Agra: “We didn’t even earn a rupee last week; we took out a loan to feed our family; our children stopped going to school – one of them started selling vegetables. We are trying to find another source of income,” these are some of the things repeated by travel guides to the Taj Mahal, the 17th-century marble marvel, about how they survived the pandemic.
Taj Mahal tour guides survived the pandemic with maximum difficulty due to the monument being closed for more than six months when the Union government imposed lockdown in March 2020, in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19 in India. Meanwhile, these storytellers have been left with nothing but struggling even harder to earn a living for themselves and their families.
On a sunny winter morning, the NewsClick The team met Narendra Gola, a tour guide at the east gate of the Taj Mahal. Gola has worked as a tour guide for 13 years, but has witnessed the worst phase of her life in the previous two years.
Gola says he never cared about money since he joined this profession and only realized the value of money when the Taj Mahal was closed.
“I used to earn at least Rs 1,000/day, but now the income has dropped to between Rs 100-200/day. International tourists who were our main source of income don’t come, and nationals don’t believe in taking it. tour guides. It has affected our lives badly. The other factor that has affected us is that the government turns a blind eye to us. In the name of aid, we only received the free 5 kg ration,” explains Gola.
Gola has six people in her family, including two children. He took out a loan to deposit his children’s fees and now has a debt of Rs 25,000 (interest free). Gola believes he will pay the loan amount if the tourism industry returns to normal.
It can be mentioned that the 17th century wonder has generated the maximum revenue from the tourism industry of India. Until December 2019, the Taj Mahal brought in more than Rs 200 crore, according to figures for the last three consecutive years, but revenue plummeted when the deadly pandemic hit. The Agra unit of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) did not give the figure for the revenue generated by the Taj Mahal. The story will be updated when we receive the data.
CHILDREN ARE NOT ALLOWED TO REGISTER FOR ONLINE COURSES
Rashid Khan, 46, has worked as a tour guide for ten years and is now facing the toughest time of his life as the school where his children study has prevented them from taking online lessons.
“One of my sons is in Intermediate and the other is studying in Class IX. children to attend online classes. Not just that, even supporting the family has become a huge challenge for tour operators like me. In the name of help, we just received rations. But, we also need things like milk, oil, etc., to run the house,” says Khan.
“If we had obtained a loan from the government bank, the situation would not have been so difficult. The banks did not accept our requests because they knew that we had no source of income and that it would be difficult for us to repay the loan.
“Now the election is coming, and we hope the government will understand our plight and do something for us; otherwise, we know the virus is not going to go away soon, and that way, we would have no choice but to change jobs,” adds Khan.
“We roam here all day looking for customers and come home devastated. We have told the beautiful love story behind the making of the Taj Mahal, and we come home empty-handed. Our women are fighting with us and our lives are disrupted. We go to bed hungry to feed our children, and that’s how we’ve been living for two years,” he says.
Agra tour guides face an uncertain future due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It usually attracts between 7 and 8 million visitors each year. At least 7,37,000 foreign tourists alone visited the monument in 2019.
But for the past 15 months, except for a brief hiatus last year, the country’s top tourist attraction has been closed. People like Gola, Khan and more than 2,500 registered tour guides have had their lives turned upside down, but their issues have found no place in the party manifesto or agenda.
“The world believes it was built out of love, but reading Shah Jahan’s own words about the Taj, you could say that it was grief that built the Taj Mahal, and it is grief that built it. took sixteen years to complete.” by Aysha Taryam written in The opposite of indifference a quote that seems more relevant in the current context.
Indal Kashyap is a journalism student at Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti Language University and a freelance journalist. Saurabh Sharma helped write the story.