Tourism is the largest service industry in India. It contributes 6.23 per cent to the national GDP and 8.78 per cent of the total employment in India. More than 5 million foreign tourist visit India annually and domestic tourism visits are estimated to be about 550 million. The tourism industry in India generated about US$100 billion in 2008 and that is expected to increase to US$ 275.5 billion by 2018 at a 9.4 per cent annual growth rate.
The Government of India has a separate Ministry of Tourism which is the nodal agency for the development and promotion of tourism in India. The Ministry runs the ‘Incredible India’ campaign. Besides a growing medical tourism sector, the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi are expected to significantly boost tourism in India.
The Taj Mahal is India’s best-known historical monument which attracts two to four million visitors annually, with more than 200,000 from overseas. Most tourists visit in the cooler months of October, November and February. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourists must either walk from parking lots or catch an electric bus.
Several lists of recommended travel destinations feature the Taj Mahal, which also appears in the recently announced New Seven Wonders of the World. Only five items water in transparent bottles, small video cameras, still cameras, mobile phones and small ladies’ purses—are allowed inside the Taj Mahal.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar attracts a large number of tourists from all over India as well as across the world. It is one of the most respected temples in India and the most sacred place for Sikhs. The Baha’i temple or the Lotus temple in Delhi, has won numerous architectural awards and has been featured in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. The Hawa Mahal in Jaipur also known as Palace of Winds is major attraction in Jaipur. While the Taj Mahal Palace is an icon of Mumbai, the Victoria Memorial has become synonymous with Kolkata.
The vast geographical diversity makes India an attractive destination for varieties of nature tourism. There are several hill station, wildlife reserves, deserts and beaches. The Jog falls in Karnataka are the highest waterfalls in India.
The Sundarbans in West Bengal are the world’s largest mangrove forest as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These forests are known for Royal Bengal Tiger. India is also home to several well known large mammals including the Asian Elephant, Asiatic Lion, Leopard and Indian Rhinoceros. These animals are often engrained culturally and religiously they are often found to be associated with deities.
Other well known large Indian mammals include ungulates such as the domestic Asian Water buffalo, wild Asian Water buffalo, Nilgai, Gaur and several species of deer and antelope. Some members of the dog family such as the Indian Wolf, Bengal Fox, Golden Jackal and the Dhole or Wild Dogs are also widely distributed. It is also home to the Striped Hyaena, Macaques, Langurs and Mongoose species.
India’s climatic and geographic diversity makes it the home of over 350 mammals and 1200 bird species, many of which are unique to the subcontinent. Owing to such a large number of species, India has a large variety of protected wildlife. The country’s protected wilderness consists of 75 National parks and 421 Sanctuaries, of which 19 fall under the purview of Project Tiger. Bharatpur, Corbett, Kanha, Kaziranga,
Periyar, Rantambore and Sariska are some of the well known national wildlife sanctuaries. Besides the Sundarbans, the UNESCO has declared the Keoladev National Park in Rajasthan as a World Heritage Site.
Several hill stations served as summer capitals of Indian provinces, princely states, or, in the case of Shimla, of British India itself. Since Indian Independence, the role of these hill stations as summer capitals has largely ended, but many hill stations remain popular summer resorts. Some of the famous hill stations that attract tourists, especially during the summer months are Mount Abu in Rajasthan, Munnar in Kerala, Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, Nainital and Mussoorie in Uttarakhand, and Ooty in Tamil Nadu.
In addition to these bustling hill stations and summer capitals of yore, there are several serene and peaceful nature retreats and places of interest to visit for a nature lover. These range from the stunning moonscapes of Leh and Ladhak in Jammu and Kashmir, to small, exclusive nature retreats such as Dunagiri, Binsar and Mukteshwar in the Himalayas, to numerous private retreats in the rolling hills of Kerala.
India offers a wide range of tropical beaches with silver/golden sand to coral beaches of Lakshadweep. Elephants and camels rides are common on Indian beaches, a major attraction to tourists, especially children. States like Kerala and Goa have exploited the potential of beaches to the fullest. However, there are a lot many unexploited beaches in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharastra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
These states have very high potential to develop them as future destinations for prospective tourists. The Kovalam beach in Kerala and Marina beach in Chennai are famous. Other famous beaches can be found in Puri, Orissa; Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu; Midnapore, West Bengal; Goa; Diu; Andaman and Nicobar Islands; and Lakshadweep Islands.
India is fast emerging as a destination for Adventure Tourism. It offers Skiing in Manali, Himachal Pradesh and Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir. The Himalayas offer unique opportunities for river rafting, kayaking and mountain climbing. The state of Madhya Pradesh provides rock climbing and boat racing for adventure tourists. Paragliding is an attraction in Maharashtra.
Each individual state also advertises itself as a tourist destination showcasing its World Heritage Sites. Kaziranga National Park and Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. For Bihar, it is the Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya. For Delhi, it is the Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar and the Red Fort.
In Goa, it is the Basilica of Bom Jesus and other churches. In Gujarat, it is the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological park- The Kalka-Shimla Railway in the states of Haryana and Himachal pradesh was recently added to the list of World Heritage Sites.
The group of monuments at Hampi and Pattadakal in Karnataka; Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi, Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, and Khajuraho Group of Monuments in Madhya Pradesh; Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Elephanta Caves and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai in Maharashtra; Konark Sun Temple in Orissa.
Great Living Chola Temples at Thanjavur, Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Darasuram, Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, and the Mountain Railways of India Nilgin Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu; Fatehpur Sikri, Taj Mahal and Agra Fort in Uttar Pradesh; Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Park in Uttarakhand; and Mountain Railways of India Darjeeling and West Bengal are all marketed as tourist attractions by their respective states.