Agra: Agra`s tourism industry is preparing for the tourist season beginning Sep 1 by launching luxury buses, upgrading monuments and even recruiting English-speaking policemen - all of which is expected to improve the appeal of the city of the Taj Mahal.
Latest figures of the financial year ended March 31, 2011, from the central tourism ministry confirm Agra is at the top position among tourist destinations in India.
The Taj Mahal earned around Rs.20 crore ($4.5 mn) from sale of entrance tickets alone. It topped the list of Archaeological Survey of India`s Agra circle monuments with 4.18 million Indian and 624,000 foreign tourists visiting it last year.
"Time has come to consolidate the gains and not fritter away the advantage, through increased cooperation and coordination among various government agencies and the local industry," said Rajiv Tiwari, a senior tourism industry leader.
District authorities in cooperation with the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department have finalised a number of schemes that would broadbase facilities for visitors.
Clearly, the flow of tourists has increased which is good for the city, said Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.
"One of the measures we are all set to launch this independence day is running a local tourist bus service," Amrit Abhijat, divisional commissioner, told reporters.
Visitors will now be able to board luxurious air-conditioned specially done-up Marco Polo buses, for a tour of the city from the Agra Cantt railway station.
Four buses will take the tourists to Fatehpur Sikri, Sikandra, Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, according to the regional manager of the state roadways, Neeraj Saxena. Buses will have women conductors and a woman constable.
The buses were being given a trendy look compatible with Mughal heritage, Saxena said.
Tourist guides and brochures would be provided in the buses for convenience. LCD screens will provide relevant information about the monuments.
"Four villages in the district have been given `Tourist Village` status to enable tourists to see our rural culture from a closer angle," the commissioner said.
Government departments have been asked to coordinate and provide amenities for tourists and streamline infrastructure to attract tourists to these villages.
Facilities at Bateshwar ghats are being upgraded and better connectivity is being provided. Recently the Yamuna aarti like in Haridwar and Varanasi was started at Batehshwar, the birthplace of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 70 km from the city.
The state tourism department is already working on the Heritage Walk project which will enable tourists to witness the grandeur of the heritage city on foot, Abhijat said.
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Aseem Arun has unveiled a package of police reforms that will not only increase the visibility of cops but also quicken their response.
Cops on sleek bikes, speaking flawless English, with the latest gadgetry will hopefully be seen around monuments to instil a sense of confidence in tourists.
Funds from entrance tickets to various monuments collected by the Agra Development Authority would be used to give a makeover to the police image.
The Tourist Thana on Fatehabad road, a special police station for registering the complaints of tourists, is being given a new look.
The DIG has taken the initiative to provide five brand new cars which will patrol the monuments. The selection process for inducting smart English-knowing cops has begun.
To add to the sense of security, Arun has ordered the posting of horse-mounted cops around the monuments.
Women cops on scooties are already on the move keeping an eye on eve-teasers. Police teams are being provided with latest state-of-the-art gadgets, belts, night vision cameras and laser beams.
A proposal to print helpline numbers on entrance tickets to various monuments has been green-signalled. Providing helpline numbers would better address the grievances of tourists, said hotelier Sandip Arora.