Beyond The City Lights: India's First Astro-Tourism Campaign Offers A Glimpse Into The Night Sky

Mussoorie hosted India's inaugural astro-tourism initiative, dubbed Nakshatra Sabha, at the breathtaking George Everest Peak
A kid looking through a telescope at the Nakshatra Sabha, which was recently held in Mussoorie
A kid looking through a telescope at the Nakshatra Sabha, which was recently held in MussoorieRohan Shahi

Raja Babu Sharma, a Hyderabad-based marketing and consumer insights professional, has held a lifelong fascination with astronomy. Unfortunately, limited opportunities in India to participate in astronomy events meant he never got a chance to explore the cosmos beyond Earth. But that all changed when he learned about India's first astro-tourism campaign, "Nakshatra Sabha," held in Mussoorie. Sharma immediately signed up.

"Driven by a childhood passion for astronomy, I registered for the event to experience something entirely new and expand my knowledge of the stars and night sky," explained the 34-year-old Sharma. "The Nakshatra Sabha presented the perfect opportunity to rekindle this old flame. Observing the sun and the moon through a telescope was exciting, as they boasted the most intricate details visible to us. The serene atmosphere of the evening camp amplified the experience, creating an unforgettable mood."

The inaugural Nakshatra Sabha, a collaborative effort between the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB) and Starscapes, an astro-tourism company, took place from May 31 to June 2 atop Mussoorie's George Everest peak—known for its breathtaking views of the Himalayas and the Doon valley. This first-of-its-kind event in India promised a complete astro-tourism experience, featuring stargazing with specialised equipment, talks by experts, an astrophotography competition, and even dedicated solar observations. To top it all off, attendees were treated to camping under the magnificent night sky.

A view of the campsite
A view of the campsiteRohan Shahi

Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj focused on developing new tourist destinations within Uttarakhand. The good news for stargazers is that organisers plan to hold several more Nakshatra Sabhas by mid-2025. These events will span various locations across the state, targeting areas with exceptional "dark sky" potential—perfect for viewing the cosmos. Participants can look forward to programs in the Uttarkashi, Pithoragarh, Nainital, and Chamoli districts as well as informative seminars and webinars led by experts.

Meanwhile, Ramashish Ray, founder of Starscapes, said, "While stargazing has always existed in amateur associations and outreach activities, our vision was to create a large-scale, pan-India enterprise providing gainful employment to locals and having a significant impact. Our efforts include investing in innovation, developing new products, and collaborating with various stakeholders, from luxury resorts to schools and travel agencies. "

Participants looking theough a solar goggle
Participants looking theough a solar goggleRohan Shahi

Fun For All

Sharma wasn't alone in his fascination with Nakshatra Sabha. The event attracted a diverse crowd, including newlyweds seeking a weekend getaway and families like Purva Goel's. A teacher from Dehradun, Goel, attended with her husband, two children, and their six cousins—all students.

"With my niece and nephews in town, I wanted to find an educational and engaging activity for them all," Goel explained. "When I read about the UTDB-organised event in Mussoorie, we immediately booked tickets online."

Kids at the Nakshatra Sabha were fascinated by the idea of operating a telescope
Kids at the Nakshatra Sabha were fascinated by the idea of operating a telescopeRohan Shahi

The experience proved to be a hit with the entire Goel family. "Using the telescopes was completely new for the kids," she said. They were captivated by the interactive sessions by scientists, learning about Earth, the sun, planets, and more. The highlight for them was the rocket-building activity. They got to assemble their rockets from paper kits and launch them with a special launcher. Seeing satellites with their naked eyes was another unforgettable moment."

Meanwhile, Kunal Malviya, an engineer from Rishikesh, attended the Nakshatra Sabha with his wife, driven by their desire to explore new travel experiences. They were particularly intrigued by the event's unique concept. "The idea of camping under the night sky was a significant motivator for us," said the 35-year-old. "The highlight was the 3 am stargazing session, during which we saw Saturn and Venus."

Challenges And Concerns

The purpose of Nakshatra Sabha wasn't limited to stargazing. Organisers also aimed to raise awareness about light pollution—the excessive or poorly directed use of artificial outdoor lighting. This light disrupts wildlife patterns, contributes to rising atmospheric CO2, disrupts human sleep, and obscures the night sky.

A night shot of the Nakshatra Sabha
A night shot of the Nakshatra SabhaRohan Shahi

The issue is particularly relevant in India. A 2017 global study revealed that India's "loss of night" due to excessive artificial light is happening at a rate three times faster than the global average. Furthermore, a 2019 study in the Urban Climate Journal documented a steady increase in outdoor light brightness across various parts of India over 20 years.

"Our vision for dark sky preservation extends beyond designating individual parks or reserves," Ray explained. "We're aiming to implement a comprehensive state-level policy. We've already drafted a proposal at the district level and are actively seeking state government support for the Nakshatra Sabha campaign."

He also stressed the importance of balancing tourism promotion with environmental preservation. "Tourists come to Uttarakhand for its natural beauty, clear skies, cool weather, and a connection with nature," he said. "Sustainable tourism practices and supporting eco-friendly businesses will benefit everyone. However, neglecting the environment will destroy the very foundation of our tourism industry. Dark skies and a healthy environment are essential for astro-tourism and the entire tourism sector."

A shot of the moon
A shot of the moonSona Shahani

Meanwhile, Sachin Kurve, the Secretary of Tourism and CEO of UTDB, acknowledged two key challenges in promoting astro-tourism: light pollution and unpredictable weather. "Electrification has reached most households in the state," he explained, "and improving road networks leads to more nighttime traffic, increasing artificial light even in remote areas. Additionally, changing weather patterns with unpredictable dust storms, rain, and cloud cover pose another challenge that astro-tourism must overcome."

The Way Forward

Kurve also highlighted Nakshatra Sabha's potential to enhance the state's tourism landscape. "Through a series of 5-6 events spread over a year, we aim to provide astro-tourism enthusiasts a chance to explore our lesser-known regions," he explained, "areas that still boast exceptional night skies for stargazing."

He emphasised a two-pronged approach for Uttarakhand's long-term tourism strategy. "Firstly," he said, "we want to promote sustainable practices while empowering local communities through job creation opportunities in astro-tourism. This focus on local involvement is built into our agreement with Starscapes."

The Doon Valley after dark
The Doon Valley after darkShikhar Gupta

"Secondly," he continued, "we're committed to developing tourism in our pristine and unexplored hinterlands. Today's travellers crave unique experiences. We're empowering local communities to develop homestay clusters that offer activities like nature hikes, birdwatching, stargazing, farm stays, and local handicraft workshops. I believe this is the future of tourism in Uttarakhand—a network of small, community-led initiatives offering diverse experiences for tourists."

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller