INDIA, where culture echoes, tradition speaks, beauty enthralls, and diversity delights. The astounding diversity of religions, cultures, and languages of India is unique and unparalleled. The country offers a plethora of spiritual destinations which should not be missed by anybody who is looking for an authentic Indian experience. From opulent mosques and temples to stunning churches, serene monasteries, and magnificent gurudwaras, India is truly a home to holiness. The central government has launched various programs and campaigns time and again, like Incredible India (2002), Atithi Devo Bhava (2005), and Incredible India 2.0 (2017) to promote tourism to a global audience. However, it was only in the year 2014-15 that GOI expanded its focus to spiritual tourism exclusively, and the Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual and Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD Scheme) were set in motion under the Ministry of Tourism.

National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual and Heritage Augmentation Drive was launched in 2014 with an initial provision of INR 100 crores for that year. The Scheme focuses on developing and identifying pilgrimage sites across India and promoting sustainable pilgrimage tourism in India. It aims to integrate pilgrimage destinations in a prioritized, planned, and sustainable manner to provide a real religious tourism experience. The growth of domestic tourism hugely depends on pilgrimage tourism. The strategy also follows a comprehensive area development approach and aims to promote local art, culture, and cuisines that can further generate livelihood in the identified destinations. As of February 2022, a total of 37 projects have been sanctioned under the PRASHAD Scheme, of which 17 projects have been completed. The Ministry has also allotted an amount of INR 235 crores for the scheme this year.

This is, however, not a standalone mission. The PRASHAD scheme combines the nexus of other projects undertaken by the Union Government that facilitate tourism in India. Here is a list of some flagship missions.

  1. Swadesh Darshan Scheme: Launched in 2014-15 with an objective of integrated development of theme-based tourist circuits in the country, the Swadesh Darshan scheme follows community-based development and promotion of cultural and heritage value of India. Tourist circuits are defined routes having at least three major tourist destinations which are distinct and apart and must abide by the themes like ecotourism, wildlife, spiritual, Himalayan, Tribal, Heritage, etc. Out of the budget allocation provided for the year 2022-23, INR 1181.30 crore has been earmarked for the Swadesh Darshan Scheme.
  2. Champion Service Sector Scheme: A sizeable budget estimate of INR 101.54 crore has been issued to the Ministry of Tourism under this scheme. So far, the amount has been utilized in the creation of tourist infrastructures, promotion and marketing, and capacity-building programs in and around iconic sites. The scheme also extends financial incentives to Foreign Tour Operators for enhancing tourist arrival to India.
  3. PM Gati Shakti - National Master Plan for Multiple Nodal Connectivity will facilitate integrated and seamless movement of people, goods, and services across the nation. Economic Zones like textile clusters, pharmaceutical clusters, defense corridors, electronic parks, industrial corridors, fishing clusters, Agri zones will be covered to improve connectivity & make Indian businesses more competitive. The Plan will pull forward not just the economy but will also play a role in boosting tourism in India with better connectivity and ease to travel efficiently.
  4. Continuous and comprehensive efforts made by the Ministry of External Affairs, international travel to India has become faster and safer for tourists. Easy visa policies have made travel more transparent and reliable. The visa-on-arrival scheme has played a significant role in encouraging inbound tourism.

Challenges to Spiritual and Heritage Tourism

With the reopening of international and regional borders post the pandemic, the tourism industry is yet to experience the ripple effect. Households are still in the process of reviving their lost confidence to travel for leisure. But this has also given time to the governments in shaping and strengthening their tourism outlook. They can encourage universities and researchers to explore the topics of spiritual tourism and religions for reaching a wider audience and thus create a Spirituality Index for all the countries. India should be no less than Vatican City to promote its spiritual tourism.

In order to protect and preserve the heritage, governments also need to check on licensing of factories and mills near the sites since harmful gases and smoke tend to damage the sculpture and architecture of the place. The state governments can also use aggressive promotional campaigns and arrange for theme-based tourism proposals to incentivize particular groups of tourists. The uniqueness of our nation also lies in the fact that we discovered yoga and meditation which has increasingly become synonymous with spirituality. The government should also showcase this at various international platforms that can connect people and help to Find the Incredible You.

This article is co-authored by Karishma Sharma and Vishakha Bhagwat.

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