New Delhi – When Ramgopal Varma visited the Taj after 26/11, he was accused of indulging in terror tourism. While the Bollywood director was forced
to clarify that it was the last thing on his mind, there is indeed a small breed of men and women who spend money and time visiting places struck by terror. Bomb blast sites, missile-hit spots, strife-torn locations, they are fascinated by them.
Mumbai-based freelance journalist Kenneth Lobo, 27, has a fetish for visiting such places. He has been to Colombo after LTTE’s suicide bombing in 2006 and Kashmir on two occasions the same year. He also travelled to Hyderabad last year soon after the city was rocked by bomb blasts.
He now plans to visit Pakistan in February next year and dreams of sneaking into Afghanistan and making back alive. Lobo claims to be fascinated by the way the people of a city or a country deal with visitors during such troubled times, how they cope with a situation that affects their lives. “One realizes then how life has different meanings, twists and turns to it,” he says.
Consultant psychiatrist Avdesh Sharma tries to explain the psyche of such tourists. “For some people, such tourism is a thrill like bungee jumping, the rush of being in a place where no one else can. These people like to challenge and push themselves beyond a limit.
They think about it carefully before doing it for pleasure. But they cannot be called insensitive because they are going there to challenge themselves,” he says. Tour and travel operators say that terror tourism remains a low-key and select affair. No operator offers “a terror package”.
But those in the business proffer that they get queries from individuals who are keen to travel a recent terror-struck site to feel the experience first-hand.
Yogesh Shah of Backpacker & Co says there are two kinds of people: one, who stay at home in fear of terror attacks and two, who actually get out to see what the fuss is about. Tej Lalvani 34, belongs to the second category. Seven years ago Lalvani, a senior corporate executive based in London, had visited the 9/11 site in New York. “I remember air travel was suspended and there was high alert. America was in chaos. Given the situation, I could have easily cancelled my trip. But I had to travel as a part of me wanted to go and see how things were.”
Now Lalvani is scheduled to visit Mumbai on December 22 and the last thing that worries him is the safety factor. “I know many people who have cancelled their trips to India post Mumbai carnage. However, I still plan to visit the city” he says firmly. As a kid, Lalvani spent a great deal of time in the old Taj that he considers as home. “There is a compelling reason to come and see how it’s holding up,” he says.