An idol of Ram Lala is decorated with garlands at Sri Ram Janmabhoomi temple, in Ayodhya. File
| Photo Credit: ANI

For Vinay Shukla, 52, the visit to Ayodhya in the second week of March wasn’t as pleasant as he had expected. A resident of Satna in Madhya Pradesh and ardent devotee of Lord Ram, he feels he was overcharged by a local guide he hired through the hotel staff for the Ram Temple visit.

“I was told about the special darshan of Ram Lalla and paid ₹2,000 each for five people, but later got to know that there was no arrangement for special darshan by paying a fee,” said Mr. Shukla, who says he was fleeced as he was new to the pilgrim city.

Mr. Shukla is not alone. With the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Temple in Ayodhya witnessing an average footfall of 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh pilgrims daily after the consecration ceremony on January 22, the city’s infrastructure and tourism ecosystem is still playing catch up. “There is huge rush, people from adjoining districts are a bit aware of the city, but outsiders face some difficulties as a few locals try to take advantage,” says Rahul Pandey of Ayodhya Tour Guide Service.

Devotees also demand a dedicated awareness campaign by the government apart from boosting infrastructural development. “There is no arrangement for special darshan by paying a certain fee or any special pass at the Mandir. If you ever hear about paying for darshan, it might be a scam. The Mandir management has no connection to this,” said the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Trust after multiple complaints were raised.

“We booked our stay through a local agent. We were charged ₹6,000 per head but the hotel room was below-par. Some people had booked through Holy Ayodhya app and they paid less than half of what we shelled out and enjoyed a comfortable stay,” said Raghu Veer Chaudhary from Bareilly. Many budget hotels which used to charge ₹1,200-1,400 per day before the opening of the temple have increased rates by 25% in view of the demand.

Many visitors from outside the State are not aware of the Holy Ayodhya app, launched by the Uttar Pradesh government exclusively for religious tourists visiting Ayodhya. The app aims to provide pilgrims with affordable homestay options, whose fares are regulated by district authorities. “Many tourists are not aware of these options and hire tour agents who charge extra,” added Mr. Pandey.

Locals said the hospitality sector in the city is still at a nascent stage and only took off following the Supreme Court’s November 2019 judgment on the Ayodhya Temple. They hoped the industry would develop with more quality and affordable options in the next 12-18 months. At present a few hundred hotels, lodges, and homestays cater to the needs of the devotees. Construction of 142 hotels, including luxurious ones like Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), was launched after the recent Global Investors’ Summit. In the 2023 edition of the summit, 102 investment intents worth approximately ₹18,000 crore were signed for tourism in Ayodhya.

But in the interim, tourists are demanding government-backed impetus to bring the tourism industry up to speed.

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