The Indian government’s decision to limit the total number of domestic tourists to 40,000 a day inside the Taj Mahal has led to conflicted emotions across the world. Do we need a special privilege to visit our own cultural heritage? The question that needs to be highlighted is a much bigger one.
The glory of the Taj Mahal requires no introduction to travellers around the world. Year on year, the Taj has attracted millions of visitors and has routinely generated the highest amount of tourist revenues among the other popular Indian heritage sites. an estimated Indian Rupees 75 crores (approximately US $ 12 million) between 2013 and 2016. There has been much talk about the effect of pollution and traffic on the monument and the Uttar Pradesh State Government, along with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), has struggled to maintain the beauty of the structure as it has been seen over the years.
Following a stampede that took place at one of the gates of the Taj Mahal in December last year which left 5 people injured, the Ministry of Culture and the ASI has jointly decided to cut back the number of Indian visitors into the monument by nearly half. Central Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Mahesh Sharma told the Indian Express, that the step has been taken “to ensure a smooth experience at the Taj Mahal and avert any tragedy”; and that the government has “no option but to go by these measures.”
The cutback, which is to come into effect from January 20, will not only limit the number of domestic visitors to the Taj Mahal to 40,000 a day, but also limit the total amount of time spent inside the premises to three hours.
From January 20, 20,000 Indian visitors will be allowed into the premises of the Taj Mahal between sunrise and noon. The remaining 20,000 will be allowed between noon and sunset. International visitors will not be affected by the change or the timing and will continue to visit the Taj Mahal at their current ticket price.
Almost immediately after the announcements, articles emerged alleging that Indian travellers would now be forced to purchase the more expensive foreigner tickets, as these do not have any cap on them. The implementation of the scheme has now triggered ongoing conspiracy theories of the attempt to remove Taj Mahal from its venerated position on India’s tourism map as it is an Islamic monument.
In the din of the chatter that this government decision has generated, tourism experts from around the world are pointing out to the many benefits that regulating tourism brings. The Peruvian tourism authorities have also attempted to streamline the flow of tourists to Machu Pichu. Having broken the visiting times into two (morning to noon and noon to evening), the authorities have a separate set of tickets for both and for morning visitors to continue their visit at the monument for the entire day, both sets of tickets are required.
Also, the impact of overpopulation and the impending tragedy that looms large in these populated destinations have to be kept in mind.
In the Indian context alone, the step towards attempting regulation of tourists at destinations is a welcome one as the burgeoning middle class continues to explore unchartered territories without considering the impact of the tourism on the ecosystem of the destinations or the impact on local cultures. Among the many examples to offer is the impact of the unregulated tourist flow to Ladakh in Kashmir. The sparsely populated region has always been known for its pristine natural beauty and other-worldly charm but in recent years, the unfettered flow of travellers – domestic as well as international – has led to traffic jams on the highest motorable roads in the world and dumping of trash in sacred lakes. Regulation of traffic to such a sensitive eco-system is long pending.
North-east India has been saved from the onslaught of tourism for the lack of infrastructure among other reasons. However, with new highways being laid and travellers becoming more adventurous and most importantly a slew of music festivals being planned in the region to promote tourism, the meadows and lakes are now scattered with plastic. In the absence of proper implementation of rules, corruption is rife and a handful of people are using the tourist flow for personal gains. The Garo, Khasi hills and the seven sister states have been at the receiving end of excessively bright lights without a proper system to guide tourism and ensure that the natural wealth of the region remains intact.
Not just the hills and valleys, the beaches of India have been facing similar threats caused by over-tourism. Search for unknown beaches has drawn several uninformed travellers to their death along the Arabian Sea. The tide is quite unpredictable here with several rocky beaches making it difficult to navigate along with unmarked quicksand and swampy beaches that are a threat. The locals of the region are aware of which regions to avoid but a single distracted traveller can cause tragedy. In the months leading to the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles nesting and the baby turtles making their way to the ocean after hatching, travellers from around the world gather to witness the unique way of life. However, the price of the selfie-craving travellers and over-zealous participants often leads to damaging the nesting sites or worse, steering the baby turtles away from their natural paths. Poachers make the most of the distraction offered by overpopulated beaches and lay entire nests to ruin.
In conclusion, the step by the Indian government to curtail the number of travellers visiting the Taj Mahal is a positive step towards better tourism management in the country. I hope that future steps taken in this direction will not only ensure that travellers to India’s various destinations will plan in advance and do their homework before setting out, effective tourism management will ensure a gratifying experience for everyone.
– Text By Priya Tripathy. Images Sourced From The Internet.