Aim for the stars: explore everything from astrotourism to holistic astronomy experiences

For Neeraj Ladia, “astronomy” or staring into space has been the biggest mystery for humans. “You are amazed to see the movements in the sky, fantasizing about the magical shimmering existence. Astro watching led me to a different learning in life. You realize how small a person is in the universe,” says the Chennai-based astronomer and astrophotographer, who is also the CEO of Space Arcade, a multi-channel brand for stargazers and outdoor enthusiasts specializing in telescopes. and the twins.

Although Ladia’s expertise lies in astrophotography, he is a mechanical engineer by training and an astronomer at heart. “I love visiting new and quiet places while capturing the night sky in my mind and my camera forever,” he says, explaining how the next six months are filled with celestial activity – eclipses, meteor showers.

It begins with a Perseid meteor shower around August 9-13, followed by a Draconid meteor shower between October 6-10, as well as a partial solar eclipse which will occur on October 25, visible above Europe, western Asia and northeastern Africa.

Massive sky-related activities, terrestrial spaces and starry sky sites determined at the specific time of the year have given impetus to “astrotourism”, which is no longer just a passion for a few astronomy enthusiasts. , but has become a great concept to promote tourism. destinations and experience eclipses, meteor showers and other celestial events. “Events like these add to your travel itinerary. As places become more accessible, there is interest in traveling to remote areas or exploring new places, and stargazing activities can add value to their trip, in conjunction with the planned itinerary,” explains Ladia.

Over the past few years, India has opened up to the potential of fostering astrotourism in places like Rajasthan, Leh, Ladakh, and the hills of northern and southern India. But that kind of adventure is extremely niche, says Paul Savio, CEO and co-founder of Starscapes, a platform that offers a holistic astronomical experience. He cites reasons such as lack of awareness among Indians.

“There is already a growing adoption of astronomy experiences and a latent interest in the subject. We have reached out to people looking for new experiences, and not just those looking for astronomy experiences. helps introduce many people to this field. The goal is to reach the casual astronomy enthusiasts who are interested in the field,” says Savio, who joined Starscapes when it started as an observatory in Kausani, Uttarakhand in 2015 by amateur astronomer Ramashish Ray, the founder of Starscapes.

“It is essential to be present in places away from major cities with places that have fairly dark skies, measuring 4 or less on the Bortle scale (a measure of the darkness of the night sky, 1 being places extremely remote and 9 being city centers) Locations are also important tourist sites, as new experiences are sought after and better appreciated by tourists,” adds Savio.

It all started with just a telescope set up at Kausani’s cottage which allowed guests to explore the night sky. This was followed by the establishment of a small observatory with paid shows. “People who visited us weren’t looking for astronomy experiences, they were looking for something new. And this idea led us to create a platform to bring astronomy experiences to everyone in 2017,” Savio adds.

Sky is the limit

Apart from the positive effects of the pandemic which brought access to clear skies when most people were confined to their homes, the night sky today offers a good opportunity to learn about stars, constellations, planets and meteor showers.

In 2009, the first eclipse passenger flight in India was organized to observe the total solar eclipse in Taregna, a village in Bihar located 35 km from Patna and which literally translates as “counting the stars”. The place is best known for the astronomer Aryabhatta, who set up camp there to study the stars. Travel agency Cox & Kings had arranged a flight for stargazers and others to observe this rare total solar eclipse.

Apart from experiential tourism, star gazing is popular in Rajasthan, Ladakh and Pondicherry. The administration of Ladakh, in association with the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, plans to promote astrotourism in the village of Hanle in the coming months. The State Department of Art and Culture of Rajasthan in Jaipur has launched a ‘night sky tourism’ project to encourage tourists to see the night sky through the telescopes installed at Amber Fort, Jawahar Kala Kendra and Jantar Mantar.

The Bikaner House in New Delhi has also been chosen as a hub for astrotourism and a telescope will soon be installed for tourists to observe the sky. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has announced the installation of telescopes in 33 districts to promote science environment. “In addition to this, Sambhar Festival in Sambhar, a less explored destination, promotes astrotourism and night tourism through the beautiful long plots where you have no habitation and you can see the night sky with stars and the Milky Way very clearly,” says Gayatri Rathore, Principal Secretary for Tourism, Rajasthan, in an interview with FinancialExpress.com.

Starscapes worked in dark sky locations for a mobile observatory in Pondicherry on Club Mahindra property for a holistic astronomy experience. The company has also partnered with the Uttarakhand Tourism Board to develop Benital as India’s first astro village.

“Initiatives like these are slowly becoming a priority for many other state governments. We organize astrophotography sessions, a planetary parade and the “Messier Marathon” in our observatories in Kausani, Bhimtal and our mobile observatories in Virajpet, Madikeri, Goa and Munnar. The plan is to open observatories in 28 cities across India over the next three years and roll out products such as tours and parties in partnership with tour operators, resorts and hotels to reach as many customers as possible,” says Savio, who uses Celestron 8-inch GoTo motorized auto telescopes and 8-inch Dobsonian telescopes for shows around observatories to observe planets up to Neptune, surface features from planets to Saturn, including clouds on Jupiter, mountains on Mars, and Saturn’s rings.

Space Arcade’s Ladia shares an example of a stargazing trip to the less populated hills of Yelagiri in India’s southeastern state of Tamil Nadu, a prime dark spot away from the city to stargaze a darker sky conducive to stargazing. “In 2020, we have organized sessions for astro-photographers and families for short trips in addition to places like the Sariska Forest Reserves in the north and the hills of Kodaikanal and Jawadhu in the south as astronomy getaways” says Ladia, who is also associated with Astroport, a themed resort and activity center in India and South Asia that offers astronomy and terrestrial space experiences.

Currently, Astroport runs camps in the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Alwar district of Rajasthan, where amateur astronomers have access to all the necessary equipment for astronomical research like telescopes, star charts and cameras as well as an observatory. They welcome school groups for educational programs and other activities. The company will expand to 20 such theme sites in the future.

Meanwhile, Science City, Kapurthala also takes students and adult tours to observe celestial bodies like the moon, Saturn, and Jupiter. Apart from hosting various astronomical events at Jantar Mantar Observatory and Pir Ghaib Observatory in the nation’s capital, Nehru Planetarium in Delhi organizes multiple shows and workshops for a clear view of the night sky. Space is a tribute to the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to promote his ideas on the importance of science and astronomy teaching methods for children.

Last year, the Ministry of Tourism, as part of the Dekho Apna Desh campaign, organized a webinar titled “Astro-Tourism: The Next Frontier of Nature-Based Tourism”. The objective was to promote nature-based tourism and the evolution of astrotourism as one of the most authentic and environmentally friendly means of travel, as well as its immense potential to bring benefits social, economic and conservation to remote communities.

Rupinder Brar, additional director general of the Ministry of Tourism, said astrotourism is a new phenomenon taking hold around the world. Capturing people’s inherent interest in the mysterious provides the driving force for tourism throughout the ages, India has immense potential when it comes to nature-based tourism having all the physical geographical features of the world. The plan is to improve domestic travel and such experiences can promote visits to lesser-known destinations surrounded by nature.

While addressing potential, the goal of astrotourism is to foster sustainable and responsible tourism that puts communities at the heart and center of tourism. The idea can train local women in the high altitude Himalayan desert of Ladakh, generating significant annual income for local communities.

ASTRO GAZING: QUICK FACTS

The Perseid meteor is commonly sought after by stargazers and stargazers because it is often possible to see 60 to 100 meteors in an hour from a dark location during its peak.

Several factors affect stargazing. Cloud cover is the most common deterrent. Conditions such as transparency, referring to the clarity of the sky, affect the ability to see the night sky. The stability of the atmosphere plays an important role in stargazing

Move away from city lights and turn off nearby lights, inside and out. Try getting up high to get a clearer view of the horizon. Generally, the sky is at its best during clear, crisp winter nights and at its worst during humid, warm summer evenings. The best views are when the moon is in its crescent or gibbous phase; so as not to pollute the sky with light

Kutch white salt marsh in Gujarat is best for stargazers as there is no interference from light and pollution from vehicles

WHERE TO DO ASTRO GAZING

— Lake Sambhar, about 100 km from Jaipur
—Shahapur, Maharashtra
— Neil Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
— Nubra Valley, Jammu and Kashmir
— Coorg, Karnataka
— Yumthang Valley,
—Sikkim
— Taregna, Bihar
—Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
— Kutch, Gujarat

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