Are you a proud Indian to have The Taj Mahal listed as a Wonder of the World that attracts millions of visitors every year including world leaders and celebrities? Are you one of those who got very vocal on social media when there was a proposal to remove it from the list? Have you visited the monument recently?
I did and I have a simple submission to make – the monument which Bill Clinton described as “perhaps the world’s most beautiful structure in the world” stands in its full glory as Shah Jahan had promised to his wife, and to be fair, the authorities have taken some measures to keep it clean and reduce pollution in the surrounding area, however the experience of visiting this marvel is really as shabby, unprofessional and unpleasant as it can get. As an Indian and as a traveller who has visited small and big monuments across the world, I felt extremely sad that we cannot even give a world class experience to visitors who travel the world to come and see the Taj Mahal. No wonder, the number of foreign visitors it gets annually is appallingly low compared to other monuments. The Great Wall of China gets 6 times the visitors and the Statue of Liberty gets 4 times the number of visitors per year.
This is an appeal to the authorities to invite visitors to Incredible India after really making the experience worthy. Forget the huge country – can we start with making this one experience world class? I am sure you don’t face these things when you go there on your VIP visits, so here I am to point out small things that make an impression good or bad, and are currently in a bad shape.
Lets start with the beginning, even before entering the Taj Mahal, it starts.
The parking lot is like an open field with a muddy base – the area hasn’t even been paved and of course there are no proper parking slots. There are touts all over trying to make a quick buck and before you reach the ticket counter you have already been pestered enough.
Coming to the ticketing process, like any other monument in the world I tried booking it online, there is hidden link on the Taj Mahal website that points to a portal where you can apparently book tickets online, however after trying thrice and being unsuccessful I gave up. Anyhow, reached the ticket counter which looks like any other shabby government office in India, and yes, that’s as basic as it gets. Anywhere else in the world the ticketing office would have information brochures, a souvenir section, someone friendly and pleasant to talk to amongst other things. But not here of course.
Next step, tourist guides – yes we have government authorised guides at fixed rates, however like any other experience in India, the moment you enter the area, a few of them will start hounding you, quoting any price and of course negotiating after that. And please don’t expect them to look or dress professionally – they are just another set of people trying to make a quick buck. Anywhere else in the world either the experience will be much more professional or there will be private companies running guided tours at fixed timings that people can join in at fixed charges. Can we not initiate a collaborative approach between professional travel companies and the government to make this experience as it should be? And let me not even get to a simple thing called Audio Guides which are available even in the smallest of monuments in other parts of the world. I visited a city in Thailand recently and there the whole city is on Audio Guide through a simple phone app! But of course the Taj Mahal hasn’t been able to implement it yet – is it so difficult to do it or is it that we are still in the clutch of things like the Guide Union which will not allow this to happen.
Now that the guide is fixed and the ticket is bought, you need to reach the monument which is around half a kilometer away. There are designated e-vehicles that fetch tourists to and fro but there are two issues here – one, the carts and buses are in really bad shape and need to be upgraded and two, while you are waiting for the vehicle, there will be twenty people hounding you – rickshaw pullers, individual operators literally forcing you to get into their vehicle – again a harrowing experience. We actually met a foreigner who was so fed up with this he literally came asking for help, leaving us feeling a little embarrassed as Indians there.
Lets move inside the monument now, and yes it is clean and well maintained, but there is not a single placard with any information anywhere, no experience center where there is any storytelling about its origin, creation, not a single café or a stall where one can buy even water or sit and enjoy the Taj Mahal view which you may have travelled the world to some and see. Basically zero experience enhancer in the compound at all. They don’t even a simple souvenir shop inside – isn’t that a good opportunity which adds to experience and at the same time creates revenue? Even the smallest castles in Europe will sell magnets, coasters, pencils, key holders, postcards, books, clothes, paintings, glasses, mugs and what not at the location. And all of us land up buying atleast some to take as memoirs back home and to gift to friends & family. I really don’t know why this cannot be done professionally.
I am not getting into other obvious things like utilising the grounds for concerts, making restaurants & café’s in garden across the river from where night viewing is beautiful or doing something about the city which looks so third world with cows and dogs lingering everywhere & bad infrastructure overall, those are higher order demands. But I want to throw one challenge to the authorities – Can you make the experience of visiting your number one monument truly Incredible and world class before calling the whole country Incredible?
Join me in spreading this message if you feel as strongly about it as I do and hopefully someone in the system will take note of it. I will be happy to meet with who it takes to help put this in place!