar lake and boat club
Parule (Sindhugarg District; 410 km from Pune)
What really sets Parule apart is its rich Konkan culture. A number of popular farm-stays and nature-friendly experiences await visitors. Head to Maachli for a memorable farm-stay experience, or to the bamboo cottages of Bhogave
Tadoba and Andhari Tiger Reserve (Chandrapur District; 140 km from Nagpur)
Rightly called the ‘Jewel of Central Maharashtra’, Tadoba and Andhari tiger reserves boast one of the highest tiger populations in the nation, about 43 of them
Ballaleshwar Pali (Raigad District; 122 km from Pune)
The ‘mountain temple’ of Ballaleshwar Pali is a unique piece of architecture constructed in the form of the letter ‘Shree’ in Devnagri script, which is another name for Lord Ganesh, whose idol the temple houses
Morachi Chincholi (Pune District; 55km from Pune)
In Morachi Chincholi, peacocks roam about freely amidst the villagers. An agri-tourism hotspot
Amboli Forests (Sindhudurg District; 343 km to Pune)
An unexplored paradise prosperous with unique flora and fauna. A hostspot for reptiles of every form – geckos, snakes, lizards or skinks. Endemic to the Malabar region of India, the Malabar gliding frog can also be spotted
Bhandardara Falls (Ahmednagar District; 71 km from Nashik)
Romantic and charming, Bhandardara is one of the best kept secrets of Maharashtra. The most notable of the falls at Bhandaradara are the Umbrella falls
Shivneri Fort (Pune District; 93 km from Pune)
The fort at Shivneri, the birthplace of Chatrapathi Shivaji, is a symbol of pride and honour for every Maharashtrian, and is in impeccable condition