An introduction to “DARK TOURISM”
With the coming age of tourism, one may be familiar with the concepts of “dark tourism” but must have never heard of the term.
What exactly do you mean by Dark Tourism?
Today when we talk about the need for resilience in globalization, the need for exploration comes along with it. With the changing times, the pattern of tourism in the world is evolving every single day. In India, where tourism was mostly associated with places, which were culturally strong, aesthetically pleasing, and extraordinary, we are now moving to places that are unexplored and infamous. The concepts of resorts, weekend breaks, exotic locations, nesting in nature, etc. are the more commonly searched keywords on the internet.
Here is when the concept of Dark Tourism comes into the picture, But what exactly is Dark Tourism? The term ‘Dark Tourism’ was coined by Lennon and Foley in 1996, faculty members of the Department of Hospitality, Tourism & Leisure Management at Glasgow Caledonian University. It is defined as tourism, which involves travelling to places, which have been associated with death and tragedy in the form of natural disasters, acts of violence, or crimes against humanity. About 33.7% of people are acquainted with the term “Dark Tourism”, out of which 65.3% have been to sites, which reflects Dark tourism (fig. 1).
As per a survey, about 44.2 % of people were interested in Dark tourism (fig. 2), apart from the other typologies of tourism. Well, in that case, we can say that Dark tourism has always been a part of our travel itinerary in some way or the other. Suicide points, haunted places, accident landmarks, disaster landmarks, have always been a tourist spot in major tourist circuits. If you have ever travelled to a hill station, you would remember, one of the spots being a suicide point. This is where the guide tells you the number of people who have committed suicide in the place and you would have an irking response. From Green valley View (Suicide point) in KodaiKanal to Kalpa Suicide Point in Himachal Pradesh, Hill stations
have always had suicide points, which brings in an eerie response from the travelers.
Figure 1: Acquaintance with Dark Tourism
“Curiosity about Death” is a major factor responsible for the introduction to the Dark Tourism sites. The Xiaolin Village memorial Park in Taiwan commemorates the victims of Typhoon Marakot in 2009, which is considered as one of the deadliest typhoons in the region killing about 700 people in the first wave. Visiting this place, enables tourists to visit and experience the trauma associated with the site, perceive the power of nature, learn to respect the environment and develop a belief for peaceful coexistence.
Figure 2: Preferred types of tourism
Dark Tourism gained popularity in the 21st century when people started exploring hidden places. When the concept of tourism was explored further beyond the concepts of aesthetics and beauty but to learning and explorations. Various TV shows and documentaries have also highlighted the concepts of the same. A show, “Ekaant”, airing on the EPIC channel, hosted by Akul Tripathi, where the host travels to all the abandoned places in India, including the Bhangarh fort (Haunted), the abandoned village of Kuldhara (Haunted), the town of Orchha (Cursed), and many more. This show builds up curiosity among the people to visit such abandoned and infamous places. Another show, “Dark Tourist”, which airs on Netflix, where the
host, a journalist, David Farrier, explores the subset of tourism, by visiting the dark tourism sites in the world.
It is not always about visiting the places, some sites also offer visitors to experience the places by participatory measures. Just like there is a difference between, watching a giant roller coaster from the outside, and experiencing it by sitting in it, there is a difference between being a visitor and being an experiencer. Although as per a survey, about 50% of people agree that visiting a site makes your enhances your experience of the site (fig. 3).
Chernobyl, the city of death, which became known after a massive nuclear disaster in 1986, is accounted as one of the major incidents in the history of Nuclear disasters, with INES level 7. The Chernobyl tour takes you on a ride to this nuclear disaster city, where tourists can experience the historic incidents and happenings of the accident. While entering the premises, the visitors are advised to wear the masks and are given a Geiger meter, to observe the levels of radiations in the premises. These tools keep the curiosity and fear imbibed in the tourist, who can now realistically experience the place.
Figure 3: Need of Physical Experience
Figure 4: Interest in Dark Tourism
WHY? Dark Tourist?
Reliving and Re-experiencing – If it is all about the experience, a majority of people would be willing to try it. Similar to our entertainment parks where we indulge in activities like Ferris wheel, dead drop, etc., dark tourism has its way of creating unforgettable user experiences. Starting from role-playing for Mexico-US border tourism to Chernobyl tour, a tourist can relive and re-experience the past literally, thus making the experience closer to life.
Traumatic experience- There are certain places, which are associated with an accident or tragedy, which when visited, creates a feeling of solicitude. Initial anxiety leads to a tourist experiencing the space with mindfulness.
For places like Union Carbide Factory associated with the Bhopal Gas tragedy, 1984 or the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, 1913, a tourist enters with an open mindset but comes out with a traumatic/ upsetting experience. (Figure 6)
Figure 5 Agrasen ki Baoli, Delhi
Figure 6 The bullet holes marked with chalk, Jallianwala Bagh, Amitsar
Adrenaline rush- Humans are happy to be in their haven, especially when it comes to living their lives in peace. But once in a while, people do explore their dark sides by escaping reality. To break from the monotonous, rigid, and predictable life, people experiment with activities. Certain sets of people will indulge in activities that lead to escaping normality or by providing a thrilling experience, which is otherwise a taboo in society. To give a relatable example, Mount Fuji in Japan is known for many aesthetical reasons but is also famous for its suicide forest, Aokighara, rightly located in the foothills of the great mound. This lush green forest witnesses about 200 plus suicide attempt each year and are considered to be one of the most haunted places because of its association with deaths. With various interviews from tourists visiting this place, it has been observed that a person visits this place because the place is highly disturbing, gruesome, and unexpected. The place imbibes an adrenaline rush among the visitors who are looking for an experience, which cannot be experienced in an alternative fabricated reality. With corpses hanging on the trees, a continuous deep negative vibe, an eerie feeling lingering all over the place, the place attracts many visitors throughout the year who are the “DARK TOURISTS”
Taking a local example from the country, Agrasen ki baoli in Delhi is a stepwell located in the heart of the capital city, built in the 14th century and is now protected by ASI. The structure has always attracted tourists for its architecture and historical relevance, but what attracted the people more are the spooky haunted stories associated with it. There are rumours that the baoli has seen many suicides over the years and is termed as one of the most haunted places in India. This creates a sense of excitement among the people which directly affects the tourist footfall over the place.
Sadism/ savagery – For many, Sadism is an extremely negative word, associated with cruelty, punishments, and viciousness, but for some, it is about an escape from the dull boring monotonous life. The percentage of people indulging in tourism-related to sadism or savagery is pretty less but extremely focused.
Examples can be, a visit to the Little dean jail, also known as the Crime Museum, an 18th-century prison housing quirky, disparate exhibits on crime, spying, and Victorian taxidermy. Another example is the Pablo Escobar tour in Columbia, which takes you on a ride with the life of the famous drug lord, Pablo Escobar. While these tours haunt you with the idea of sadism and cannibalism, delinquent to the thoughts of appreciating or even being present in such a place, for some it is a guilty pleasure.
Humans are different; a good deed for some can be extremely sinful for others. It is all about choices, perceptions, and humane actions in the end.
Additional experience- Yes, dark tourism also comes as an attachment to various tourist sites. It is like a side dish, a dessert that enhances the experience and makes it a fulfilling meal. A visit to a tourism site feels incomplete without an eerie/ quirky story attached to it.
For example, a visit to an old historic fort becomes more fun if it is associated with haunted/ scandalous stories. The concept of suicide points on all hill stations, being one of the major tourist points, indicates that, dark tourism has always been a part of our platter.
Wrong or Right?
Well, to jump to conclusions, may not be right. People come with different choices, perceptions, and capabilities. Visiting Dark places requires compassion and mindfulness, intending to understand the past in an alternative reality. The associated incident evokes sympathy and empathy for the victims, which helps us analyze the errors or blunders in the past. Be it a
fallacy or a gaffe, an incident provokes us to an extent of discomfort which shudders our thoughts and affects our life.
As per a survey, around 38.9% of Amritsar people are interested in visiting a Dark Tourism site, 44.2% are still debating for if they are interested and 16.8% clearly indicated a negative response . Discerning the dark tourism sites can be difficult for some, but experiential for others. Like other typologies, this tourism also educates us and makes us a better global citizen.
Alert and conscious, it makes you more aware and thoughtful.
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