It’s been 70 years since India gained independence from British rule—and 70 years since the birth of a whole new nation, Pakistan. Much has changed since, but how has it impacted tourism, both domestic and international?
After almost 200 years of British colonial rule, India finally won its independence. But the events of August 15, 1947 came at a price, as the country cleaved violently and chaotically apart.
The two nations were crudely divided by the Radcliffe Line, hastily drawn-up by a British lawyer who had never previously been to the subcontinent. Few preparations were made for the mass migration—one of the largest in human history—unleashed by Partition, which marked the end of The Raj and direct rule by the British in India.
It was the momentum of the freedom movement, culminating in the mass civil disobedience of the Quit India campaign, which tipped the scales, and forced out a Britain weakened by the Second World War.
But for Mahatma Gandhi and others like him, their aspirations for a united India were quickly shattered. Amid pressure from supporters of a separate Muslim-majority state, the day before—August 14, 1947—witnessed the creation of a new country, Pakistan.
“When I first arrived in India 28 years ago, to get from Delhi to Srinagar involved a 40-hour bone-crunching journey by bus.”
Jonny Bealby, Wild Frontiers
Communities that had largely coexisted peacefully for generations were torn apart in horrifying violence, as Hindus and Sikhs headed to India from Pakistan, and Muslims journeyed in the opposite direction.
Over a million people were killed and some 13 million displaced. Now, 70 years on, Partition still shapes the lives of people in India, Pakistan and beyond, its legacy laced with nostalgia for lost homelands and trauma.
Naturally, India and Pakistan have undergone great changes since 1947. Improved communications, infrastructure, transport and accommodation have made traveling around easier and quicker, and helped to create a booming economy, although not one without economical disparities, of course.
“When I first arrived in India 28 years ago, to get from Delhi to Srinagar involved a 40-hour bone-crunching journey by bus,” says Jonny Bealby, managing director of adventure travel company Wild Frontiers. “Nowadays the same route can be done in under an hour by flying with a number of domestic airlines.”
“It seems to have engendered a new generation of more worldly, confident travelers.”
David Abrams, India author
On the other hand, some remote areas such as the Himalayan state of Ladakh have become more accessible, though others, including Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province, have become more difficult or dangerous to visit.
Domestic tourism has grown dramatically, too. “So many Indians are now traveling around their own country, which has markedly altered the complexion of popular destinations,” says David Abram, writer, photographer and co-author of several Rough Guide to India guidebooks.
“It seems to have engendered a new generation of more worldly, confident travelers—very noisy and garrulous ones at that!” he says. “Indians like to travel in large family groups on the whole, rather than couples or singletons, and that has changed the vibe of many destinations formerly only visited by foreign tourists.”
India has also seen an increase in luxury five-star resorts over the years. “Particularly in beautiful remote parts of the country,” adds David, “These are pitched squarely at domestic tourists, which is something of a sea change. And they charge serious rates.”
Many places associated with the independence movement have also become tourist attractions. On the 70th anniversary of independence and partition, Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad in his birth state of Gujarat, and the Aga Khan Palace in Pune, where the Mahatma was imprisoned by the British, have a particular resonance.
Partition was life-changing event for millions, and is a story which remains relatively untold on a wider scale. The independence process didn’t even end in 1947. France held onto its Indian colonies until 1954, the remaining Portuguese enclaves, including Goa, were only annexed in 1961, and the tiny Himalayan state of Sikkim officially become part of India in 1975. And after a short but bloody war, East and West Pakistan split, leading to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
India and Pakistan have fought over Kashmir several times; it remains a major source of tension even today. It remains to be seen what the next 30 years will bring, and what the centenary will signify for all nations in terms of legacy and development post-Partition, but there’s little doubt that the fascination of this region will continue to attract travelers from across the world.
Shafik Meghji is an award-winning travel journalist, broadcaster and co-author of over 30 Rough Guides. He has written for publications around the world, including The Guardian, Independent, and South China Morning Post. Recent trips have taken him down the Mekong, across the Amazon, and the far reaches of Patagonia's Tierra del Fuego.