Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on 24th March, 2022, launched the BRO Tourism portal. During the launch event, the Defence Minister has directed the officials to devise a plan to promote ‘Defence Tourism’ in India, as well as, he sought suggestions about the visits to historical battlefields and its establishments.
The coined terminology – ‘Defence Tourism’ is not new, but rather, various initiatives have been taken by the government with the idea of inspiring youth and to give them a sneak-peek of the country through “military eyes.” A well-established concept worldwide, Military Tourism or Defence Tourism, has not been explored in India in a structured way. Before diving deep into the existence of Defence Tourism in India, let us first understand what Defence Tourism is.
The word in spotlight – Defence/War Tourism
Defence or War Tourism can be understood as a recreational travel that provides great insight to historical study. For the longest time, war sites have lured a section of tourists who find themselves drawn towards the thrill of understanding the past. For a history buff, these sites offer a great insight to events that have occurred in the past and have shaped the present & future of a country. It is no brainer that till now we do not have a time machine that can take us back in time but these historical sites provide different aspects of the past. Hence, various countries across the globe have leveraged on their past to attract tourists, which therefore contributes to the overall economy of the country.
When did Military Tourism launch in India?
Back in 2016, Maharashtra Ex-servicemen Corporation Ltd. (MESCO), for the first time in India, introduced the concept of Military tourism. Named as ‘Veer Yatra’, MESCO initially called out nine packages ranging from one night stay to a week’s stay. The idea behind designing such a concept was – to provide authentic experience when it comes to living in Military Sites.
MESCO aimed at promoting tourism, as well as creating jobs for the ex-servicemen and the widows. Apart from this, MESCO wanted to encourage and inspire the people and the youth of the country to join the military.
Under the umbrella of Military Tourism, MESCO provided tourists a chance to experience War Memorial, Army Workshop, Defence Academy, Naval Base, Warfare Centre, Military Management techniques, Art of War and Survival techniques.
Siachen Area – Now open for Tourism
In 2019, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stated that the government had decided to open the entire area from Siachen base camp to Kumar Post for tourism purposes. Siachen Glacier, which is the highest battlefield and one of the most difficult terrains on Earth, was opened for the enthusiasts from all over the world to provide a glimpse of an interesting mix of Indian and Tibetan cultures.
In a series of Military Tourism sites, let us have a look at some of India’s most fascinating ‘Tourist Destinations’:
Kohima War Cemetery, Nagaland: If you think that World War II was limited to Germany and the neighboring countries, then, visit the scenic Kohima – the capital of Nagaland. This is the place where the crucial battle was won by the Allied Forces during the second World War, that caused the Japanese Army to take a step back from entering the Indian territory. The well-manicured cemetery ground is a place of peace now, overlooking the town of Kohima. The cemetery commemorates the names of those 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who were a part of the British Indian Army and lost their lives on the battlefield.
Jallianwala Bagh: April 13, 1919, is scripted as a black day in Indian history. Jallianwala Bagh, that day, saw something so brutal that it still continues to haunt the memory of all the Indians. Thinking it was a mass protest rally, an act of defiance in the eyes of Colonel Reginald Dyer against the Rowlatt Act of 1919, he ordered an open fire at the crowd of thousands of pilgrims, festival goers and those who had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh after an early closing of the Baisakhi cattle fair. Thousands of casualties and 1650 rounds of bullets later, the garden right next to Harmandir Sahib turned into a ghastly scene of death of not just human beings but of humanity as a whole. Present-day Jallianwala Bagh is visited by many as a tourist place.
Wagah Border (BSF): Wagah town is considered extremely crucial when it comes to understanding the concept of Military/War/Defence tourism. Located at a distance of 24km from Lahore in Pakistan and 32km from Amritsar in India, the town is famous for the Wagah Attari Border Ceremony. At the time of Independence in 1947, thousands of people migrated to Pakistan through this border. The Wagah Border ceremony takes place daily, two hours before sunset, where the flag ceremony is conducted by both Pakistani Rangers and Indian Border Security Force (BSF).
Taking a cue from Israel
For a few years now, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism is exploring the potential of the niche segment of “Anti-Terrorism” or “Defence Tourism.” According to the India in the Israeli Ministry, many tourists from US and Europe have shown keen interest in understanding how people defend themselves and major things about warfare, as the reputation of Israeli security is high. They have called out entrepreneurs to explore this niche segment to further promote tourism.