On 23rd August 2023, rocket scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) created a stir in the global scientific community, aka, Outer Space, by the successful soft landing of Chandrayan-3 Vikram lander on Moon’s surface, which many reckon to be a perfect culmination of India’s remarkable quest for excellence in Outer Space. The euphoria of the nation found expression through the words of Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, "India has reached the South Pole of the Moon where no country in the world could reach to date with the dedication and talent of our scientists".

India’s long cherished desire for supremacy in Outer Space has come at a time when the nation is on the verge of being acknowledged as a global powerhouse Vishwa Guru - with a GDP of USD 3.6 trillion and growing! From being perceived as a country of snake charmers to the grandeur and magnificence of Outer Space, India indeed has come a long way!

The Chandrayan-3 Mission has triggered a positive rub-off effect on the entire population of the country and the success of the mission has ignited start-ups to come up with out-of-the-box Outer Space ideas that come with cutting-edge technology and research from an enviable self-sustaining ecosystem.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has all along focused his government’s unconditional endorsement on the Atmanirbhar Bharat or self-reliant India programme for the past few years, as a result of which the stellar innovations and entrepreneurial spirit of India’s start-up entities are increasingly coming to the limelight. And, playing the role of a torch bearer is the nation’s principal space research organization ISRO, harnessing the fertile scientific ecosystem, providing them with pathways and inspiring the nation’s wannabe rocket scientists to unleash their creativity in Outer Space.

As Indians, we are living in an era when India’s principal space agency (ISRO) has its eyes set on launching Space Tourism by 2030 with a dedicated state-of-the-art space tourism module in place. What is more, India’s burgeoning tourism industry now has a new product – Astro Tourism and the country’s first Astro Village in Benital, Uttarakhand comes as a breath of fresh air.

The mountainous North Indian state of Uttarakhand is renowned worldwide as the Yoga Capital of the world and blessed with a plethora of pilgrim circuits like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Bageswar, Kedarnath, Badrinath etc.....to name just a few. From ancient times, Uttarakhand Himalayas have been the much-preferred abode of seers and saints, mention of which is found in many Hindu scriptures.

Uttarakhand’s maverick Chief Minister, Shri Pushkar Singh Dhami has been very decisive when it comes to the question of opening up the state’s Himalayan vistas, particularly those at rarefied heights to embrace Astro-Tourism, given the plethora of smokeless and unpolluted virgin ecosystems that the state has in its cradle. The idea is to offer Tourism with spirituality and Astronomy, by adhering to the carrying capacity limits.

In Benital (2500m), as night descends, you get a chance to unravel the mysterious celestial drama up above from the high-tech telescopes provided to you by the operator. Here the air is crisp and the utter seclusion is every bit worth savouring. Indeed, Benital Astro Village is one of the best specimens of Resurgent India’s newfound entrepreneurial zeal to showcase the nation’s stupendous diversity to a global audience.

The upbeat mood is best summed up by Prof. P. Kanagasabapathi, an eminent Space scientist, "We strongly believe that the Indian space sector is poised to make a significant global impact in the coming years. The Indian space sector is experiencing rapid growth, presenting numerous investment and business opportunities. Various agencies such as IN-SPACe and ISpA, along with national and international events, are laying the foundation for growth and expanding opportunities within the space sector in India".

ISRO Chairman S. Somanath is of the view that the Indian space sector is evolving rapidly from a closed-door secretive society to an open one; already the focus of India’s Space program has undergone changes that allow private sector and start-ups’ participation, which means that India’s Space program is sustainable in the long run.

The global space economy is pegged at a whopping $440 billion and India has already carved a niche for itself as a base for low-cost satellite launch vehicles. To further consolidate India’s position in the global space market, start-ups are increasingly being engaged in space-related projects.

Consider for instance the case of Astro-Tourism activities in Uttarakhand’s Benital and Mukteshwar where indigenous Space Start-up firms are busy conducting Dark Sky Tourism and revealing the grandeur of Outer Space to wannabe Space enthusiasts. This has resulted in a tourism boom at the local level, with campsites, homestays and restaurants catering to the needs of the discerning tourists.

In the higher reaches of Uttarakhand, the light pollution is low, the population is sparse and the night sky is stunning with the Himalayan mountain ranges offering a picture-perfect backdrop, in which to engage in stargazing.

If tourism statistics are anything to go by, there is a reverse migration of sorts taking place from large urban metros to the unpolluted and pristine Himalayas and Uttarakhand is by far the most preferred Dark Sky Tourism hub of India. The trend to escape from the cacophony of the cities took an upward turn during the Covid period (Post 2019) and the Government of Uttarakhand through its nodal agency – Uttarakhand Tourism Board has its eyes set on seizing the opportunity to develop a cluster of Astro Villages beyond Benital; to remote Himalayan hamlets like Devasthal, Bhimtal and Kausani to name just a few.

Himanshu Khurana, District Magistrate of Chamoli sums up the buoyant mood of Uttarakhand’s newfound tourism product, "We aim to instil a deep sense of pride within the local community, and also economically empower our youth, enabling them to engage in astrotourism activities and advocate for Benital as a premier dark sky destination. The involvement of the local community in preserving the pristine nature of the place plays a big role in developing this hamlet as a dark sky location".

The Atmanirbhar Bharat program which essentially is a vehicle for a Self-reliant India has been so dexterously implemented in Uttarakhand, that it finds reflection in the manner in which Start-ups like Digantara, a space start-up firm which is on the verge of setting up India’s first Space Situational Awareness Observatory in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, and is expected to play a pivotal role in space tracking and surveillance, forecast threats from asteroids and meteorites, track foreign military satellites and offer India with indigenous space monitoring capabilities over the subcontinent.

SpaceVIP, a US space expedition company is setting up its base in India and is expected to open up a whole new era of space exploration, primarily targeted towards high-net-worth individuals (HNIs) interested in space exploration. High-end space experiences like Zero Gravity flights and visits to the International Space Station (ISS) will now be a reality in India.

Companies like SpaceVIP have fixed their eyes on India knowing fully well that India has 7,97,714 HNI individuals whose net worth is over USD 1 million – a staggering number by any count and growing! According to a survey report by India’s leading Bank HDFC, "HNIs in India have a combined wealth of almost $ 1.5 trillion or 58% of India’s GDP. It is estimated that there are more than 80,000 HNIs based out of Mumbai and Delhi alone".

India’s space tourism aspirations are no longer a pipe dream. ISRO - India’s nodal Space Agency is ensuring that Space Tourism and blasting off to Outer Space will become a reality pretty soon. Private sector and start-up participation is being aggressively promoted as a result of which a new and resurgent India is emerging – An India where technology is being harnessed with spirituality, thereby ushering in a new world order where the buzzword Basudaivya Kuutumbakkam- the world is one family, finds expression.

Uttarakhand - India’s passport to celestial bliss and Yoga capital of the world has rather dexterously packaged Astro-Tourism as an essential element of rejuvenation in the Himalayas and promises a new antidote to stress, anxiety and diseases.

There are close to 365+ Yoga and Meditation Centers in Uttarakhand alone and with Astro Tourism taking centre stage, the discerning world traveller can expect to experience the ultimate elixir of life out here in the Himalayas.

Uttrakhand’s Dark Sky Tourism is best summed up in those immortal words of Deborah Ten Brink, "When life gets too overwhelming, just look up at the night sky and lose yourself for a while".