Too Late, India Eyes Millennium Tourism Opportunity

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - A small island off India will be the first place "technically" to witness the first rays of the year 2000, but India has missed out on a once-in-a-thousand-years tourist opportunity by not promoting that fact soon enough.

With just 29 days to go until 1999 clicks over to 2000, the federal Tourism Ministry has stepped up efforts to woo tourists to witness the millennium sunrise on the island of Katchal, in the Bay of Bengal.

Katchal actually sees sunrise more than six hours after the International Dateline in the Pacific. But according to the International Meridian Conference, a "universal day" begins when it is midnight at Greenwich in London.

As a result, Katchal has been named as the first place witnessing the start of the new "universal day." Sunrise on January 1 will occur at 5:45 a.m. local time.

Tourism officials have blamed various factors for the failure to exploit the tourism opportunity.

"We were in a quandary as to whether the year 2001 was the millennium year or 2000," said M. K. Khanna, a director-general in the ministry. "By next year, the administration might be in a better position to organize the event," he added.

Tourism Minister Uma Bharati attributed the government's slow reaction to the "political instability in the country for the past few months."

"Now I am going to make an extra effort to request the tour operators and tourism agencies to make it the prime destination for the millennium," she said.

The ministry said in a statement that, "in view of the fragility of the eco-system and limited carrying capacity of the island, special arrangements are being made for the tourists to view the historic moment from cruise line and luxury vessels."

Tour operator Rakesh Goel said Katchal could have been listed among venues for key celebrations such as the London Millennium Dome and the Sydney fireworks."

"The island has everything to appeal to a tourist - an ancient culture, an environmentally-fragile and fast disappearing flora and fauna. What else a tourist would ask for?"

Katchal Island is inhabited by Nicobarese tribes and rubber plantation workers.