Wah Taj! Agra’s petha and tourism industry can’t keep calm

Agra: People offer Eid-ul-Fitr namaz at the Taj Mahal in Agra on June 5, 2019. (Photo: IANS)

Agra, Sep 8 (IANS) As the world prepares to say “Wah Taj” after a gap of nearly half a year, Agra’s famous petha sweet industry as well as tourist guides, who went into near closure, are ecstatic.

“As the Taj Mahal reopens, the petha industry will greatly benefit. Sales will jump by 50% because it’s the tourists who buy most of the pethas,” Sanjeev Singhal, who is the general Secretary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Kutir Petha Udyog, told IANS. He added that at least 25,000 to 30,000 people are linked to the petha sweet industry.

The Taj Mahal will reopen after six long months on September 21 with full COVID-19 protocols. Initially only 5,000 tourists a day, in two slots, will be allowed to enter the Mughal era architectural marvel, keeping social distancing norms in mind. It was shut down on March 17, days ahead of the nationwide lockdown due to the pandemic.

Vasant Swarnkar, Superintending Archaeologist of the ASI (Agra Circle) told IANS, “Before the pandemic, Taj Mahal was shut for 2 days during the Second World War. It was also shut during the 1971 war and the 1978 flood in Agra.” He added that the Taj Mahal along with the Agra Fort, which too will open its doors, is being sanitised. While the Taj Mahal will remain shut on Fridays and Sundays, Agra Fort will remain closed on Sundays.

Online tickets, compulsory masks, temperature checks at entry, ban on taking food items along — elaborate measures are being put in place to ensure that life and livelihood are not in confrontation.

However, the guides, most of whom have been out of business, aren’t complaining about all these curbs. “Reopening of the Taj Mahal is a big positive message, worldwide. There is a global community who are waiting for the reopening so that they can travel down here. According to me, all monuments should be reopened,” Ajay Singh, who is the National President of the Tourist Guide Federation Of India told IANS. He also batted for proper sanitisation and strict following of government protocols.

He added that many tourist guides have taken up other jobs. This reopening will send the right message. “In Jodhpur, a German speaking guide has been found selling fodder. In Udaipur, guides have taken to agriculture by using tractors,” Singh added while highlighting why this move is so significant for the tourist guides.

He claimed there are 3227 active guides registered with the Tourism Ministry, around 22,000 registered with the states while there are around 20,000 spot guides all across India. This reopening of the iconic Taj Mahal, which has come to be a representative picture of India, globally, will enthuse them.

Agra’s economy runs on the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Shutting them means shutting the tour operator industry, petha industry, hotel industry as well as the guides. With India and the world readying to say, “Wah Taj” once again, all of them can’t keep calm anymore.

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