Spiritual tourism is the journey towards wellness, it is a tourism that is motivated by faith or religious reasons that has been in evidence for centuries. Highlighting the trends of spiritual tourism Gour Kanjilal, Executive Director, IATO and Former, Dy. Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India had an exclusive tête-à-tête with TravelScapes.
“Spiritual Tourism looks at new opportunities to boost tourism and India be the Gateway for Global Spiritual Tourism!!”
Over the last three decades there has been a revolution quietly happening in the global tourism industry. Terms such as eco-tourism, responsible tourism and even voluntourism have entered common usage. Now there is an emerging trend on the horizon that is being cited at the fastest growing sector in the whole travel business. They call it “Spiritual Tourism” and it is starting to be taken very seriously by governments, state tourism authorities, even the United Nations agency responsible for global tourism - the UNWTO. 22 November, 2013 heralded a new era for the recognition of the growing importance of Spiritual Tourism as the UNWTO convened the 1st International Conference on Spiritual Tourism for Sustainable Development at NimhBinh outside of Hanoi in Vietnam. UNWTO is also focusing now on Spiritual Tourism.
One of the first challenges for those interested in “Spiritual Tourism” is defining exactly what it is. Believers taking part in religious pilgrimages such as Muslims doing the Hajj or Buddhists visiting the four sacred sites in India and Nepal are plainly recognized as “Spiritual Tourists” or as over millions of Christian for pilgrimage to Lourd France Fatima etc. This can also include visitors of sacred sites in millions like at Notredam Church, Canterbury Church, Goa Churches or Temples, Mosques from different faiths as skeers of knowledge through religion and religious wisdom. Thus the focus on Pilgrimage/ Spiritual Tourism is based on increased cultural understanding and inter faith literacy and appreciation of the rich and brilliantly diverse Spiritual Heritage of Humanity.
In this age of materialistic greed, endless consumption, taking time to explore the depths of world wisdom traditions is probably the purpose of spiritual tourism. Increased understanding between different religions, which is bringing Spiritual renaissance is the direction and growing value of spiritual tourism.
Since time immemorial, Tourism in India is based on Pilgrimage Tourism and even 70% of the billion domestic tourists are on purely Spiritual/Pilgrimage tourism. Spiritual India is full of holy places and colorful rituals. These offer insight of knowledge and culture and tourists also come to maximize spiritual experience in India and tourists these places visit for unique spiritual experience. Shankaracharya’s Chardham concept was the key point of successful Pilgrimage tourism in India and it was made part of life with guidance that in one’s life time, one must visit Varanasi, Dwarka, Puri and Rameshwaram (North, South, East and West) and also thus unifying India through Religion and appreciating each other’s culture. Following this ancient ritual Haridwar (Gateway to God) is one of the holiest place in India and people come to this foothill city particularly for a dip in the holy water of fast flowing Ganga. Varanasi in UP is another sacred Hindu cities known as city of Lord Shiva and it is believed that any one dies here will be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation. City attracts Indians and foreigners in thousands round the year.
It is not only Hindu Centers, Buddhist center of Bodhgaya is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage place in the world and religious and soul seekers from all over world visit the Buddhist Circuits in India with Bodhgay, Rajgir, Nalanda, Sarnath, Kushinagar, Saraswati, Kapilavastu, Amravati etc.
Similarly Amritsar is the spiritual capital of Sikh to the pool of Nectar and Golden Temple that attract tourists all over the world. Nanded, Anandpur Sahib, Patna, Gwalior have Sikh pilgrimage centers.
Goa’s Churches and several Churches in India bring thousands of Christian faiths to India. St. Thomas one of the apostle of Christianity was in India and his last remains are in India as also that of St. Xavier in Goa.
Spiritual seekers of Jews (in Kerala at Synagogue) Bahai’s at Lotus Temple, Jain Temples, Sufi centers of Salim Chishti/ Muinuddhin Chisti (Sufi Cult) are global places of pilgrimage.
Thus India stands as the real Spiritual Potpuri of global spiritual congregation.
No doubt, India can be the center for Spiritual Tourism activities globally and promote the UNWTO thrust that Spiritual Tourism be utilized for Inter-cultural understanding and explore world’s wisdom, bring greater enlightenment to the individual and global peace.