The political chorus, cutting across party lines, against the omission of monuments and natural treasures in Odisha from the Centre’s ‘iconic tourist sites’ list has grown louder, and with sound reason. The BJP too has joined in with its MPs from the state dispatching a memorandum to their own government at the Centre demanding inclusion of the Sun Temple at Konark and the Puri Jagannath temple in the list along with the development of various other destinations like Chilika lake.
Not including any location from Odisha in the sites proposed to be developed holistically by the Centre defies logic as the state has an unparalleled wealth of tourism spots—be it nature’s treasures from beaches to forests, or man-made marvels of temple architecture. The anomaly in the selection is obvious as none other than the Union minister for tourism and culture admitted in Lok Sabha in the recent session that the Konark temple is fifth in the most-visited tourist spots in India after the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Qutub Minar and Agra Fort. With over 24.66 lakh tourists visiting it in the fiscal year 2018-19, the Sun Temple is way ahead of some of the 17 chosen sites such as Humayun’s Tomb.
The issue here is unlike the four other prime tourist destinations, Konark has poor infrastructure and amenities. Despite boasting of a one-of-its-kind architectural wonder, a gorgeous beach and marine forests, Konark doesn’t even have a proper hotel for tourists or a decent restaurant. The same is the case with other sites in the state. The state government, no doubt, has continually failed to leverage the unmatched tourism potential of its treasures—be it the Konark temple, Chilika lake, Similipal, Satkosia or Bhitarkanika wildlife reserves or the ‘see-it-to-believe’ ancient Buddhist heritage in the Diamond Triangle. This is why the sites need the Centre’s push. Inclusion of important sites from Odisha in the list will lead to much-needed development on the ground, so that the doors finally open to some of India’s best-kept secrets.