Why ‘Incredible India’ is simply not that incredible..(case of Taj and Agra..)

Nikhil Inamdar of Business Standard has this nice article exploring woes of tourism in India.

I would say India is incredible but we are just hell bent on making it uncredible. Thanks to our superfluous policies which like “shekhchilli” keep blowing our own trumpet without looking at ground realities. So the campaign Incredible India which showcases India’s tourism potential just fails to look at basic facilities needed to make tourism work. So despite the potential, we just do not get anywhere. The hype around potential remains just like we see in case of growth but that is where it remains. 

Inamdar ponders why Agra remains such a poor tourist city:

Narendra Modi is right about Agra. As he said, it is unlikely to get a sizeable share of the world’s $3 trillion tourism business. Unlikely, despite being home to the iconic Taj Mahal, the stunning garden tomb of  Akbar – the Maqbara and the imposing Agra fort – all zeniths of Mogul creativity and engineering.

Driving past the swanky Yamuna expressway from Delhi, as one enters the historical town, there is genuine bafflement, horror in fact, at how much dirtier, smellier and lacking in infrastructure or character the city of the Taj is, even by our abysmal Indian standards. The roads are chaotic, traffic is in a perennial jam and contrary to all your hope of being transported back into Mogul era splendor, you are in for an all rounded assault on your senses – harrying travel agents, filthy budget hotels, incessant power cuts and the astounding lack of activities considered necessary at a tourist destination to pad up a holiday.

There is of course, no nightlife in Agra, or colorful street bazaars to hunt for bargains. You can’t make easy connections for day trips to places like the Bharatpur Bird Sanctury or the heritage capital city of Emperor Akbar Fatehpur Sikri, without being ripped off, and inconvenienced by bad road conditions. As a matter of fact, for a non luxury tourist, the hassle to get going on any activity is so intensely difficult in Agra, that you want to tune out, and get out as quickly as possible, after doing the obligatory Taj ritual.

So spectacular however, is the Taj experience that one agrees to tolerate Agra, even revisit perhaps, in the hope that things would change.  I did! Twice after my first visit. But nothing had changed. Only the Yamuna had become more squalid.

As this blogger hails from a place very near to Agra, one has no choice but to agree. It is kind of emotional sitting far in Bangalore and reading this rare article on the woes of Agra.

It is quiet common for people living around Agra to get requests from families and friends who come over to show them Taj. It is mostly at the top of agenda for most visitors. Despite getting hugely disappointed entering Agra, people usually brave and are seldom disappointed by the grandeur of Taj. On entering the monument, one is simply awestruck by the sheer magnificence of the world wonder. It is indeed a wonder how this monument has survived in India…Huge credit goes to Shah Jahan for making it not just so beautiful but also stand to the destructive tourism policies of the country..

Why Agra is not one of the best cities (if not the best) in the country beats me . For all  my life I (and many others) have conveyed my origin as near Agra and no second question is asked. It is a place known to all and most want to visit it for the Taj. Such is the craze but we just cannot get it right. We have had politicians come and go but nothing is done to improve the city. Why a city which brings India so much fame is left in such a bad shape? Why can’t we develop the eco-system in a way which makes tourism in the city vibrant and respectful. I am adding respectful as it is quite something to be a foreigner and visit these places in Agra.

I used to hear a conspiracy theory on this underdevelopment of Agra. People said it was in the interest of Delhi hotels and tourism industry that Agra remains under-developed. As a result, people would just come to Agra in the morning, see Taj (Agra Fort, Sikandra, Humayun’s Tomb etc as well) and return to Delhi in the night. This way Delhi tourism industry will keep bulk of the gains and Agra remains a poor cousin.  So the powerful guys in Delhi ensured Agra did not develop. Otherwise, why will people be wanting to rush back to Delhi?  Agra has much to offer in terms of tourism but people do not want to waste time beyond Taj.

Not sure how right this conspiracy theory is. But with this new Yamuna Expressway things have become even easier to return to Delhi. Even the earlier World bank funded road from Agra to Delhi was a much better road compared to what we get in Agra. So with Agra remaining underdeveloped, one had little choice but to return to Delhi.

The city remains a shadow of the past with decline seen across sectors. Infact thankfully the area around Taj is under Army Cantonment so is much better maintained. This is a luxury not available to other ancient tombs and monuments and hence the decline is more severe around those monuments.

As the author says we get the same story in other Incredible places.

You get amazed to see how the west tries to preserve its history which is hardly as exciting as ours is. People who go abroad come back refreshed from their holiday compared to ours which is so tiring.

If we look deeper, we get a two word answer- poor policies:

No surprise then that many middle class Indians now flee overseas; to Bangkok and Singapore, or Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, substituting them as destinations of choice, to escape the travails of travel in India. International visitors too aren’t flocking Indian shores. India attracted a mere 6.65 million tourists in 2012. That’s fewer than the 10 million that visited the city state of Singapore and far below 25 million that visited Malaysia, 57 million that made a trip to China and hold your breath – barely equivalent to what the tiny Italian heritage city of Venice attracted. Hong Kong, Morocco and even Poland managed to attract more inbound tourist traffic than India.

A quick glance at the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 gives you an idea about why ‘Incredible India’ is simply not that incredible for tourists, languishing at the 65th place on the survey of 140 economies that were assessed. The real story is found in category rankings. We are placed in the top ten (9th) on nature, 24th on culture and heritage and 20th on price competitiveness, but a dismal 95th of tourism infrastructure, 132nd on restrictive visa policy and 109th on hygiene standards. The problem clearly isn’t that India isn’t bountifully endowed, but that we’ve been so dreadfully to the rear in creating an ecosystem for tourism that the practical nuisances overbear the good things we have on offer.

In an environment where growth is faltering, the currency is instable, core investment is simply not taking off, allocating resources has become more difficult than ever and the services industry is looking for cheaper pastures, India must make tourism and the ancillary infrastructure around it, a focal point for development. Media reports, quoting a planning commission draft document illustrate how critical a role tourism can play in boosting economic growth. It is the main source of foreign exchange for a third of developing countries, creates 78 jobs for every million rupees invested in it as compared to 45 in the manufacturing sector and accounts for 53 million jobs in the country according to the report. The fact that despite spending only close to a percent of our GDP on it, tourism contributes to close to 7% to India’s GDP and over 10% of total employment generation shows how much of a multiplier effect it can have.

Sadly, with the campaign discourse restricted to mudslinging and one-upmanship, a more intelligent discussion on an inclusive tourism policy is unlikely to be heard. Modi spoke about it, only to take potshots at the incumbent government. The Congress is rarely heard referring to it, and the AAP too has ignored in its manifesto, any mention of a tourism policy for the city of djinns.

There is little doubt that tourism is a sector which has so much promise. And this is thanks to several kings/kingdoms who have left the country with some amazing architecture.  India is truly blessed in that sense.

It has got very little to do with our policies. If UN had not intervened declaring many monuments as heritage, perhaps little would have remained. It is a sector which can absorb large amount of people and is really a win-win situation. You really do not need to look at other fancy policies which do very little apart from boosting market sentiment. It will not require huge political maneuvering to get certain bills passed.

We are obsessed with the western approach to development. Many of our solutions and fixes are right here..It is just fixing the basics and letting Incredible India takeover. 

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4 Responses to “Why ‘Incredible India’ is simply not that incredible..(case of Taj and Agra..)”

  1. susashitbharat Says:

    Atleast Modi talks about it..Look at his investments in Gujarat Tourism..its much better developed now..no one had earlier thought of Kutch as tourist destination but now booking for Rannotsav is difficult..Plus there is good roads and accessibility for all parts of Gujarat…I would add another conspiracy here…Surat Airport is not being developed because that would affect Mumbai traffic…

  2. Jay Patel Says:

    Please get a chance to AKSHAY KUMAR for replacing of Amir Khan in Incredible India shows.
    Akshay Kumar is such real hero for India and he is deserve to get it chance so please….

  3. Jay Patel Says:

    Please get a chance to AKSHAY KUMAR for replacing of Amir Khan in Incredible India shows. Akshay Kumar is such real hero for India and he is deserve to get it chance so please….

  4. adventurous places in singapore Says:

    Natural Attractions In Singapore

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