Agra, Aug 18 : A record number of people visited the Taj Mahal Sunday, with footfalls crossing the 50,000 mark. On Saturday too, over 48,000 tickets were sold, but all this proved meaningless for Agra’s hotel industry. The majority of visitors were of course “deshi” who combined tourism with religion, paying a visit to the twin holy cities of Mathura and Vrindavan.

Industry sources say close to 200,000 people visited and enjoyed watching the Taj Mahal in two days. Entry is free for children below 15, “so they are not counted, although they form the majority”, said guide Ved Gautam.  Hotels in Agra, however, could not benefit from the “boom” as most of the visitors returned the same day, avoiding night stay in this city. For many of such visitors the city offers nothing except an opportunity to see the historic Taj.

Despite over 8000 rooms in 350 big and small hotels and guest houses in the city, visitors chose to return by late night. Due to parking hassles, and long queues at the Taj Mahal, many were forced to return without being able to see the Taj. Akash Chandra from Ghaziabad, who visited with family could not locate a safe parking place. He was held up in a traffic jam on Yamuna Kinara road. Around 4 p.m. he chose to drive back home, dejected and exhausted.

Hotelier Surendra Sharma said: “Independence Day falling on Friday, then came the Saturday, Sunday, and Janamashtmi holiday on Monday. For people of the NCR, it was indeed a blessing to move out to the nearest destinations for a family holiday.”  But he was disappointed to see most of the visitors choosing not to stay back in Agra even for a night to see other monuments.

“Only those who were late and could not make it to the Taj, were forced to see other places like Sikandra and Dayalbagh,” Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.  “After the opening of the Yamuna Expressway, visitors from the Delhi circuit feel comfortable to return the same day, as travelling time is drastically curtailed.”

Tourism circles in Agra have long been demanding some added attractions to hold back the tourists. But poor publicity to the light and sound show at the Fort and highlighting of the other lesser known monuments has failed to charm tourists.  “Then there are huge parking problems due to encroachments around the monuments, and also the nasty games of cheating, lapkagiri (??????) and fleecing of visitors is notoriously rampant.

“The foul and polluted water and air so much talked about in the media in recent years, also inhibit tourists from staying back,” said travel agent Amit Sisodia who organises heritage trips within the city.