Tour operators have their hands full. Not just the year-end travel but also for the Mahakumbh at Allahabad, a once-in-12-years pilgrimage, considered the biggest religious gathering in the world.
Tourists, domestic and foreign, have made bookings well in advance but the phones continue to ring at travel operators' offices across the country with enquiries. Hotels are booked to capacity and even the tents provided by various travel companies are full.
“Foreign tourists booked with us six months in advance. There is a lot of interest among travellers from America, the UK and many other countries, besides non-resident Indians. Even domestic tourists booked a couple of months ago,” said Sabina Chopra, co-founder, Yatra.com. At this stage, she said, one’s best chance was to book in a tented accommodation.
However, travel companies complain that for an event of this magnitude, the preparations by the state government is far from adequate. Experts say the government has not tried to bank on this opportunity by running special advertising campaigns or even linking with travel companies for smoother bookings. “There is no build-up or fever surrounding the Kumbh Mela, which should have been, considering the size and scale of the event. The tourism department has not involved tour operators to market special packages. We are receiving inquiries from tourists and we are forwarding these to the UP tourism department,” said Gour Kanjilal, executive director of the Indian Association of Tour Operators.
The Mahakumbh in 2001 saw close to 55 million people take part. It commences at the start of January. With no official travel agency appointed, private companies have come up with packages on their own, catering from budget to luxury travellers. For instance, Cox and Kings is offering Kumbh Mela packages starting at Rs 15,452 for three nights and four days. Depending on one’s budget, there are options.
“These are tented accommodation with the highest standards, with all meals, morning and evening arti, panoramic view of the mela, and interaction with knowledgeable spiritual Rs Sadhakas’,” said Arup Sen, director-special projects, Cox and Kings.
With better rail, road and air connectivity, travellers are thronging in much higher numbers this year, travel companies indicated.
The UP tourism department has also trained around 250 young volunteers to handle travellers’ queries.
The UP tourism website is offering stay options like Swiss cottages, rooms and dormitories, in the deluxe to economy category.