These tourists like to contemplate the sky

The Western Ghats of Karnataka and the Himalayan range are the favorite places of astronomers

The Western Ghats of Karnataka and the Himalayan range are the favorite places of astronomers

The days following the pandemic have seen tourists prefer lesser known and less crowded destinations. There is also a lot of demand for new experiences. The last of these trends in Karnataka is astro (astronomical) tourism.

Although stargazing used to be just a hobby, now separate, pollution-free destinations are being set up for sky enthusiasts to visit and observe. While most astro enthusiasts usually make their trips to the village of Hanle near Ladakh or the Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, two similar properties recently created in Kodagu by a private actor have attracted more than 2,000 tourists so far.

Starscapes, a startup, is offering astronomy experiences nationwide with its observatories, to meet growing interest. They provide state-of-the-art equipment for observations, astrophotography and research projects. In Karnataka, they launched their first property, a mobile observatory, in Madikeri and the second in Virajpet (both in Kodagu) in December 2021 and April 2022, respectively. Of more than 2,000 guests here, 20-25% were from Bengaluru, according to the company.

“During the off season (June to September and February to March), Starscapes has more tourists from Karnataka than other states,” the company said. After noticing the good response they received in Madikeri, they opened a new observatory in Ooty to attract more tourists from Bengaluru and Chennai.

However, local tour operators claim that the demand for such destinations has not yet increased as most travelers who visit still prefer the famous Raja Seat, Mandalapatti, Kushalnagar, etc. “We book around 25 to 30 tours a day. It is only recently that one or two tourists have inquired about this place of astrotourism. It has not yet gained popularity. Even few locals are aware of this, let alone tourists,” an employee of Skanda Coorg Travels told Madikeri.

An employee of the Coorg Home Stays Association said there had been inquiries about the observatories, but the numbers were very few.

The Western Ghats and the Northern Himalayas

In the state, deep in the Western Ghats, this is where astronomers go for astronomical tours. “It is impossible to see clear skies in places close to Bangalore. Many travel to the Kemmannugundi, Kuduremukha and Bhadra forest beyond Chikkamagaluru to observe the sky. There are a few pockets available in Karnataka, but the season is only from November to March,” said Ravindra Aradhya, president of the Bangalore Association of Amateur Astronomers.

Proximity to the sea makes observatories in South India a less preferred option due to often cloudy skies. This is why faithful astro-observers travel to the Himalayan range. This, however, can be an expensive affair as it includes transporting their telescopes, spending on warm clothes and other equipment.

“There are two reasons why astrotourists travel to the Himalayas: one is the climate and the other is the lack of light pollution. Those who go to the observatories of Kodagu or other hill stations prefer to go to the Himalayas to observe faint and deep sky objects. Something you can see in a small telescope in urban areas can be seen with the naked eye in the Himalayan range. Also, the colder it is, the better it is for astrophotography,” explained Naveen Nanjundappa, a member of the Bangalore Astronomical Society (BAS).

Hanle Village’s star parties can now take place on a dedicated 1,000-acre space, which is why deep-sky observers around the state make it a point to visit the location at least once in their lifetime. Others are great travelers. BAS member Vishwanath SK is preparing to visit Hanle for the first time this month. “It’s almost like a pilgrimage for us. One of the largest telescopes in the world at the Indian Astronomical Society and the least atmospheric space between the earth and the sky due to its high altitude makes it the most favorable place for observing the sky,” said he declared.

No plans to develop astrotourism sites in the state

Tourism department officials said that so far the government has not set up observatories for stargazing or astrotourism, but such relaxed vacations are being promoted as part of tourism. of well-being. “At this time, we have no plans to create such properties, but in the future, depending on demand, we may undertake astrotourism projects,” said T. Venkatesh, Director of the tourism department.

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