Tourism can not just earn foreign exchange from visitors from abroad but also educate India’s own people about the richness and diversity of its cultural heritage, creating the sensibility of tolerance and accommodation a prosperous India calls for.
It would make sense to deploy advances in imaging technology, ranging from holography to virtual augmented reality at or near sites that are difficult to reach or too fragile to be exposed to the prying eyes and phone cameras of visiting hordes.
The breathtaking rock-cut temples at Ajanta and Ellora, world heritage sites in Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, are a ready candidate for such embellishment.
If visitors spend more time at the digital exhibits, and less at the actual sites, it should reduce the fading of colour in their most remarkable artwork arrays of people, palaces and pavilions, the earliest of which date from 2nd century BC.
Hampi, in Karnataka, another world heritage site, indeed has benefited from corporate sponsorship, complete with 3D exhibits and fine digital displays.
Similarly, Ellora, with its magnificent proportions and stupendous monolithic sculptures, would benefit from digital exhibits on-site, as many of the original statues have been disfigured and damaged over the centuries.
Quality public conveniences seem particularly lacking in Ellora; those at Ajanta also need sprucing up. Ajanta’s visual delights cover fruit, flowers, animals and the majestic half-kneeling elephant -the emblem of the tourism ministry.
The colours used include, besides locally procured red and yellow ochre, lime and lampblack, the bright blue derived from lapis lazuli, imported all the way from Persia. If that reveals ancient India’s commercial reach, the carvings at Ellora -all on a giant basalt rock face -detail not just characters from the great Indian epics but also Jain and Buddhist iconography and telling mastery of architecture and sculpture.
The ministry of tourism would do well to take advantage of the growing sophistication of smartphones to incorporate virtual reality increasingly as a regular feature, apart from more mature 3D projection techniques.