In light of the matter
Recent decision by Union Ministry for Culture and Tourism to keep certain monuments open for longer hours needs to be fully thought out before it comes into effect
Indian historic monuments and landmarks always invite their fair share of crowds on any given day. It's a strange, inexplicable umbilical cord-like connect that we are unable to fathom, especially since it is this creed that not only flocks to a site with enthusiasm but also litters the space with similar gusto.
We recall this one particular incident during a visit to the scenic Bekal fort in north Kerala. The sea-facing fort had earned popularity for being the site for the shooting of the song, Tu hi re, from the Mani Ratnam hit, Bombay, that was picturised on Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala. Being on a tight itinerary, our visit was moved to the evening of a Saturday, where we hoped to catch the legendary sunset from one the vantage points within the fortifications. This one-time military station for Tipu Sultan wowed us with its massive expanse spread over 40 acres, practically jutting out into the Arabian Sea, giving us the impression that we had our very own balcony view of the raging
sea below us. We realised later, on craning our necks below, that nearly three-fourths of the fort is in direct contact with water.
Being a weekend, the place was packed to the rafters with tourists, especially those keen Kumar-types who wanted to race each other to reach the watch tower. All these teasers were building up towards a fabulous crescendo when the sun would set that we hoped to catch. Alas! That wasn't to be. By 5.30 from nowhere, guards across the fort came along to round up and remind tourists to hurry towards the exit as it was closing time. It was a baffling decision, we thought, since one of the highlights of this site was its sunset. Grudgingly, we made our way, hoping that the sun would do us a favour by making an early retreat. We managed to grab just a bit of the magic, but it wasn't picture postcard-like as we had wished for.
This brings us to the recent decision by the Union Ministry for Culture and Tourism to keep 10 monuments open till 9 pm. It's a welcome sign, we feel, for precisely such reasons as shared above. Phase one of this decision will cover attractions like Delhi's Humayun's Tomb, Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, Rani ki Vaav in Patan and Dulhadev Temple in Khajuraho. Interestingly, the iconic Taj Mahal doesn't make it to the list.
While it opens a new chapter in monument management in the country, this decision must factor in two key issues - safety and cleanliness. Most of us are fully aware of the unpleasant views that greet us inside many of our important monuments. Poor civic sense leaves many such places filled with litter. Longer hours mean access to more tourists and hence, a renewed look at keeping these sites clean at all times.
The second concern, safety, cannot, at any costs be ignored. Many of these sites are in remote locations, so adequate security inside and outside of the site ought to be provided to tourists. These should be sufficiently lit at all times after sunset to make the visitor feel safe and comfortable during their time there. It's bad enough that we've witnessed or heard of atrocious instances where tourists have been harassed or worse, molested in broad daylight in many of our tourist attractions. Night time entry can throw open a whole new can of worms, we suspect, if not given watertight assurances and checks from all sides.
Let's hope and imagine that all the wheels are well oiled before this decision comes into play at the 10 chosen sites. These are sites of national importance, and we can only wish that they set the benchmark with how a monument can be run efficiently at daytime, and after dark.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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