Residents Lament Wayanad’s Connectivity Issues Ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s Arrival
A popular hot spot, Wayanad’s reputation as a tourist destination was boosted after Rahul Gandhi announced his decision to contest the Lok Sabha polls from here. Inhabitants and those involved in the tourism sector hope this will also lead to an improvement in facilities and infrastructure.
An estate in Wayanad. (Credit: Wayanad Tourism Department website)
Thiruvananthapuram: With the Congress fielding Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad, the happiest lot are perhaps those in the tourism industry. Over the last four days, Wayanad has received enormous publicity as the second seat of the party president.
The place featured in every list of destinations for tourists looking for a vacation in “God's own country”. For others, its geographical location was not very well known until March 31. This probably helps explain why Wayanad, with more than 20,000 searches, was one of the top 20 search terms from India on the day.
“People have started inquiring where is the place, particularly those from northern India. We mostly get south Indians on vacation here. But we hope these inquiries turn into good business,” says Ravindran K, member of the Wayanad Tourism Operators Association.
“It has become very popular now. Never before have we seen Wayanad on national news on this scale,” says Biju Thomas, general manager of Harithagiri Hotel.
But when Rahul Gandhi lands in Wayanad on April 4 to file his nomination, its residents wish to remind him that the place is hardly well-connected. The nearest railway station and airport are about a 100 km away, in the neighbouring district of Kozhikode. The next nearest railway station is Mysore, about 130 km away.
“We don't have a railway station here. Somebody has to come to Kozhikode or Mysuru and drive down here. We have to come through the ghat section. It is a big problem when there is heavy rainfall. And the closure of the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway at night affects the movement of those who want to travel overnight and spend a day or two,” says Vancheeshwaran, president of the Wayanad Tourism Operators Association.
“We need some small airstrips, not big airports. And as much as we want connectivity, we want the beauty of the place to remain intact,” adds Vancheeshwaran. “We want development with conservation.”
Kerala in 2017 saw more than 1.4 crore tourist arrivals, both domestic and foreign, which was a 10.4% increase from the previous year and earned the state Rs 33,383 crore. Of this, approximately eight lakh tourists visited Wayanad. Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam, which have international airports, recorded more than 25 lakh and 32 lakh tourist arrivals respectively. Kozhikode, which also has an international airport, received more than 93,000 tourists.
Until September 2018, Wayanad saw more than six lakh tourist arrivals, which was the sixth-highest figure among the 14 districts of the state.
While connectivity questions figure prominently in every tourist’s basic inquiry for Wayanad, the answers aren't usually encouraging. “They ask how far the nearest railway station is and lose interest when we say a 100 km away,” says Biju.
The tourism sector also hopes to see a revival from the losses incurred in the aftermath of last year’s catastrophic floods.
Those calling Wayanad home now hope it might become easier for them to explain to outsiders where they hail from. “People did not know Wayanad unless they had visited Kerala or were planning to do so. Soon, they will all know. I know of Amethi and Rae Bareli only because of people like him [Rahul Gandhi],” said Shilton George, a voter in Wayanad.
Even before Gandhi has filed his nomination, WhatsApp forwards asking to vote for him are already doing the rounds. “I could see a lot of WhatsApp posts asking to vote for the future Prime Minister of India. That chance may interest many people who are neutral,” adds George.
“My colleague from north India asks me — where's Wayanad? Why do you think Rahul Gandhi selected Wayanad? Do you think he'll keep his seat if he wins from both Amethi and Wayanad?" says another native working in Delhi, who did not wish to be named.
Several voters hope that the answer to the last question is yes.
“I actually think if he wins both seats, if he is a good political strategist, he will make Priyanka [Gandhi] contest from Amethi and keep Wayanad for himself. This will help revive the Congress party in Kerala. Because Rahul Gandhi in Amethi is not a new phenomenon," adds the Wayanad resident.
“What the Congress claims is they brought in Rahul Gandhi to bridge the north-south divide. He shouldn't be quitting from Wayanad, but he should from Amethi. The purpose is lost if he quits from Wayanad," says Vancheeshwaran.
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