According to Wikipedia “a gold rush or gold fever is a discovery of gold – sometimes accompanied by other precious metals and rare-earth minerals – hat brings an onrush of miners seeking their fortune. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, Greece, New Zealand, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, California, the United States, and Canada while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.”
Now over a century later, there is another gold rush taking place nearly 700 kilometers from Delhi in the temple town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. It is a combination of spirituality and opportunity. Religion intertwined with tourism to produce a mega gold rush in the birthplace of Lod Rama.
According to news reports in multiple newspapers, over a dozen townships and over 20 hotel projects (ranging from the luxury high-end Marriot, Radisson and the Taj to regular three-star properties and homestays) have already been approved by the local authorities. Together these projects are expected to generate Rs 6,000 crore. ITC Welcome group is also scouting around for a property and sooner rather than later they will announce their venture. Amitabh Bachchan’s acquisition of a plot in The Sarayu, a 7-star mixed-use enclave in Ayodhya by Mumbai-based developer ‘The House of Abhinandan Lodha’ is also part of this gold rush. Where AB goes, the rest follow!
According to the Economic Times, “Ayodhya is set to become a global tourism hub, expecting over three lakh daily visitors in the next few years”. The newspaper was quoting Dikshu Kukreja, the master planner of the Ayodhya redevelopment project.
Global tourism hub
“’In the coming years, more than three lakh people are expected to visit Ayodhya daily and the planning for the temple town has been done after studying similar examples abroad, including Vatican City, Cambodia, Jerusalem, as also places in India, such as Tirupati and Amritsar….Ayodhya is anticipated to become a global tourism destination with a focus on spiritual, cultural, and heritage assets and events as the city is likely to grow manifold with a significant demand in hospitality and allied industries. The city is envisaged to be developed as a mega centre for tourist, economic and religious activities. More than three lakh devotees are expected to visit Ayodhya daily within the next three-four years,” Kukreja was quoted by the newspaper.
Increase in bookings
Kukreja is right, Ayodhya could well rank with the Vatican and Mecca as top sites. OYO’s Ritesh Aggarwal told the media, “Ayodhya saw a 70 per cent jump in OYO app-users vs Goa (50 per cent) and Nainital (60 per cent).”
Rajesh Magow, co-founder, and group CEO of MakeMyTrip, was quoted by the Business Standard claiming that ‘’there is a 4x increase in bookings for Ayodhya over the previous year and a 5x increase in searches year over year. At the moment, room night bookings in Ayodhya are almost 10 per cent of the top pilgrimage sites in the country, so the potential for growth is significant.”
“We believe the tourism industry could see a tenfold increase in tourism by 2024, making Ayodhya a global spiritual centre akin to Vatican City and Mecca,” the OYO representative told Mint.
Flight rates soar
If this is one side of the story, on the other side is the crazy rush to find a reasonable flight ticket to the temple town. Ticket prices have shot through the roof and are trending at closer to 400 per cent of base prices – a Rs 3500 ticket is somewhere in the range of Rs 11,000! Is this a temporary phenomenon? Maybe, but the enthusiasm to get to Ayodhya transcends the consecration of the temple. The traffic on this route is getting bigger and bigger. The airport has eight parking slots, and it should be enough for the moment, but there is little doubt that the Airports Authority of India will have to plan for Phase-II at the earliest.
As of January 22, over 50 chartered flights have requested permission to land at the airport. Most of them will have to drop off their passengers and park either at Allahabad or Varanasi for lack of space at Ayodhya International Airport.
It is a story that is likely to be repeated time and again in the months to come.