There would be horror in many circles in Britain if you had two queues, one for ‘UK nationals’ and the other for ‘foreigners’ at our major tourist attractions. Yet in India this segregation has long been a reality. What’s more, from the Taj Mahal in Agra to the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai, overseas visitors pay a higher admission prices – often up to five times the amount.
Personally, I think it’s a bit silly people standing in different lines to pay for their tickets. From a practical point of view at least, you can end up with one very long queue while at the next window the attendant twiddles his or her thumbs. But I don’t have a problem with foreigners paying more to enter the major attractions. After all, if they’ve travelled all the way to India, surely they can afford to pay their way and help the Indian people preserve their heritage?
If you had the admissions at a standardised level for both foreign visitors and Indians then everyone would lose out. The Indian people either wouldn’t be able to afford to visit the museums and monuments that have shaped the identity of today’s country. Or the admission prices would need to be so low that the heritage would be in danger of falling into disrepair. After all, preserving monuments is an expensive process. The current approach in ticket prices is therefore ideal in ensuring that future generations, whatever their earnings, can enjoy India.
And what a fascinating place India is. You have for example the Taj Mahal, which I think is one of the greatest monuments ever built in the world. It looks amazing on postcards but when you get there it appears a million times more special. Erected by a Muslim Mughal ruler to remember his beloved wife, but it seems to sidestep religion. Today the Taj is enjoyed by Muslims and Hindus alike.
Then 20 miles or so from the Taj, there’s the abandoned red sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri. Capital under the Mughal ruler Akbhar, the seat of the government later had to be moved after the water supply dried up. Being a Mughal Akbhar was a Muslim but he celebrated the diversity of religions. He even had three wives of different religions (Muslim, Hindu and Christian) and built them all their own palaces at Fatehpur Sikri. Akbhar’s armour is one of the many treasures at the Prince of Wales museum in Mumbai.
At a time of religious intolerance in the Indian subcontinent, it is fitting to look back at leaders like Akbhar and see how they not just tolerated, but also celebrated diversity. Reading the histories of Akbhar’s time, you discover just how successful India was at that time. Indeed, the West was only really just waking up after years of decline. For example Akbhar ruled 100m people, while Elizabeth I ruled just 3m people in England.
As the Indian leaders that followed Akbhar became less intolerant to different religions the tables well and truly turned. India was too busy fighting within its own borders to see the colonisation threat from Europe. As Hindu temples were being smashed up and other equally bad atrocities taking place, the domestic economy suffered and rule by nations like Britain became inevitable.
Every nation needs to understand the mistakes of its past in order to have a better tomorrow. It is therefore extremely important in India today that people get to see the sites where history took place and understand the happenings mean for them as modern citizens. Why shouldn’t Indians whatever their income levels get to enjoy their national treasures.
The West spent decades plundering countries like India, extracting riches for maximum profit. Now it’s only right that foreign visitors pay their way and not expect to have everything on the cheap.