JAIPUR: Alwar, once a preferred destination in Rajasthan for foreign tourists, is seeing the number of visitors dwindling as the town now makes news for all wrong reasons, including cases of mob lynching, cow smuggling and gang-rapes.
Statistics released by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) indicate a steep decline in foreign tourists visiting the town, known for its palaces, forts including the “haunted” Bhangarh, and the Sariska Tiger Reserve, in the last five years.
While in 2014, 18,650 tourists visited Alwar, the number sharply went down to 10,654 in 2015 and touched new lows of 8,524 in 2016.
However, in 2017, it rose a little to 12,296, due to the strenuous efforts of Rajasthan Tourism, but the numbers were still down, presenting a grim picture in terms of falling tourism revenue and hence, reduction in employment, a senior official, who wanted to remain unnamed, said.
The fall in tourist numbers is seen as directly proportional to rising crime in the Alwar area where almost 400 cases of cow smuggling and over 600 arrests have been reported since 2015, according to police sources.
But more than these, it was the three cases of mob lynching which kept away the tourists.
In April 2017, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Haryana’s Nuh district, was lynched by a group of 200 cow vigilantes on charges of cow smuggling. In November the same year, Ummar Khan, a dairy farmer in Ghatmika, was shot dead while he was bringing cows to his village after buying them in Alwar.
The third case was reported on July 21, 2018, when Rakhbar Khan succumbed to his injuries while being taken to the hospital after being beaten up by cow vigilantes on alleged charges of cow smuggling.
Mahendra Singh, the director of HDM Travel — one of Alwar’s leading travel agencies, confirmed that the bookings have decreased ever since the crime incidents have risen. “Foreign tourists, who were once excited to visit Sariska, Bhangarh fort and the attractive step wells of Alwar, are now frightened to visit this belt.
“I have seen how tourists canceled their bookings after the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. Out of my seven bookings of foreign travel groups, six were canceled at that time. Now, with Alwar emerging as a ‘crime capital’, tourists come with similar fears in their minds and when they hear such cases, they take out the negative word of mouth which hampers the tourist numbers here,” Singh said.
On the recent gangrape issue, he said: “Such cases definitely traumatize the tourists, who visit India to tour and behold its beauty, but definitely not to have tensions in their minds.”
Alwar was again in the headlines for a string of rape cases which brought it a bad name.
In the first case, a woman traveling with her husband was stopped, dragged to an isolated place and raped. The rapists also filmed the act and uploaded it on social media.
In another case, the woman was drugged, abducted and raped in different villages before being dropped in Ajmer.
In the third incident, the woman was raped in a government hospital by an ambulance driver.
When asked if such cases could hamper tourism, tourist guide Balwant Soni said: “The Nirbhaya case in Delhi gave a wrong message about our national capital. It took me two days to convince my clients that they are safe here and nothing untoward will happen. Now, with three back-to-back rape cases being reported here, Alwar too will see tourist footfall dwindling.”