Tourism min begins consultations in first step towards developing Khajuraho as iconic site

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New Delhi, Mar 26 (PTI) Developing Khajuraho as a tourist site for all seasons, turning traditional Bundelkhand homes into homestays and increasing connectivity were some of the proposals the Tourism Ministry received during its consultations with stakeholders for its plans to develop the city in Madhya Pradesh as an 'iconic site'. The ministry had in recent times come under fire for not holding enough dialogue with locals while planning developmental works in areas such as Rakhigarhi village in Haryana where among other works, a museum is under construction which is touted be the world's largest on Harappan culture.

The ministry is planning to remodel Khajuraho as a tourist site for all seasons, thereby promoting it as a destination for holding meetings, exhibitions and conferences throughout the year.

The Tourism Ministry has identified 19 sites, including Khajuraho, for development as 'iconic tourism sites'.

The ministry organised the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) Roadshow – 'Meet in India' and Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel inaugurated the Chhatrasal Convention Centre in Khajuraho on Friday.

The two-day meeting was held with locals and stakeholders, including state government representatives, heritage experts and representatives from the hotel industry and the travel sector, a statement from the ministry said.

Different sessions were organised which focused on discussing initiatives to position Khajuraho as an iconic destination and successful case studies and best practices were presented on responsible tourism across the country.

Officials in the know said that several proposals were presented which highlighted the need to position Khajuraho, traditionally a winter destination, as a tourism opportunity all year round.

'To ensure that Khajuraho gets tourists all year through and stay for a couple of days, we have to ensure that destinations around the site like Panna National Park, Bandhavgarh Fort are also developed. This will ensure that tourists make Khajuraho a hub and see other sites as well,' Patel said.

Another proposal that was presented was to turn the traditional Bundelkhand houses as homestays to attract tourists and promote rural tourism. Suggestions were also made to promote traditional local culture and art, and train people in these age-old customs to not only revive them but also spread them.

Locals also highlighted the need to make the site more accessible, specially for foreign tourists. They said that the footfall in Khajuraho was decreasing even during before the COVID-19 pandemic and they attributed it to a lack of connectivity.

In 2014-15, 71,307 foreigners visited Khajuraho and the number came down to 41,191 in 2019-20. In 2020-21, only around a 100 foreigners had visited the place.

Officials said that the consultations were broad based before the final blueprint for the development of the site as an iconic site is finalised.

Speaking on the occasion, Tourism Ministry Additional Director General Rupinder Brar outlined the ministry's strategies to promote domestic tourism, including organising mega physical events in key destinations following all COVID-19 protocols to instill the sense of confidence among industry stakeholders.

The ministry, under its scheme of 'Swadesh Darshan', provides financial assistance to state governments/Union Territory (UT) administrations/central agencies for development of tourism infrastructure in the country.

The ministry has sanctioned four projects at the cost of Rs 350.26 crore in Madhya Pradesh under wildlife, Buddhist, heritage and eco-tourism circuits.

The project, sanctioned under heritage circuit, includes interventions for Rs 44.99 crore in Khajuraho and its surroundings, out of which Rs 34.99 crore has been sanctioned by the ministry for development of a convention centre at Khajuraho.

While the 'Development of Iconic Tourist Destinations Scheme' -- a central sector scheme for development of 19 identified iconic destinations in the country following a holistic approach -- is yet to be approved by Cabinet, the ministry is keen to get the logistics ready.

A total of 19 sites, including Khajuraho, have been identified as iconic sites by the ministry on the basis of existing footfall, regional distribution, potential for development and showcasing them as world-class destinations, and the ease of implementation.

The 19 sites are Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri (Uttar Pradesh), Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves(Maharashtra), Humayun's Tomb, Red Fort and Qutub Minar (Delhi), Colva Beach (Goa), Amer Fort (Rajasthan), Somnath, Dholavira and Statue of Unity (Gujarat), Khajuraho (MP), Hampi (Karnataka), Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu), Kaziranga (Assam), Kumarakom (Kerala), Konark(Odisha) and Mahabodhi Temple (Bihar). PTI ASG AAR