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Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Casinos, discos mooted to draw tourists to Agra

Around four decades ago, there was a plan to revive the game as an attraction for tourists, mainly foreigners, but nothing came of it.

india Updated: Oct 06, 2019 01:02 IST
Hemendra Chaturvedi
Hemendra Chaturvedi
Hindustan Times, Agra
A deserted view of Taj Mahal in Agra on Monday ahead of visit by Belgian Royal couple King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore
A deserted view of Taj Mahal in Agra on Monday ahead of visit by Belgian Royal couple King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore(PTI)
         

Those visiting the 16th century Fatehpur Sikri palace, 40 km from Agra, are likely to encounter a giant board for a game of chaupar (dice) with 25 red and white blocks and a raised stone slab in the middle. It is said Mughal emperor Akbar was fond of the game and played it with his ministers, using courtiers or slaves as the moving pieces.

Around four decades ago, there was a plan to revive the game as an attraction for tourists, mainly foreigners, but nothing came of it. Arun Dang, a veteran in the tourism business says the proposal may have failed because of the stigma attached to gambling.

Now, worried by the dwindling number of tourists, especially foreigners, people in the tourist business in Agra are demanding casinos.

With most tourists preferring to make day-trips to the city connected by a high-speed expressway to New Delhi, they also want some night-life that can lure at least some to stay back, and have suggested discotheques and mujra dance houses.

City elders recollect the good old days when the Taj Mahal used to remain open at night, but that ended in 1980s.

A light and sound show began at Agra Fort in the 1990s, especially for the entertainment of tourists, before being discontinued a year later. The show was restarted in 2008 but was discontinued again in 2018.

“We need fusion of modern and historical attractions for tourists. Like Nepal and Goa, we can set up casinos only for foreigners. We can also have mujra centres, besides discotheques,” said Sandeep Arora, president of Agra Tourism Development Foundation.

Although almost a fourth of tourists visiting India are keen on the Taj Mahal, the proximity of New Delhi and Jaipur to Agra means few end up spending the night in town. “Tourists, mainly foreigners, visit Taj Mahal in the day and move to Jaipur or Delhi in evening,” adds Arora.

The Yamuna Expressway between Agra and Delhi and the Lucknow-Agra Expressway don’t help either.

Rajeev Tiwari, former chairman of National Chamber for Industries and Commerce (Agra chapter) recollects the demand for casinos is not new and was raised a decade ago. It didn’t get anywhere because gambling in any form is considered illegal in India. “An amendment in legislation can open the door to casinos in Agra,” said Tiwari.

Tourism Information Officer Pradeep Tamta said the government’s tourism department is scheduled to discuss with the Tourism Guild of Agra, steps to increase nightlife in the city of Taj.

“It is light entertainment through cultural activities that we propose; we are yet not considering any demand for casinos or mujras.”