Earlier this month, I got the opportunity to participate in the first ever Travel Writer’s conclave in India by any state tourism board. It was hosted by UP Tourism at the capital city of the state – Lucknow. UP Travel Writers conclave was preceded by a 3-day tour for participating travel writers from across the globe. 3 different tours were offered from the heritage arc that is currently the focus of UP tourism. The three key points on this arc are Agra, Lucknow & Varanasi. I chose to visit the Agra + Chambal circuit as I had visited Agra as a primary school kid and had very faint memories of it. I had done a detailed tour of Varanasi couple of years back and Lucknow tour focused on food and being a vegetarian there was nothing much for me.
Agra trip was a pleasure. The itinerary and organization of the trip was impeccable – both the design and the execution. After Ajanta and Ellora, this is the second time in India that I got tour guides I enjoyed having conversations with. They were good with their subject, well read and extremely courteous. They knew the art of storytelling while maintaining a neutral stance at historically controversial events. What I appreciated most was the flexibility they displayed in adding small bits to the itinerary that were not originally a part of it.
Chambal was a discovery. It always brought out the visuals of famous bandits, we never thought of the pristine river also called Chambal. I am happy to know that UP tourism is developing Chambal region as a birding destination. We stayed at Chambal Safari Lodge, which was a lovely place to stay and get up to the twittering of the birds. I would have to go back to discover the city of Lucknow – its many layers of history and its many facets. I have always visited it in hurry and hope that there would be opportunity to visit it at leisure.
In May 2012 I spoke at Malaysia International Travel Bloggers Conference and I wondered when would we have such a thing in India and my answer came more than 3 years later in Lucknow. I did speak at the CII tourism Fest in 2013 but that was also a industry event not a travel writers event. To my knowledge, no other tourism board in the country has invited travel writers to explore the state in this extensive and well-planned way – culminating in a conclave. Whoever thought of this idea deserves a pat on the back. I understand this is planned to be an annual event and if used properly this can give a great competitive advantage to Uttar Pradesh.
UP Travel Writers Conclave had the endorsement of the Chief minister of UP – Sh Akhilesh Yadav, who supported it by his presence. He did hear some of us giving feedback at the beginning of the event.
We got to hear many heritage professionals, culinary experts, wildlife activists, filmmakers and UP officials and it was great to get a perspective on what the state is planning to do to promote tourism economy in the state. The focus on going beyond the Agra and Varanasi is quite clear and infrastructure is being built for the same. Indian Railway has a good network in UP, though road conditions can always be better in the interiors. I was quite impressed by the presentation of IPS officer Sutapa Sanyal on women safety. These measures will go a long way in changing the perception of travel in Uttar Pradesh.
A lot of UP officials kept mentioning books in their talks, making me want to rush to the nearest bookstore specially to pick up some Hindi books. It tells a lot about the literary tradition of the state.
It takes courage to acknowledge that we are late in the game with a lighthearted phrase – we have the last mover advantage. Kudos to UP officials in admitting this fact even though they could have well basked in the glory of numbers that Taj Mahal and Varanasi send them anyway without any incremental effort on their part.
I got to meet many old and new travel blogging / writer friends. It is always great to meet the digital personalities in person, especially when you have interacted with them online – sometimes for years. It is a forum where you get to talk about the pains and pleasures of being a travel blogger / writer. I cannot thank UP Tourism enough for putting together a platform to bring us together under one roof.
Having said that UP Tourism could have made better use of this opportunity by asking us to contribute ideas on what they can do to take tourism beyond their iconic sites. They could have leveraged the combined experience of travel in that room to learn. Hope they take it as a feedback for next time.
The cultural aspect of the state was well presented through the Mohabat-e-Taj show at Agra and Journey of Kathak performance at Lucknow.
The network connection was pretty good in all the areas we roamed in – though ironically I did not get it in my Agra Hotel as well the hotel that hosted the conclave.
Closing these notes and hoping that other tourism boards will get inspired and start working with travel bloggers and travel writers to promote the tourism economy across India.
Stay tuned for the blog posts on Agra, Fatehpur Sikri & Chambal…