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For stargazers in India, now sky is the limit

If you are a star-gazing enthusiast, the sky is now the limit, quite literally. From immersive ‘space travel’ experiences to observing the night sky in a cold desert, there are a whole lot of activities that you can engage in, thanks to a renewed boost to astro tourism being given by both the government and private stakeholders.

From watching the sun to discover some of its fascinating aspects, partaking in experiential science activities to know how a rocket goes to space, or joining a ‘star party’ where you and your group experience the enigmas of the cosmos — all these can be part of your next travel itinerary. There are exciting destinations too.

Officially notified in December last year, India’s first ‘dark sky reserve’ in Ladakh’s Hanle village is now ready and will be opened for the public soon. Spread over 1,073 sq km across a cluster of six hamlets in the Hanle cold desert region at an elevation of 4,500 metres above sea level, the reserve is among a few of its kind in the world that will offer a spectacular view of the night sky. “Because of its altitude and location across the Himalayas in the rain shadow area, this night sky reserve is the ideal place for stargazers almost throughout the year,” Union minister of state (independent charge) for science and technology Jitendra Singh told the media recently. The reserve will promote livelihood through eco-friendly activities of astro tourism, spread awareness about astronomy and boost scientific research with reduced artificial light and wildlife conservation.

Meanwhile, work is on in full swing to develop Benital in Uttarakhand as the first ‘astro village’ of India.

Located at an altitude of 2,600 metres above sea level, Benital, with its low light pollution and minimal human activity, offers an undisturbed view of the night sky, making it an ideal location for a dark sky park. “The government has decided to push forward with the Benital project. A lot of activities will be announced in the immediate future,” said Paul Savio, CEO and co-founder of Starscapes, an astro tourism company that has tied up with the Uttarakhand Tourism Board for the Benital project.

Starscapes has private observatories at Kausani, Bhimtal and Mukteshwar in Uttarakhand, and another one coming up in Coorg, Karnataka. In addition, it has a mobile observatory in Ooty, and six mobile observatories across properties of Club Mahindra and one at St Regis Goa resort.

Astro tourism is the sunrise segment of the experiential tourism industry, said Savio. “Massive interest is being shown by luxury resorts across India to incorporate astro experiences in the bouquet of offerings for their guests. Today, our customer base is overwhelmingly of people who are looking for a new experience, and not necessarily an astronomy experience. We expect this to flip in the next three years. People will travel with an intent to have an astronomy experience. This will be driven by the springing up of dark sky parks (the astronomy equivalent of national parks) and other dark sky places equipped to service this interest,” added Savio, whose company has already provided experiences to over 50,000 customers in the past 18 months.


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