Is Delhi ready for night tourism?
It is 8.15pm on a Friday. A quiet, empty road leads up to the 13th century Qutub Minar. A group of young boys is sauntering around outside the minaret. Speeding cars on the road welcome one to the recently lit up monument of Sultanate Delhi.
Rohan Katpalia has been strolling outside the Qutub complex, clicking photographs of the monument that is shining in all its glory. As he approached the ticket counter though, he is turned away by the staff who tell him that the counter closed at 8pm and public can enter through online ticket booking only.
“I have been visiting each of the illuminated monuments in the evening after reading about them in newspapers,” says Katpalia.
“They look so charming. But I have my disappointments too. In Purana Qila, one can enter only if they are going in to watch the light and sound show and at Safdurjung Tomb, one cannot go further than the spot where the fountains begin,” added the 29-year-old, who conducts heritage and food walks in the city.
In the last one year, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has illuminated five monuments in the city —Red Fort, Purana Qila, Humayun’s tomb, Safdurjung Tomb and the Qutub complex.
The illumination of the Tughlaqabad fort is also ongoing and is expected to be completed before the end of this year. The monuments, apart from Purana Qila, have also been opened to public till late hours, with the objective of encouraging night tourism in the city.
“We had illuminated the monuments so that they look beautiful and more people can come and see them in the evenings. However, we have not been getting a good response yet. Maybe it will take some time for people to catch up,” said Praveen Singh, superintendent archaeologist in-charge, ASI Delhi circle.
While Qutub Minar has been receiving an average of 200 tourists in the evening, Red Fort — which was opened to public till 9pm in March this year — gets around 150 tourists post 6pm.
The light and sound show at the Red Fort, which has been on halt for the past several months, is one big factor why people stream out of the monument just when it gets lit up. “What else will people see inside? Apart from the Naqqar Khana and the Diwan-i-Aam, everything else is closed off to public after 6pm,” said one of the ticket vendors at the fort complex.
Both these monuments have been noted to attract the highest number of tourists in the country after the Taj Mahal, and receive a footfall of close to 10,000 to 12,000 daily.
The Humayun’s Tomb and Safdarjung Tomb, on the other hand, have been receiving merely 5-10 tourists daily after 6pm since August, when the visiting hours were extended.
“I have already conducted a heritage walk in the monuments in the evening and the people were so happy to see the monuments shining. They are glittering like pieces of gold. I am sure more people will come to see them once there is more awareness,” said heritage enthusiast Vikramjeet Singh Rooprai.
Lack of awareness is definitely one of the reasons why night tourism has not taken off in the city yet. However, the bigger factor impacting the footfall seems to be the issue to safety, or the lack of it.
Twenty-three-year-old Mitakshara Medhi visiting the Qutub complex on Thursday said, “I would probably not come without a male companion to a monument if I do not feel safe in the areas surrounding it. For instance, there were patches in the route between the Metro station and Qutub Minar, where I was not feeling too safe.”
“The security aspect is perhaps the biggest limiting factor in promoting night tourism. Even inside the monuments, there are large patches that are completely dark,” said Saubhagya Saxena, a 21-year-old freelance photographer visiting the Safdurjung tomb on Friday.
Heritage expert Sohail Hashmi, who has been conducting tours across monuments in the city for decades, believes that just by illuminating the monuments tourists will not start coming in. “We have to make the city and its streets safer for women,” he said.
Urban safety and gender activist Kalpana Viswanath, who is also founder of the safety app SafetiPin, said “we need to activate public spaces. The route from the Metro to the monuments should be well lit, and vendors and shops need to be encouraged to stay open till late evenings.”
Yet another aspect of night tourism is that of experience, which experts believe need to comprise some sort of activity rather than looking at lit up monuments.
“Take for instance the Dargah Matka Peer, where people go for the biryani and the Nizamuddin Dargah, which is visited by people on Thursday evenings for the Qawali. We have to ensure such special experiences are associated with other monuments too to increase tourism,” said Rooprai.
“The Qawali nights at Nizamuddin Dargah on Thursdays, which start at 9pm, get an approximate number of 1500 visitors every week,” said Ratish Nanda, chief executive officer of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
There are other inconveniences too facing tourists eager to explore the city’s monuments in the evening.
Sargam Sharma, who visited the Humayun’s Tomb around 8pm on Friday, said, “I had no idea that the ticket counter will be shut. There was so much hype about night tourism and we knew that the ticket counter was open till nine.”
Rooprai, who recently carried out an evening heritage walk at Qutub Minar, said that “most of the monuments do not allow public to access toilets in the evenings.”
“There needs to be proper facilities available. In fact, I will suggest that some spaces be built where people can sit and have coffee or snacks,” he added.
However, there is still a lot of enthusiasm regarding the move to keep the city’s spaces of historical significance open till late hours. Abu Sufiyan, who conducts heritage walks in Old Delhi, said that he is planning evening walks for tourists in December. “People are looking forward to the ambience created by the illuminated monuments and it’s a treat for those wanting to click photographs,” he said.
“I think its a great idea to encourage night tourism, particularly during the summers when we cannot go out in the day,” adds Viswanath.
“Why should we get stuck at our homes after 7pm,” she asked.