Bhubaneswar: Dawn has broken at Konark. It’s an early start for Pradeep Behera, who has been making his both ends meet through photography at Sun Temple for the past 10 years. With the camera bag strapped around his shoulders, Behera scouts for the first visitors after re-opening of tourist spots, almost seven months after the pandemic hit the state. However, almost no one arrives and it’s another no-income day for Pradeep.
While the state government has allowed opening of tourist spots from September 1, lack of visitors has added to the woes of traders and professionals who earn their livelihood from tourism sector.
Pradeep’s predicament is perhaps one of the 300 shutterbugs and tour guides for whom the lockdown might have ended but not their hardships.
“I have been a photographer since 2010 and it has been seven years since I have been working at Sun Temple. The lockdown has affected my income very badly. While earlier I used to earn Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 daily, now it would be great even if I make Rs 1,500 a week. I have never seen anything like this before,” Pradeep said.
The loss of livelihood is stated to have taken toll on the mental health of people associated with tourism sector.
Pradeep, with a family of his wife and two daughters, admitted to contemplating suicide fearing his inability to provide his family.
Suranjan Das, a local tour guide, has a similar story to tell. Das who hails from Rourkela and works at Sun Temple said he had to survive on just water and rice as he was left with no money in his pockets while lockdown was in force.
“I couldn’t leave for my home and I stayed in Puri. However, with no source of income it became almost unbearable during lockdown,” he said.
While he was forced to sell vegetables during lockdown, Das returned to Konark after tourist destinations were allowed to resume. However, with the government putting a cap on visitors to only 3,500, Das business is yet to go back to normalcy.
“Before lockdown I used to make anything between Rs 700 to Rs 1,500 every day. However, with almost no tourists visiting, I once agreed for mere Rs 200 with a client when minimum rates don’t go beyond Rs 500,” Das said.
Das, who is sceptical of any turnaround, said, “Local or domestic tourists hardly value tour guides. We rely largely on international tourists. But with the government yet to announce any resumption of international flights it’s hard to see any change of our fortunes,” he said.
The associations of tour guides and Konark photographers said that they had repeatedly requested the state government to provide assistance, but to no avail. “The year 2020 has been hard on us. I’m not very hopeful that things will get better this year. However, we are hopeful that things may change next year,” Pradeep said.
Aviral Mishra, OP