6 popular dark tourism sites

6 popular dark tourism sites

On the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, here's looking at global sites associated with conflict that now serve as dark tourism locations



By Mukul and Shilpa Gupta


Published: Fri 9 Aug 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 9 Aug 2019, 2:00 AM

We're a minuscule fraction of the throngs assembled around a gun on Mill's Mount Battery, waiting for the clock to strike the eagerly-awaited hour. Any moment now, history will be repeated, like it has almost every day since 1861. Exact to the second, at precisely 1pm, the gun is fired, its roar a reminder that we're in the midst of what was "the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world". Countless stories of conflicts, that lurk within the elegant contours of the Edinburgh Castle, are all but forgotten, consigned to the obscurity of time and history as, gun show over, the crowds are back to their touristy avatar: posing for photographs, gushing at the picturesque vistas the castle lords over, and ambling towards the chic cafe in anticipation of a sip of Edinburgh's renowned elixirs. As we walk around Scotland's most-visited paid tourist attraction, we can't help wondering: just how many visitors look at this marvel - that has served as a fortress, prison and military garrison-as a relic of conflict?
It's a moot question. Around the world, there are innumerable sites associated with death, decay and devastation that have lately emerged as tourist hotspots. Poland's Auschwitz concentration camps, The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia, The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Thailand's Bridge on the River Kwai, Vietnam's Cu Chi Tunnels. the list is long. For some visitors, they are merely excursions. A few are repulsed, others are ashamed. Many reimagine the horrors, a few relive it.
Despite an early warning of what to expect (thanks to Google, literature and Hollywood), we are unprepared for the horrifying sights of Choeung Ek aka the Killing Fields of Cambodia: there's a sprawling ground punctuated with large craters that once cradled thousands of human bodies dumped during the Khmer Rouge regime. A tree against which infants and children were killed sends shivers down our spine. The statistics are proof of the unthinkable savagery perpetrated: nearly two million Cambodians were killed over a span of four years.
The lust for power is also visible at Jallianwala Bagh, a sprawling public garden in India's Amritsar where, exactly 100 years ago, hundreds of unarmed men, women and children were slaughtered while peacefully protesting. Bullet holes on walls and a chillingly pockmarked water well indicate, even a century later, the brutality that had been unleashed. Today, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre marks a horrific saga - and the turning point - of India's freedom struggle.
Where one gets to see the remnants of conflict in Jallianwala, London's Imperial War Museum gives you the opportunity to experience it viscerally. Using objects, artworks, personal correspondence, photographs and interviews with survivors, it documents the horrors of war. Unlike other museums and war memorials that were constituted ex post facto, the IWM was established while World War I was still on and is counted among the finest museums of its kind in the world. Exhibits - like a rag doll made out of prisoners' clothes gifted to a British soldier by prisoners of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after they were freed - reveal war for what it is: traumatic and ugly.
In an ideal world, a 14-year-old girl is supposed to be carefree, chirpy and mischievous. She is meant to have dreams of a lofty future, ambitions of soaring happiness and dizzying stars in her eyes. So, when you read the words of a girl in the throes of her teens who writes, "I've reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die... I can't do anything to change events anyway", you know this is no ordinary girl. Seventy-five years later, we're standing outside the universe the young girl inhabited for many months. The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam's Prinsengracht area attracts millions of visitors curious to learn how a gifted young girl hid with her family during World War II. The family's eventual incarceration and Anne's death in a concentration camp lend it a moving immediacy and make it an immersive experience.
Impeccably maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Kohima War Cemeteries in Nagaland and Kirkee War Memorial in Pune are a tribute to all those who fought and perished in battle (the Indian Army of WWII was the largest volunteer army in history with 2.5 million of its men deployed in wars across the world). The battle of Kohima, hailed as Britain's greatest ever, had witnessed an unprecedented bloodbath with both the Allies and the Japanese suffering heavy casualties. Hundreds of angularly-aligned graves and a memorial to the fallen soldiers at the Kohima War Cemetery are a testament of their "naked, unparalleled heroism", as Earl Mountbatten had written. The epitaphs are a moving tribute to their grit and raw courage.
At the 1914-built Kirkee War Cemetery, also known as the British World War Memorial, graves of soldiers from all parts of the world, some anonymous, others annotated, lie neatly aligned. The memorial - an oasis of tranquility in the heart of Pune - symbolises unity that surpasses all boundaries of race, religion or language.
The cause could be any, and many, but the effects are invariably the same: Devastating. Poet-novelist Robert Graves once wrote: "To you who'd read my songs of War/ And only hear of blood and fame,/ I'll say (and you've heard it said before) 'War's hell'." The immortal lines etched at the Kohima War Memorial hit hard: "When you go home, tell them of us and say: for your tomorrow, we gave our today."
wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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