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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 December 2006, 10:36 GMT
India pushes 'graveyard tourism'
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

Himachal Pradesh is dotted with European graveyards

Tourist guides prefer to call it cemetery tourism. Others say it is essentially meant for 'tomb travellers'.

But tourism authorities at the idyllic Himalayan Indian state of Himachal Pradesh are loathe to woo British tourists with such macabre sounding pitches.

So they are telling them a visit to the state's many European graveyards is an added 'bonus' on their itinerary.

According to official estimates, there are some 10 main 'European' graveyards in the state, which mainly house the remains of British people who died in India.

The London-based British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (Bacsa), however, estimates the state has a total of 42 such cemeteries. Many of them are open to the public, although new burials no longer take place there.

The cemeteries were deliberately created to be like a little part of England
Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, Bacsa

Rosie Llewellyn-Jones of Bacsa says the rising interest among British tourists in travelling to graveyards of ancestors is due to "often an inbuilt love of cemeteries among the British people" and a "huge boom" in genealogy and research into one's ancestors.

"A large number of British people had relatives who served in India, not just as officials, but as soldiers, shopkeepers, traders, tea planters, forest officials, teachers, missionaries, photographers," she says.

"Tourists and researchers are going to India to find and photograph the graves of their ancestors, and also to see the places where their ancestors lived and worked, so there is a spin-off effect."

Vandalised

Local tourism officials say many British tourists ask tourist guides to take them to the graveyards of their ancestors.

To take advantage of this growing interest, this tourist-friendly state - last year Himachal Pradesh attracted 7.3 million tourists, including 300,000 foreigners, and tourism contributed 8% to its gross domestic product - is now embarking on documenting and restoring these graveyards.

European graveyard in Shimla
Most of the graveyards need restoration and upkeep Pics: Rajeev Sood
Authorities and experts alike agree that many of the cemeteries are in a derelict state and urgently need restoration and maintenance - one official says stones have been stolen and the graveyards have been vandalised.

Local historian Raja Bhasin has been commissioned to document the European graveyards, to make the information easily accessible to foreign tourists and to begin proper restoration work.

The cemeteries he is working on include four in the state capital, Shimla. The oldest one in Shimla dates back to the 1820s with a dozen graves and monuments.

"The dead have a mixed profile. We have an entire British family that died of cholera, for example. At a cemetery in Kangra fort, the dead are all British soldiers," he says.

Tourism chief Tarun Sridhar says that visits to ancestors graveyard could easily become part of the state's 'heritage tourism circuit'.

"We are not going to be hard selling it with such names as cemetery tourism," he says.

For many British tourists, this will come as good news - there is an expected upswing of British tourists to India in 2007, which will mark the 150th anniversary of what the British call the Indian Mutiny, and Indians call the first war of independence.

"In hill stations in northern India the cemeteries are very similar to our British cemeteries. They were deliberately created to be like a little part of England, a 'foreign field that is for ever England' as the poet said, and so we feel at home there," says Bacsa's Rosie Llewellyn-Jones.


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