Smartphone guide for tourists

New Delhi, Feb. 27: Tour guides have got a rival ' smartphones.

If you are one of those interested in monuments, all you need to do is just get a smartphone. Then use the phone to scan a special code called QR code ' basically, optical machine-readable labels ' to read the information stored. For free.

That, too, in your own tongue, whether it's Korean or Japanese.

The Union tourism ministry is planning to put up these QR codes, or quick response codes, at all centrally protected monuments. The project is expected to start soon and the codes could be in place within a year at most of these sites.

"We have leapfrogged from the use of black, fat phones to mobiles. Similarly, we will jump several steps from paper brochures to QR codes," a senior ministry official said.

The code, originally designed for the automotive industry in Japan, is a higher version of the commonplace barcode you see on consumer products. It consists of black modules (square dots) arranged in a square grid on a white background. When smartphones scan a QR code, it will lead them to a specially created web page with information in 100-150 words about the monument.

The ministry is planning to put these codes at different points of a monument, giving tourists a phone-based guide for the entire site along with snippets.

Sources said even an audio clip can be uploaded using QR codes. If a person is visiting a dargah, it could be a qawwali performance, or if it's a temple, then shlokas or bhajans.

Audio guides had been introduced at several monuments but didn't really take off, mainly because of bad maintenance and sometimes because local guides did not allow them to be sold.

At a recent meeting, tourism minister K. Chiranjeevi had asked officials to look for a replacement for paper brochures. After the QR code suggestion came up, the Archaeological Survey of India gave its in-principle nod. "We merely need a corner of the information boards the ASI has erected at all centrally protected monument. The information on these boards is limited to Hindi and English," the ministry official said. "We will be going beyond."

The Madhya Pradesh government is already working on putting up QR codes at the Khajuraho temple. In Delhi, the pilot project will start from Humayun's tomb.

"We want QR codes at all Buddhist sites. We get a huge number of tourists from Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Vietnam at these sites. But there aren't enough guides who speak their tongue. The QR code can be their guide," the official said.

The ministry is planning to store the information in Japanese, German, Italian, Korean and Sinhalese.