Go on the Ramayana trail this Dussehra 12th, September 2008
Tour operators are increasingly cashing in on mythical tales to lure more pilgrims and the curious to religious trails. This Dussehra, the in thing in the holiday circuit is the epic Ramayana - the tale of Ram who fought the demon Ravan to rescue his wife Sita.
Written by the seer Valmiki, Ramayana is the most popular epic in the Indian subcontinent, where Ram is revered as an incarnation of Vishnu and worshipped even in Southeast Asian countries. The festival of Dussehra is based on the central theme of the Ramayana, where the good vanquishes the evil.
Tourism major Cox & Kings has introduced a Ramayana Trail, woven around the epic to lure the spiritual travellers and pilgrims this October, when the festival holiday season peaks.
It is an eight-day seven-night tour of the Ravan country, Sri Lanka, to get a live feel of Ramayana and the battles to rescue Sita. The package is priced at Rs.70,000 per person on a twin-sharing basis. It starts from Kolkata.
The packages includes stopovers at all those temples and landmarks which Ram is said to have crossed with his army on his way to Ravan's kingdom. It begins with a visit to the sacred city of Kandy in the heart of Sri Lanka.
The next stop is the Munneswaram Temple, where Lord Shiva blessed Ram and advised him to set up four lingams at Manavari, Thirukoneswaram, Thiru Ketheswaram and Rameswaram to get rid of a curse.
It is followed by a visit to the Manavari temple where the first lingam was installed by Ram. It is still called Ramalinga Shivan.
After the first phase of the tour, the incantation trail that touches on all those places where Rama prayed for strength and divine blessings, the second phase takes the travellers to the combat zones.
All Ramayana readers know how Ram's brother Lakshman was hit by an arrow and lost consciousness, after which Hanuman flew to the Himalayas to fetch life-saving herbs.
When he couldn't identify the plants, he removed an entire hill and brought it to Sri Lanka. Parts of the hill fell in different parts of the island and Dolukunda in Hiripitaya was one of them.
Tourists will be taken to the Dolukunda to explore its magical flora and fauna, known for its life-giving powers, and the local island life. From Dolukunda, it will be a picturesque ride to the Harrsbaedda Mountain, where Ravan's body was laid to rest.
The Ramayana says Ravan used aircraft to direct his army and fight his battles. Tourists will get to see Wariyapola, an ancient airport said to have been used by Ravan.
The trail will then wind its way to Sri Bhaktar Hanuman Temple in Ramboda, where Hanuman was searching for Sita. The Chinmaya Mission of Sri Lanka has built a temple with Hanuman as a presiding deity at this location. Every full moon night, thousands of devotees conduct special prayers there.
The Ram-Ravan war trail will also stop at Gayathri Peetam, where Ravan's son Meghnath worshipped Lord Shiva and was granted supernatural powers.
At the Seetha Amman Temple, tourists will get to see a mountain stream where Sita bathed during her imprisonment at Ashok Vatika. The last stop on the trail will be Divurumpoa, the place where legend says Sita had to undergo the test of fire in which she proved her innocence to Ram. Divurumpola means the place of oath in Sinhala.
"Spiritual tourism is growing in India and people are familiar with Ramayana. But most of them have not visited these spots as they are not in India. What we have done is to create an itinerary around it and time it with Dussehra when it is of significance. Second, people have more money to spend and they prefer to go on pilgrimages during Dussehra," Arup Sen, executive director of Cox & Kings, told IANS on phone from Mumbai.
The tourist profile of spiritual travellers, said Sen, was mostly affluent and upper middle class, who would like to visit religious destinations without compromising on comforts.
"The profile of the travellers has been changing. More affluent families are now travelling with tour operators like Cox & Kings. This segment is growing about 30 percent every year," Sen said.