Agra: The 10-day Taj Mahotsav failed to live up to expectations, with local culture and heritage not given the pride of place, those from Agra`s tourism sector say. The authorities think differently.
The annual event, started in 1993, was held at Shilpgram, a complex 500 metres from the Taj Mahal, India`s biggest tourist draw. It ended Sunday with a show by Bollywood singer KK.
Representatives of Agra`s tourist industry and heritage experts blamed poor promotional efforts and shoddy planning.
"The only draw were the shows by Sunidhi Chauhan, Richa Sharma and Shubha Mudgal. Local culture and artistes generally got a raw deal," complained Sudhir Gupta, who viewed the festival with his family.
According to him, the audience in the afternoons was confined to friends and family members of the artistes.
"The original objective of the festival was to showcase the best of local culture to tourists, particularly foreigners. But the festival was more of a `deshi mela-tamasha`," he said.
Omendra Srivastav, a professional, was equally frustrated.
He was furious that the organisers allowed parking contractors to charge Rs.50 from each motorist. Equally, a ride in a swing and a bottle of water cost Rs.30 each.
Some stall owners accused the organisers of exploiting them.
"We were put up at the far end of the ground. No one came to our stalls," rued Raghu, who exhibited glassware.
Tourism industry leaders Rajiv Tiwari and Rakesh Chauhan and hoteliers felt alienated.
"When they don`t need our advice and are not prepared to listen to our suggestions, what reason do we have to get involved?" one of them asked.
Uttar Pradesh tourism officials rejected the charges.
"From the beginning we had several rounds of discussions. We also held a competition on ideas for the theme of the festival," said Anoop Srivastav, joint director of Uttar Pradesh Tourism.
The Taj Mahotsav is dedicated to the Taj Mahal and seeks to help tourism industry as well as local artistes and craftsmen showcase their creative skills.
"The festival has been a great hit this year," Srivastav insisted.
But according to Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, there was no heritage in the festival.
"It failed to deliver the benefits to the local tourism sector. It`s only the locals who thronged the venue expecting some fun and entertainment.
However, the young appeared to enjoy the 10-day event.
"It was a great opportunity to freak out with friends and enjoy all those food items," engineering student Anubhav said.
There were also allegations that the Taj and other monuments were not properly lit up, spruced and cleaned and the city did not feel emotionally involved.
Ravi Singh, a heritage enthusiast, wondered why there was no place for local specialties like Agra petha, dal mot, halwas like chimman pooriwala, Ram Babu parantha or Bhagat Halwai, which has a 250-year history behind it.
Agra gets around four million visitors every year. Most confine their stay in the city for a few hours to see the Taj and return to Delhi.
Sandeep Arora, an industry leader, said: "Agra is merely an excursion point and not a destination because interest groups have planned transport facilities to suit Delhi`s interests. Luxury buses, Shatabdi Express train, taxis all come to Agra in the morning and return in the evening."