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AKIPRESS.COM - As Mongolia and India are marking sixty years of diplomatic ties, it is time to reconsider priorities of the two countries to boost common tourism links. With the Indian PM’s recent visit, ties are looking better than ever before, believes Mongolia Ambassador to India Gonchig Ganbold.
Ganbold: Enhanced economic exchange is a key to stronger tourism connect
Interviewed by Shashank Shekhar, a reporter at the India's TF Newspaper.
Probably the last remaining vestige of the by-gone era of war-heroes and legends, Mongolia, as a destination, has a distinctness which is tough to replicate. Besides, not many would be aware that Mongolia has vocational centers named after Rajiv Gandhi, and an IT center for excellence named after Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A number of children are, still, fondly named Indira and Jawahar, proving a point that Indian politicians are well-known in Mongolia. This may come as a surprise, but underlines the deep-rooted connect between two of the oldest civilizations in Asia.
More than fifty percent of Mongolia’s three million plus population follows Buddhism and finds resonance in India’s vast repository of Buddhist heritage. “We have been intertwined in various bonds, from spiritual, cultural and historic. There are a number of places in Delhi, and in India, whose name resemble those from our nation. So, they are subject to study for the future generation of historians. In our manuscripts dating to the thirteenth century, sacred to Mongols, India is known as Hindustan. India was well-known and considered as the land of Buddha – a sacred place,” said the Ambassador.
Stressing on the historical connect between the two nations, he recalled how monks from Mongolia traveled through the Himalayas to study at the famed Nalanda University. “Asian-Chinese travelers left their travelogue which details that monks from Mongolia were a regular at these institutions. On the basis of these very close spiritual and cultural ties, we established diplomatic relations between our two states – which now enter the sixtieth anniversary,” he explained.
Adding that Mongolia had planned to mark this momentous occasion with year-long events, and this really was a moment to sum up what both nations had accomplished together, he said. “We, at this moment, should also outline what we can do in the next sixty years, together. Sixty years in our concept is a century, in our Oriental school of thought.”
Mongolia, off late, has gained traction in the Indian consciousness, thanks to PM Modi’s visit last year. The PM Namo’s visit was a landmark occasion in the history of bilateral relations. “The government of India expressed its readiness to boost our bilateral ties; even made the pledge to provide a sum of one billion USD as a line of credit which would encourage Indian export of goods and commodities, including of course, travel and tourism,” he said.
Sharing that Mongolia was one of the most sparsely populated nations in the world – it is almost half of India’s size – he said one could find diverse topographical and climatic zones which appealed to Indians. “We do have great political and cultural connect. Now, what we need is to diversify it in the realm of economic exchange, like in tourism and enhanced bilateral visits,” said the envoy.
He opined that once the real economic activity commenced on ground, then relations would further deepen. “We are working with some Indian companies to set up outsourcing centers, and probably that company will announce its intentions shortly. We can develop viable projects to properly use the line of credit in infra projects.”
Hr also detailed how Mongolia intended on deepening bilateral connect. He saw tremendous opportunities for trade and commerce in animal husbandry and mineral resources – both of which were found in abundance in Mongolia. He noted that they had almost sixty million heads of livestock which was a massive resource of animal husbandry materials like wool, hides, cashmere and intestines. “It can be processed as surgery thread; a value-added product – so a lot of products can be created out of them. We have all the raw materials needed. Indian pharmaceutical companies can be made more cost-effective. So, we can create a lot of products together which can be exported to other markets, besides domestic consumption. Russia is under sanction, while China’s demands are huge, so these can be worked upon together,” he opined.
He also saw agriculture and IT as major components which were yet to be explored. “The eastern part of Mongolia is very conducive to agriculture; now our government is planning on making it a special agriculture zone–where Indian farmers can grow crops. Again, IT sector is a promising sector. It can be furthered in Mongolia, with the Indian side helping in its set-up. It can penetrate to other big markets, thanks to our location,” he believed.
Noting that Mongolia was well-endowed with mineral resources, he expressed interest in cooperation on mineral processing. “India has a strong pool of civil engineers who could work in Mongolia in different projects related to setting up of electricity grids and other infrastructural projects which will help us extract huge deposits of minerals from mines. It can be used in India to meet its growing market,” he opined.
Lack of air-connectivity to be resolved shortly; have put inter-airline agreement in place
Lack of direct air-connectivity, despite the promise of better bilateral relations, remains a major impediment. If that was not enough, Mongolia is yet to be represented by a tourism office in India which is vital in any nation’s attempt to further its outreach to domestic clientèle. But, an encouraging development has rekindled hope of a better air-connectivity. “Mongolian Airlines MIAT has signed one Indian company to represent them in India, and they also have a tie-up with Jet Airways. So, Jet Airways will fly into Hong Kong and Mongolian Airlines will fly into Hong Kong from Mongolia; on some sort of a tie-up regarding code sharing,” the envoy explained.
He said that it would help in recognizing one-another’s ticket, “so, we may have a Jet Airways or Air-India’s ticket, and it will be valid on the Mongolian Airline. Also, if you send cargo from here, then you will receive it in Mongolia on the same concessional rate. These are some of the initial steps that are being taken. Otherwise, inter-airline agreement and land-sales agreement have already been concluded.”
There were several routes that could be explored besides Hong Kong, he noted. “We may also look at Beijing, Seoul or Tokyo. Since Mongolia is the shortest air-route connecting Europe and Asia, so once this connection gets going, we may even expand it to other European countries via Mongolia,” he hoped.
On the question of lack of representation through a tourism office, he conceded that it was a lacuna which needed to be looked into. “We are not represented here which is a shortcoming, but we do try to use every medium to make Indians aware of our offerings as a nation,” he said. “Firstly, people working in the media can visit Mongolia, we can exchange some journalists. Then they can play the role of a bridge between our two nations,” he added.
He also hoped to explore art and other exhibitions on both sides which would give people an insight into one-another’s life.
Want to encourage student exchange; will introduce e-visa for making it easier for Indians
Student exchange is a sure shot formula to enhance bilateral footfalls. It helps foster better understanding by enhancing people-to-people connect, besides creating foot-soldiers who act as ambassadors helping raise visibility of their nations. It is precisely what Mongolia has planned, shared the envoy. “PM Modi, during the recent visit to Mongolia, had announced that he would want to see more Mongolian students coming into India, and to Nalanda University. So, we are encouraging enhanced bilateral student exchange. However, I do agree that their numbers are not enough; it should be increased,” the envoy said.
“We keep encouraging our youngsters to come here and explore. The knowledge is imparted in English which will give them many opportunities to get meaningful employment,” he added.
Tourism, as a sector itself, is gaining prominence in Mongolia. With a majority of travelers descending from Europe, France in particular, and Japan to enjoy bird-watching and hiking, the nation is also attracting Horse-racing and automobile rallies aficionados. “These are also picking up as popular activities,” the Ambassador said.
Noting that in a bid to attract more tourists, the government had put in place a liberal visa system, so travelers from India did not need to pay any visa fee, he added, “We will initiate an electronic visa system for India, later this year which will make it easier for Indians to visit us.” Mongolia has, now, trained its gun on touching a footfall figure of a hundred thousand, from India, by the next year. “In 2015, we had hosted a total of four hundred thousand visitors, from world-over, and we are trying to increase the numbers,” added the envoy.