Voyages of discovery, heritage, adventure, ecotourism and water sports are the popular travel themes in Karnataka this year.
With the vast band of Sahyadri running between the lofty land, bountiful strip of Karavali in the West, the Bayaluseeme in the North and eastern regions, Karnataka promises to be an ideal tourist destination around the year. An adventure seeker, a nature lover, a heritage explorer or a weekend voyager, the State doesn't fail to satisfy the wanderlust of travel enthusiasts.
With the State Tourism Department and other travel initiatives catering to the diverse needs of travellers, 2017 has seen an increased flow of tourists into the State. An easy destination, the State has appeased the varied requisites of travellers who have set a voyage trend.
The State has seen four basic themes emerging this year. They are heritage, adventure, ecotourism and water sports. Long gone are the days when travel meant just seeing places. Today, travel is a holistic package combining sightseeing, photography, adventure, learning, etc. And the State has numerous places of interest to fulfil these stipulations.
Hampi, the magnificent ruins of Vijayanagar Empire, tops the list of heritage travel in the State. The architectural marvel, it attracts a lot of tourists (mostly during the winters when the weather is pleasant), who explore the cultural remains. The place has a huge inflow of foreign tourists and the villages, Sanapur and Anegundi, separated from Hampi by River Tungabhadra, see backpackers from around the globe trotting the site - on bicycles, scooters, bikes and rickshaws. "The locals are so friendly that they even give us a ride on their trucks and tractors," explains Ankita, a traveller.
An ever-developing tourist spot, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has seen several efforts to ensure that the place is eco-friendly and tourist-friendly. For instance, toilets here are aesthetically designed in the form of chariots. The new water plant installed here also has won appreciation from the tourists. The coracles sailing on River Tungabhadra has tourists thronging for a ride. The 'Hampi by Sky' initiative, organised by a private firm during Hampi Utsav this year, enthused tourists. The grand annual carnival sees coming together of renowned artistes and cultural enthusiasts who collect fond memories of Karnataka's culture.
Mysuru, one of the well-maintained tourist spots in the State, is another destination that is explored for its culture and heritage. The app-based 'Trin Trin' public bicycle sharing facility, the self-drive rental cars, and the tongas have promised to provide the best rides in this heritage city. Srirangapattana, adjoining Mysuru, is also a cultural destination. Vijayapura, with its magnificent forts and the celebrated Gol Gumbaz, has been an ideal heritage site for tourists and travellers from around the world. There were also efforts to revive the heritage structures in Vijayapura and Bidar this year. Heritage walks and trails, which help explore the cities in detail, have also become popular among local people as well as tourists. Belur and Halebidu; Badami, Pattadakallu and Aihole - always explored together - are also some of the top heritage tourist sites in the State. And most of these heritage sites are living up to the heritage tag with well-maintained infrastructure and eco-friendly transport facilities.
In tandem with nature
Bandipur, Kabini, Nagarahole, Malnad region and other forest areas have always been the hotspot destinations for wildlife tourism. However, it is ecotourism that has changed the purpose of travel. And promoting this sustainable tourism across the State is Karnataka Eco Tourism Development Board supported by the Forest Department. The State has seen many volunteer programmes in this area this year.
Eco-trails, recently recognised by the Forest Department, in Bengaluru, Chikkamagaluru and Kodagu, are promoting responsible, day-long treks. Additionally, the department is promoting guided treks across Bengaluru city and issuing green passports to trekkers, which is sure an add-on to the eco-adventure travellers. These treks are extensively booked from their official website, www.ecotrip.com. Aditya, an associate at 'Ecotrip.com', explains, "While there are eight functional eco-trails, more trails will be updated on the website soon." This year, there has been an increase in the number of eco-tourists who are exploring the lesser-known terrains like wildlife safari, jungle stay, eco-trail and birdwatching responsibly.
Ecotourism, which is catching up in the State, has strived to create awareness on sustainable tourism. The Tourism Department is also looking towards fostering local community through ecotourism. Local youths and tribal people have been appointed by the Forest Department in various eco-trails to promote eco and responsible tourism. This initiative creates livelihood opportunities for local communities as well.
While the government is swinging at full speed promoting ecotourism, private firms at many hill stations are appeasing the tourists for being nature-friendly. "It is the estate stays and homestays, more than resorts and five-star hotels, which are attracting more tourists in the State for being located in scenic eco-spots. Rammed earth cottages and tents pitched amidst greenery have more takers than cemented, luxurious stays," explains Prakash, a travel executive. The State government has also come up with some stringent rules and regulations to ensure that the homestays stay true to the principles of eco and responsible tourism.
Adventure is worthwhile
With a vast stretch of Malnad, the State offers adventure seekers with a lot of opportunities. Many youngsters within the city limits take off during the weekends on an adventure trail and indulge in trekking, rappelling, bouldering, zip-lining, etc. Among the popular treks in the State, Kumara Parvatha-Pushpagiri trek has remained an all-time favourite. Apart from this, there are numerous trails that are explored by avid trekkers, which include the expat crowd.
What is now trending is the adventurous paragliding sport, which is conducted at scenic spots. "Adventure tourism is catching up in the State and Karnataka Tourism Department is planning to promote adventure tourism extensively," says Narendra Raman, founder of a paragliding club. Ramanagara, Chikkamagaluru, Magadi and Kanakapura areas have emerged as popular paragliding spots.
Dandeli, attracting mostly college-goers, has reached new heights in adventure tourism and offers kayaking and rafting packages. This year saw the first kayaking festival in River Kali. This festival saw participation from enthusiasts across the globe. "It is also being promoted as part of school trips and there are many city schools that organise such treks combined with birdwatching," says Hemant Soreng, proprietor of a travel firm.
With 300 km of coastline, the State has many beaches between Mangaluru and Karwar. Gokarna in Uttara Kannada district tops the list in coastland tourism and has a lot of young voyagers and foreign tourists taking over its beaches. Udupi's St Mary's Island, Kaup beach and Murudeshwar are other popular coastal destinations in the State.
While these may be the popular travel themes in Karnataka this year, there are pilgrim centres that see a lot of tourist inflow. The huge inflow to these destinations has resulted in Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation designing packages under 'Puneeta Yatra' to further promote spiritual tourism in the State.
Overall, with the tagline 'One State, Many Worlds', Karnataka tourism is looming up with diverse trends and is sure to improve further in 2018.