Foreign footfall dips at Khajuraho

BHOPAL: The ambassador of Brazil, Tovar da Silva Nunes, had a taste of why Khajuraho is vanishing from the itinerary of foreign tourists. On September 9, it took him five hours — by plane — to reach Khajuraho from Delhi.
It’s just as well he did not attempt the adventure by road. It would have been a bumpy, bone-rattling 700km ordeal. Since there was no direct flight to Khajuraho that day, Tovar da Silva Nunes had to fly from Delhi via Varanasi and Agra, said Khajuraho tourism association spokesman Anshu Awasthi. “He wanted to reach Delhi on Monday morning but could not do so because there was no direct flight,” said Rajesh Awasthi, a senior guide who took the ambassador around the temple town.
Khajuraho, famous the world over for its erotic sculptures, seems to be losing its charm due to travel travails, tour agents say. Footfall was down by a shocking 35% till 2016, and this year’s figures are likely to be worse, they add.

The association blames poor connectivity and over-priced flights for the dwindling number of foreign visitors. In 2012, this count stood at 1,00,560 which plummeted to 65,236 in 2016 — a decline of almost 35%. Senior conservation assistant of ASI, Khajuraho, Ashok Mehta, said that this year, only 41,419 foreigners have visited the Unesco World Heritage Site.
Primary tourist operators in New Delhi and Jaipur no longer include Khajuraho on their itinerary, as it makes the journey costly, Anshu Awasthi said, pointing out that a 45-minute flight from Varanasi to Khajuraho costs anywhere between Rs 18,000 and Rs 36,000 during the peak season (October to January). “There is no direct flight from Delhi or Mumbai,” he said.
Built between 950AD and 1050AD by the Chandela dynasty, the temples in Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh have long been a must-visit for foreigners but the government never gave enough importance to ensure a better connectivity in terms of flights, train or the road. “Backpackers from abroad — who have almost vanished from Khajuraho — always preferred trains and road journey, the association said. But there is only one train, Sampark Kranti Express, from Delhi and none from Mumbai, say travel agents. The 190-km road journey from Jhansi to Khajuraho is a five-hour back-breaking experience, association points out.
Talking to TOI, chairman of MP Tourism Development Corporation Tapan Bhowmik said, “I know it is a matter of concern. We will talk to India Tourism Development Corporation and Air India about this.”