The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is ready to launch its online entrance ticket booking to the Taj Mahal from Christmas day.
Tourism personnel in Agra have welcomed the long pending initiative which hoteliers think will curb unauthorised entry, fake ticket selling and other dubious means to gain entry to the world heritage monument.
"The long queues at the booking windows will disappear as advance booking of e-tickets would be available online. The tourists will come armed with identity proof and printout of the tickets," tourist guide Ved Gautam said.
Reselling of tickets has been a issue for the past several years but interest groups in the form of black marketeers were thwarting attempts to introduce the e-ticketing facility. But now the union culture and tourism ministry has given the green signal to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (ICRTC) which in collaboration with the national institute of smart governance, will operate and monitor the response beginning Dec 25, the birthday of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The Taj Mahal was visited by close to six million tourists in 2013. This year there has been a slight fall in the arrivals, according to industry sources. "But once air traffic increases, as it is most likely to after the announcement by the state government to reduce VAT on aviation fuel in Agra from 22 to just 4 percent, the number of tourists will rise," said Rajiv Tiwari, president of the Federation of Travel Agents Associations.
ASI officials said the e-tickets would be covered with security features including a bar code. The ASI director general Rakesh Tiwari who visited the Taj Mahal Wednesday held meetings with officials and gave the go ahead signal.
After the one-month trial stint at the Taj Mahal, similar facilities would be available for other monuments as well. ASI staffers are being trained and bar code scanners would be installed at the gates, ASI chief in Agra N.K. Pathak said.
The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) is also studying the carrying capacity of the fragile 17th century monument. Experts say that in the coming months, a limit would be fixed on the number of visitors to the Taj. "This will help save the Taj Mahal from the ever-increasing human load, which adds to the pollution level," said Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
The Taj is India's pride and every effort should be made to ensure its safety and maintenance. "The pressure of humans has continued to increase each year, which can pose a problem. More alarming is the state of the polluted Yamuna river which runs without water for most of the year. This issue has to be addressed urgently as water in the river is a necessity for the survival of the Mughal monument," R. Nath, eminent Mughal historian told IANS over the phone.