The 'Chernobyl' effect: Bengalureans are soaking up the 'dark tourism' trend
Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru contribute to over 85% of bookings to ‘dark’ destinations.
The online mini-series, 'Chernobyl', won plaudits for its authentic portrayal of the nuclear disaster at the site and the clean-up efforts after. The hit show also spurred a significant rise in the number of tourists heading to 'Chernobyl'. Over 10,000 tourists line up each year to take selfies of eerily empty buildings and macabre shots of the abandoned ferris wheel. ‘Dark tourism’ of this nature has caught the fancy of travellers, with Bengulureans, too, soaking up this rising trend by choosing to visit spots of death and suffering. Adventure traveller Arvind Kamath, 36, took a trip to Bali last year, not for its white sand beaches and blue waters but for the ominous cemetery in Trunyan, a tiny island on the archipelago. Nestled deep inside the forest, hundreds of tourists flock to see the decaying remains of local villagers. “As per the island’s customs, the dead are not buried but laid to rest in bamboo cages, open to the elements. I had read about this cemetery long ago and wanted to tick it off my list,” he says.
The burial site is a source of morbid fascination, much like the concentration camp of Auschwitz, the killing fields of Cambodia and Fukishima, among many others. Closer home, the Jallianwala Baug in Amritsar and the Cellular Jail in Port Blair are the most popular domestic ‘dark tourism’ sites, said Karan Anand, head, relationships, Cox and Kings. “There was also a surge in the number of Indian travellers who wanted to visit the Chhabad House or see the Oberoi Hotel, Taj Hotel and the CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus) in Mumbai post the 26/11 (terror) attacks.”
Uttarakhand’s tourism minister last month announced that Kedarnath will be developed as a ‘dark tourism’ site with a memorial for the victims of the 2013 floods.
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According to travel booking website Cleartrip, people from Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru contribute to more than 85% of bookings to ‘dark’ destinations. “Cambodia seems to be more popular with travellers from Bengaluru. Almost all the bookings for Kigali in Rwanda are from Mumbai,” Balu Ramachandran, senior vice-president at the company, said.
Travel blogger Lakshmi Sharath says on her first trip to Poland several years ago, not many wanted to visit the concentrations camps. Now it’s one of those “must-visit” places. She had a similar experience in Cambodia 10 years ago, when the killing fields were not on everybody’s sightseeing radar.
While the ethics, sensitivity and voyeuristic undertones of such form of tourism are often debated, Sharath says it is all about the history. “Terrible things happened at places and the remains are testament to human suffering. If visitors are respectful and sensitive while visiting places like these, I don’t see a problem.”
Durgesh Nandan, head of community and growth at travel assistance website Ithaka, says inquiries for such spots are few, but growing. Nandan, a traveller himself, took a trip to Cambodia to see the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school that was used as a security prison where over 150 prisoners were tortured and killed. Similarly, he took a trip to Trunyan cemetery. “I am fascinated by history and these spots tell stories of horrific recent history, making it much more impactful.”