An Unintended Sight Seeing Trip
Thank goodness I decided to take a long weekend to visit the Ajanta and Ellora caves. They are exquisite! And amazing. And incredible. They are what Incredible India promises. But why is so little heard of them?
If it was not for the fact that a friend had recently visited and showed me pictures of these treasures, I would not have made the trek at all. Yes, these are World Heritage Sites but…how much promotion of them exists? Based on what I saw there, I would say, not much. Certainly, not hardly enough!
I share a few pictures below; they were taken by the same friend who I mentioned earlier. These are what enticed me to take the time and effort to make that personal visit. I hope they lure you in too. In a pinch, you could cover both fabulous sites in one weekend (assuming you are based in India, of course).
Not Quite like Rome
Before I get back to talking about the caves, let me put this in perspective for you. Just a few weeks ago, my friends and I took a well-planned week long trip for a Roman holiday. It was to see (once again, for some of us) the wonderful treasures of Rome – centuries-old art and architecture that is truly as spectacular as everyone says it is. Even though it was the tail end of the tourist season and even though we are in the midst of one of the worst global recessions, the city was full of tourists. It took us two and a half hours of standing in a queue to purchase tickets and enter the Colosseum. Same for the Sistine Chapel, although we were able to bypass the queue by paying a premium price to join a guided group tour.
But It Should Be!
Now, back to Ajanta and Ellora.
At each of these two sites, there were just a handful of guides – waiting. I would be surprised if each of them got more than one guided tour during a day. Certainly, there was no clamor for them or for entering and viewing the sites.
I have a real beef with the government of India for not doing more to market and promote them! These are incredible historical monuments and treasures in their backyard. Whatever is being done is simply not enough. I say this when I see how few visitors there were. Relative to what I saw in Rome? Minuscule. A tragedy, really.
By the way, Japan has provided millions of dollars in funding (I was unable to confirm the actual number but I heard everything from $88 million to over $1 billion) to the Ministry of Tourism, the state Ministry (MTDC), the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) for improving access to Ajanta and Ellora while conserving these world heritage sites. Here are some basic amenities (other than the conservation efforts) that this Japan funded project has accomplished already: improved the roads leading to the site, enhanced signage for visitors, brought in new water supplies to the area, and introduced shuttle service to the Ajanta caves to cut down damage due to pollution from vehicles. Thank you, Japan!
India’s Tragic Apathy Towards Tourism
Let me complete my rant. Has anyone actually visited the website promoted by the Government of India Tourism department? You may have seen some eye-catching commercials on “Incredible India“. I know that I have, while in the US. Well, the website hardly lives up to the promise. Try navigating through it. Imagine that you know very little about India and wanted to check it out, so you visited this site (the premier tourism site of the Government of India). You’re on its home page. Try figuring out what you should do next.
Sorry, but it’s not only not useful, it’s abysmal. It is the kind of website many Indian organizations seem to favor – very rich on data content, very poor on useful information and tips, user interface and navigation. It’s not really an interactive website. It’s merely a big, fat book of data that you can use for reference only. When does one need a reference? When you already know what you should be doing, but just need validation or more detail about specific topics. What’s one of the first things you would do if you wanted to visit India? Go online for useful information you need on where to visit. Of course. What a wasted opportunity!
You want to get even more depressed about all that the Government of India is NOT doing regarding tourism? Read this op-ed piece from a recent Times of India – Where Are All the Visitors? Here is a sample of what you will read about – India ranked 40th globally in tourism and 11th in Asia Pacific, garnering just 1% of international tourism. Some of the upstarts who beat India include Bulgaria and Romania. Oh yeah, and Tunisia. Wow! They beat India, the “newly emerging economic powerhouse in the world”, folks! You want to go further? How about comparing tourism revenues and ranks of India versus favorite rival, China? What, you want to weep now?
India is incredible, so it’s doubly sad to see this apathy and squandering of what should be wonderful opportunities to propel Indian tourism, and therefore, the nation forward. The 1% of international tourism revenues that India gets now translates to some $14 billion plus thousands of jobs. Imagine what even an additional 1% could do for the coffers! This is not rocket science; isn’t it worth the additional leadership, focus and investment to get there?
Back to Ajanta and Ellora
Don’t let all that be a deterrent though for paying a visit to Ajanta and Ellora (or telling your friends about them!). I almost forgot to mention one unbelievable fact – the art of these caves spanned about seven centuries, starting in 200 B.C. Yes, I said, B.C. Simply astounding!
Here’s some enticement (that’s all it is, really) for you. Just click on one of the thumbnails in order to view the photo gallery. Enjoy!
I truly hope these serve their purpose: I want you to…Just. Go. See.