Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Blast-hit Sankatmochan is a tourist draw

UNI | March 06, 2007 | 12:53 IST

Despite the March 2006 terror attack, the Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi has become a major tourist attraction.

''The temple has unexpectedly become a major tourist draw among backpackers from abroad -- especially American, Spanish, French and British tourists. Their curiosity to know and visit the temple of the monkey-god hit by the terror attack has risen drastically since the March 7 blast,'' said Sailesh Tripathi, a senior government-approved tourist guide.

Powerful blasts rocked the temple on March 7, 2006, ensued by another blast at the Varanasi Cantonment railway station 10 minutes later. At least 18 people were killed and over 100 others wounded in the twin blasts.

Earlier, the temple itinerary offered the tourist groups in this 'city of temples' only visits to the Bharat Mata temple, Kashi Vishwanath golden temple, Vishwanath temple at Banaras Hindu University and also the Goddess Durga temple.

''Despite several security restrictions at the Sankatmochan temple, tourists are making a beeline to visit it, especially to see the spot where the blasts was triggered on the fateful evening,'' Tripathi added.

Shopkeepers agree.

''Prior to the blast, foreign tourists were seldom spotted at the temple, visiting it only during the 'Sankatmochan Sangeet Mahotsava' in the summers, but this season, a steady stream of foreign tourists has been visiting the temple. Even tourists who do not hire tourist guides manage to reach the temple by rickshaw and then confirm from us whether it is the same temple where the blast occurred,'' said Shyam Sunder, the owner of a shop outside the temple.

Official figures with the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department pegged the total number of foreign tourists to Varanasi during 2006 at 3.70 lakh as against 3.45 lakh in 2005.

Though a visit to the temple is yet to become a formal part of the itinerary, going by the growing inclination of overseas tourists to the blast hit temple, the Sankatmochan temple may formally be blended into the temple city's tourism package in the future.

''Tourists visit the temple only to see the spot where the blast took place, but once they are inside the temple, the natural greenery and the monkey army moving freely in the complex and the natural and spiritual peace that it offers encourages them to visit again,'' Jaideep Srivastava, a young tourist guide says.

Some tourist guides, however, feel the temple will be listed on the tourism itinerary only when overseas tourists are kept free from security hassles.
''The extra security cover and inadequate provisions for cell phone and camera lockers in the temple are hampering the passage of tourists. When we tell tourists that to go to the Sankatmochan temple, they might have to face security related problems, they sometime shelve their planned visit despite being eager to visit the actual blast spot,'' Kishan Mishra, another tourist guide said.