Though the German Bakery was the target of the bomb blast on February 13, it was frighteningly close to the Osho International Meditation Resort and the Jewish Chabad House, the two places that terror suspect David Coleman Headley had surveyed during his visit to Pune.
Since the blast, a police van has been stationed outside the meditation resort, which has also privately hired the services of bouncers. Passersby are not allowed to linger outside. Only the resort’s visitors are allowed entry.
Amrit Sadhana, the resort’s public relations officer, says that at any given time, there may be close to 1,000 foreign visitors at the resort from over 120 countries. “We stepped up security in October itself when it was learnt that David Headley had surveyed the place,” Ms. Sadhana says. The resort’s visitors walking down the road refuse to interact with the media, perhaps on instructions from the resort.
At the Chabad House at the end of the lane, security is just as tight. Iron barricades block the entrance to the building and there is a permanent presence of policemen.
Despite the strict security arrangements made at the two “hard” targets, foreign visitors are keeping away from Koregaon Park. The Osho Commune’s immediate neighbour is Hotel Sunderban, foreign visitors’ most preferred option during their stay. Ninety per cent of its clientele comprises foreigners visiting the Osho resort.
According to Mayur Londhe, the hotel’s on-duty manager, “There has been a 10-20 per cent drop in foreign tourists ever since the blast.” The hotel’s 39 rooms, which are full during foreigners’ season at the Osho resort from October to March, are always full. However, several of them are vacant since the blast.
Another hotel in the vicinity that mainly caters to foreigners at the resort is Hotel Lotus. Its manager, Darshan Bumb, says: “The foreigners staying at our hotel were scared on the day of the blast. Though no one checked out prior to their plans, there has been a drastic drop in the number of our daily enquiries. They are as good as nil, when otherwise we have at least 10-15 enquiries daily at this time of the year.”
Out of the hotel’s 24 rooms, only 10 are occupied. The guests staying there prior to the blast have checked out as per their schedule. But the vacated rooms have not been re-occupied. “People are scared to come to Koregaon Park,” Mr. Bumb says. “You can just look at the streets. You’ll hardly see the crowd of foreigners walking down that you would usually see.”
The mood among the hoteliers is corroborated by Akbar Travels of India, one of India’s largest travel agencies, whose office is on the Koregaon Park Road. Anant Deodhar, its counter supervisor, says: “There has been a 40 per cent drop in foreign tourists since the blast. While foreigners already here have not changed the dates of their departure, there is a sharp drop in the number of new tourists.”
Akbar Travels’ Pune office’s sales are to the tune of Rs.3 crore in February every year. This February, however, the office has only managed to touch the Rs.1.8 crore mark.
But the hospitality industry in Koregaon Park hopes that the deterrent effect of the blast would wane off soon. “The terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 affected our business here,” says Mr. Bumb. “But our business started picking up again by mid-January 2009.”
Santosh Bhosale, the owner of Lakshmi Stores that sells the maroon robes worn by visitors to the Osho resort, says, “It is too early to say if the blast will scare people away. It’s the end of the season now anyway. We’ll come to know by the next season if the number of foreigners coming here is affected.”
Mr. Bhosale fears that tourists will be affected by the visuals shown in the media, the way the visuals of Indian students being attacked in Australia led to a drop in the number of Indians going there. “If the media says that all will be well here, people will start coming back.”