(MENAFN- IANS) By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, Nov 26 (IANS) The annual ritual of celebrating a heritage week in Agra, by the Archaeological Survey of India, ended without the locals knowing what it meant and why was it celebrated.
Pandit Jugal Kishore of the River Connect Campaign, said, 'Most Mughal monuments in Agra, including the Fort and the Taj Mahal, are situated along the river Yamuna which is stinking with pollution. For us Yamuna is the real heritage of Agra, though in a pathetic condition due to continued neglect.'
Environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya said the ASI should have proactively used the opportunity to sensitise the local population about the importance of heritage and the contribution each citizen could make to conserve our precious heritage. 'But the ASI did nothing. They are still dragging their feet in conserving the prehistoric cave paintings, near Fatehpur Sikri, though I have been making concerted efforts for the past five years. They don't realise the urgency. Elsewhere in the city, the heritage structures are not being properly looked after.'
The 17th century Monument of Love -- Taj Mahal --continues to attract lakhs of tourists annually, but the other lesser known monuments in the city have not become popular due to lack of marketing support.
Once the tourists have seen the Taj Mahal, they go ecstatic with joy, after a dream fulfilled. A young girl from France said 'Wow! Just like the picture postcard I saw, in fact much more hypnotisingly beautiful than I had imagined.' After a series of mudpack 'beauty treatments', the Taj wears a dazzling shine.
'In the soft winter sunshine, flanked by green foliage and the river Yamuna flowing majestically at the rear, the scene is plain heavenly,' said a tourist from Tamil Nadu, who saw the monument for the first time.
Visitors to the Taj Mahal appeared largely satisfied with the facilities available at the monument. The toilets are cleaner and much better maintained, noted a foreign visitor, an NRI, who had come after several years with his family. He was particularly happy at the way the crowd was being managed. 'So many people, yet such smooth flow and such good ramps for the disabled on wheelchairs.'
The monuments in Agra, except for the Taj Mahal, are victims of rampant encroachments, dwarfing the structures. The cultural activists blamed the Archaeological Survey of India for not doing enough to emotionally bond the local population with the rich historical heritage of the city.
'It is sad and unfortunate that the public in Agra hardly feel a sense of pride or emotional connect with some of the world's best architectural properties. Rather, the heritage is seen as an impediment in the economic development of the city, largely due to a series of restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court to control pollution,' said Sonal Mittal Singh of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society. This perhaps explains the general apathy towards history and heritage in Agra, she added.
Local conservationists say, 'The mandarins in ASI, mostly passionless babus, have little idea about history, culture or modern-day conservational practices.'
Perhaps the greatest threat to heritage monuments is the encroachments. The ASI, however, says that the state government agencies have not provided it the necessary support and police back-up to deter the encroachers.
Almost all Mughal monuments have been dwarfed by encroachments, though the Taj has been able to breathe easy because of the apex court and international concern for its safety. Other monuments are not so lucky.
Delhi Gate, close to the Raja Mandi station, finds itself threatened by new constructions, but the district authorities do not have the courage to act against the powerful encroachers.
Though tourism remains the mainstay of Agra's economy, it is sad that the local population is not emotionally connected with heritage, nor does it take pride in being a citizen of a Mughal metropolis.
The Yogi Adityanath government has also been blamed for neglecting Agra. The demand for a barrage on Yamuna and upgrading of the local airport to allow for international connectivity has long been hanging fire. Though the law and order situation has comparatively improved, the state government and the tourism bodies have made no efforts to add to the attractions to promote longer night stays in the city, according to the hoteliers in the city.