Literary Tourism: Trailing Authors, Books, Festivals

Outlook,15 June, 2010


Literary Tourism: Trailing Authors, Books, Festivals

Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan… A new breed of tourists are trailing their favourite authors to discover locales set in novels or film adaptations of books, or simply turning into literary junketeers hopping from one festival to another.

The annual Jaipur literature festival is already a must-visit on the itinerary of book-lovers and with Kerala set to host the first edition of the international Hay festival in November this year, India is gearing up for a place on the map of enthusiasts who are combining their love for literature with wanderlust.

“There are far too less literary events in India. Around 20,000 people, including foreign visitors turn up at the Jaipur literature festival every year. Another major event in India is the Kolkata Book Fair which attracts about 2 million people on an average,” says Nikhil Ganju, Director, Marketing, Tripadvisor, India.

In Himachal Pradesh, there is a proposal to consider developing sites along the Hindustan-Tibet road, where noted author Rudyard Kipling had stayed and penned novels such as the classic Kim.

“We had proposed to call it the Kipling trail after the famous author who is said to have stayed at various places along the Shimla-Kinnaur route,” says Avay Shukla who was additional chief secretary, forest department of Himachal Pradesh when he forwarded the proposal in 2008.

Also Shimla and surrounding places like Dharamshala and Mussourie attract a lot of foreigners especially British tourists who come to trace their roots. “What attracts them is that their forefathers, great grandfathers etc. lived here and died here,” says Shukla.

Historian Raja Bhasin who has conducted guided tours for tourists in Himachal Pradesh says,”I handle a fair amount of groups from overseas. Some groups have specific interest is Rudyard Kipling and we did readings from his book at places where we thought the author would have stayed or passed through.”

“There are places that captured his imagination. The cave where the lama stayed in said to exist even today in the spiti mountains. Similarly within Shimla, Kipling had set many stories and said to have stayed at various forest guest houses some of them which are present today,” says Bhasin.

The Mumbai-born author had spent a lot of time in the United States and is of also of literary importance to travellers from there, says the historian.

A veteran Canada based tourism professional Stephen Burnett says, “Often we discover that literature tourism is one of the supporting branches of cultural tourism and depending on how robust the program is it can also be the dominant motivating factor in the consumer’s travel decision.”

Burnett points out traditionally the UK attracts a lot of tourists with a taste for literature.

“Emily Bronte’s writing turned Haworth, a grimly north Yorkshire village into a literati Mecca for followers of Wuthering Heights. The homes of Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth have attracted legions of loyal followers of Peter Rabbit and Britain’s Poet Laureate,” says Burnett.

A survey released by travel portal Tripadvisor has listed London, the inspiration for Charles Dickens, on top of ten literary destinations worldwide.

In Canada’s tiny Prince Edward Island, the writing of Lucy Maud Montgomery continues to capture the imagination of millions of schoolgirls the world over, with her story Ann of Green Gables. Visitors from Japan are perhaps the most loyal followers of the marvellous heart warming tale. In Kenya, the writing of baroness Karen Blixen regenerated an entire African Safari business with her novel Out of Africa.

Meanwhile, Lyndy Cooke, executive director, Hay Festival says,” We are very excited to celebrate the Hay Festival in India and Kerala became the obvious choice for its high literacy rate and popular tourist destinations. The Festival will also create a platform to present Indian writing to an international audience.”

“Literature can be linked to tourism. At Hay on Wye, we sell almost 200,000 tickets every year and 80 per cent of the crowd are visitors who come to Wales. They live in hotels, bed and breakfast lodges, in a 100-km radius of the lush hamlet,” says Cooke.

According to official estimates foreign tourist arrivals in India jumped by over 15 per cent in May against the same period as the figure touched 3.45 lakh. In May last year, 2.99 lakh foreign tourists visited India which was lower than 3.04 lakh in the same month in 2008.

“Touristy places also help to attract people to literary festivals,” says Binno K John who organises the Kovalam Literature Festival in Kerala which in its third edition this October will host celebrated Pakistani authors Fatima Bhutto, Mohammed Hanif and H M Naqvi among other international literary giants.

Agrees Sanjoy K Roy, Teamworks which has worked to bring Hay to Kerala. “It is easier to sell Kerala as a destination because it is well known.”

“With the Hay festival we hope to create a literary event in south India that we hope becomes a magnet for people to come into India,” he says.

Earlier this year, Indian writers like Gulzar, Chetan Bhagat, Bulbul Sharma and Omair Ahmad were joined by international names like British author Patrick French as well as local writers and poets from Bhutan for a three-day festival “Mountain Echoes” in Thimphu.

“Obliquely the festival which has a separate segment on travel writing has focused on literary tourism which has become a new genre of tourism,” says Mita Kapur, Siyahi, which organised the event in May.

Author and co-founder director of Jaipur Literary festival Namita Gokhale says, “Jaipur has been a huge inspiration for other models. If you are open to the literary expression it helps you understand the people and culture of a place in a deeper way. Otherwise it is just a virtual holiday.”