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Astro Tourism in India: Love to stargaze? This Jaipur observatory can be your next stop!

Astro Tourism is a sector that has been gaining momentum in the Pink City in recent times

Financial Express Online has learnt that the observatory would regularly host numerous sessions around stargazing. (Images: Starscapes)

Astro tourism in India: Astro tourism in India is set to get a boost! Starscapes, a chain of observatories, is establishing an astronomical observatory in Rajasthan’s Jaipur. As a part of this endeavour, Starscapes has set up a Mobile Stargazing Observatory in the city, with a permanent one to follow soon. Astro Tourism is a sector that has been gaining momentum in the Pink City in recent times, and therefore, the observatory has been set up at an opportune time.

In an interaction with Financial Express Online’s Bulbul Dhawan, Paul Savio, CEO and Co-Founder, Starscapes, said, “Our objective is to offer opportunities for people to experience nature like never before. Wildlife safaris, nature walks, treks and water activities have been happening for a while now, but exploring the skies is still a very nascent hobby. This is primarily because of a lack of opportunities. There are easily over 5 million potential astro-tourists from India alone. With our plan of observatories across the country, we intend to reach as many of these as possible in the shortest time.”

The mobile observatory went live opposite Amity International near The Tree House Resort on National Highway 11 on December 24 last year, while in April this year, the permanent observatory is slated to come up, Financial Express Online has learnt. “The newly launched mobile observatory by Starscapes is surrounded by Nature Farms, making it an ideal stargazing location with dark skies and minimal light pollution. The new mobile observatory will offer city folks and tourists a preview of what’s to come. The mobile observatory will offer a holistic astronomical experience, with a variety of activities both during the day and at night, ranging from stargazing safaris to astrophotography and sun observation. A trained astronomy expert will guide the visitors on their stargazing journey,” said Savio.

Jaipur Permanent Observatory

Starscapes has permanent observatories set up in Bhimtal and Kausani. “This will be equipped with a high-end 8-inch or 11-inch motorized Go-To telescope, mounted on a fixed plinth inside a permanent structure with a moveable roof. Other equipment such as high end DSLR cameras, planetary cameras and special photographic mounts will help astrophotography enthusiasts find their calling here. There will also be a souvenir store and a museum-cum-experience centre,” Paul said.

Observatory in Jaipur: Why Pink City?

Paul explained that Jaipur is in the class 5 category on a scale of 9, making it one among the prime locations for stargazing. What does that mean? “The two impediments to stargazing are clouds and “light pollution”. The latter is caused entirely by artificial lights. Stars vary in size and in distance from the earth, both of which affect the clarity with which you can see them. Artificial lighting (from homes, streetlights, vehicles etc.) gets reflected off the dust in the atmosphere, creating a visible haze of light in the sky. This haze is referred to as light pollution and impedes our view of the dimmer stars and celestial objects. The higher the light pollution, the brighter the stars have to be for us to see them,” the Co-Founder said.

“A measure of the amount of light is the Bortle Scale, a 9-point scale that indicates how bright the sky is. While not entirely quantifiable, it is pretty much the gold standard of measurement of how bright (or dark) the sky is. Cities are generally 8 or 9 on the Bortle Scale, where you can only see the Moon, the planets and a few of the brightest stars. Even the constellations with the brightest stars are barely discernible. A Class 1 location on the Bortle scale is the other extreme, usually found miles away from any dwelling – in the middle of the forest, large lakes, deep in the mountains, open seas, etc,” he said.

“The outskirts of Jaipur (Amer Fort etc.) fall in Class 5 of the Bortle Scale. Our location meanwhile falls in Class 4. Just as a reference, our observatory in Bhimtal and the upcoming one in Ooty are also in Class 4 locations, whereas the observatory in Kausani and the upcoming one in Madikeri (Coorg) are in Class 3 locations. Some other locations: Pangong Lake – Class 1, Leh Town, Manali – Class 3, Lonavla, Darjeeling, Anjuna Beach (Goa), Shimla – Class 4,” Paul said.

He also explained why this particular location was chosen in Jaipur for setting up the observatory. “While choosing locations, we need to balance darkness of the skies (which is a result of remoteness of the location) and accessibility (which is better when closer to towns, proportionally increasing light pollution). This location affords a Class 4 sky, and it is just 3.5 to 4 hours from the national capital (and 30 minutes from Jaipur), and it has resorts and farmhouses in the vicinity, which bring with them food and stay facilities. Moreover, this location will be accessible round the year, unlike the locations in mountains which may get cut off or too cold in winters,” he explained.

Starscapes Jaipur Observatory: Features and Offerings

Financial Express Online has learnt that the observatory would regularly host numerous sessions around stargazing. Among them are the following activities:

  • Stargazing sessions: A guided session by guides to gain knowledge about the universe.
  • Sun Observation: Safe viewing of the Sun is being offered by the observatory to discover some fascinating aspects about the Sun.
  • Experiential Science Activities: Science activities are being offered to give visitors an insight into the working knowledge of things like cameras, rockets and their journey to space, etc.
  • Star parties: Star parties aim to offer things like stargazing safari and astrophotography.
  • Selfie with the stars to let visitors click selfies against a backdrop of stars.

Starscapes Jaipur observatory: Cost and pricing

Paul told FE Online, “Guests can participate in various activities during the day, which include experiential science activities – each of which may start for as low as Rs. 200, and last for 30 minutes to an hour. Apart from this, there are observation sessions and workshops around the sun. And at night, there are shows of the sky – 45 minutes to one hour – ranging from Rs. 300 to Rs. 1000. There are also merchandise that you can buy, from simple DIY kits costing Rs. 100 to mid-range telescopes at Rs. 50,000.”

Things to keep in mind while visiting Jaipur Starscapes Observatory

“It will get chilly, so dress warmly. If you plan to engage during the day, it is advisable to stay nearby. It makes sense to stay till the evening, since the night sky is always the main attraction. If you just want to visit at night, do check the weather forecast (to avoid clouds). The sky too will have different objects visible at different times. You can call us and understand what is visible at what time, and plan your drop-in accordingly,” Paul said, giving some handy tips.

Astro Tourism: Aspects and trends

“Astro-tourism is not yet defined in India. Some of the components that make up what is defined as astro-tourism do exist in separate niches though. For instance, schools may have astronomy clubs where astrophysics activities can be held, photographers have special workshops focused on astrophotography, individual astronomers may set up a telescope and talk about the stars to those in their circles. adventure tourists may travel to dark sky locations to enjoy a night under the stars. These are some of the offerings that get classified as astro-tourism. But the term in itself does not exist in today’s parlance,” Paul said.

He added, “Even as a policy, astro-tourism is nowhere in conversation. The Karnataka Tourism Policy 2020-25 mentions Science Tourism as an aspect along with other types such as cultural, shopping, sports, spiritual, wellness and MICE. But nothing much has been actioned on it yet. Astro tourism, which should be a subset of Science Tourism, will take longer to get into focus. This is the case across the country, except possibly in Uttarakhand which is taking its first steps in defining astro tourism by attempting to develop a district entirely for this purpose.”

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