Beaches, hill stations and pilgrim spots have long remained India's top attractions for bringing in foreign tourists and along with them, employment opportunities for thousands dependent on the tourism industry.

However, a new trend now seems to be emerging in the recent times as more and more foreigners are coming here to get a taste of India's culture and heritage.

An example of this trend is a batch of foreigners currently in the city to witness the main festivities of the ongoing Chithirai festivals of Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple and Lord Kallazhagar Temple.

The Tourism Department has chalked out a five-day programme that include visits to view the ‘Tirukkalyanam' (celestial wedding) of Goddess Meenakshi, car festival and Lord Kallazhagar entering the Vaigai.

Rich puja

Benedetti Roma, an octogenarian, has come all the way from Italy just to witness these festivities. “I have seen many pujas but this celestial wedding was the richest. The ceremony is very symbolic,” he says.

“The faith of the people, who turned out in thousands to catch a glimpse of the proceedings, is truly amazing and is in complete contrast to the materialistic pursuits of people in the West. Spirituality and faith are the strong points of India,” he says.

Mr. Roma also expressed hope that India would maintain such faith in religion and spiritualism.

Says Annette Houtekamer (56) from The Netherlands: “Such events are interesting for Westerners. They are a new experience for us. These events highlight important aspects of India's culture.”

However, she adds, “We have difficulties understanding the rituals as they are performed in native languages which we cannot comprehend. While the Tourism Department has provided English pamphlets, some translation of the rituals will be of help.”

Improve coordination

Mumbai-based Jay Kantawala (37), who brought in the tourists here, says more coordination between various wings of the Government would make the experience a much smoother affair. “More coordination could cut down delays and unnecessary confusion,” he says.

K. Dharmaraj, District Tourist Officer, says such cultural events help attract foreign tourists during the off- season. The traditional peak season is between the months of September and March as foreigners try to stay away from the scorching Indian summer. However, these kinds of cultural fests help in reversing this trend. More foreigners could be expected in the years to come, he adds.

Tourism stakeholders in the city say a lot more can be done to highlight the local festivals. A long-standing demand on the Tourism Department was that it should come out with a comprehensive calendar outlining all the cultural events for the entire year.

Tourism promotion campaign of the neighbouring State of Kerala has been widely acknowledged as successful since it follows such a calendar. Foreign tourists plan the vacations way ahead and such a calendar would go a long way in attracting more people. Apart from the calendar, improving the hygiene at tourist spots and their proper maintenance are also badly needed.

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