Tourism is the biggest industry in the current world scenario, cultural and heritage tourism being most integral part as it unleashes the history and authenticity of a country to the visitors. Tourism all over the world is booming and so do the threats to the authenticity of the tourism sites due to the increased visitation. And when it comes to the heritage and cultural sites, the genuineness of the sites could be easily deteriorated by increased visitor volume but never can be regained as it is a gift from the history. So, the only possible way is to manage and maintain it to the maximum extent, but at the same time, providing a great level of “edutainment” to the visitors.
Managing such sites has always been a challenge to the authorities as they hardly can control the tourist traffic as it creates greater revenue for the country. Understanding and promoting sustainable tourist behaviour (Pearce 2005) has been an efficient tool to maintain the authenticity of any tourist sites. The attention of tourists can be directed to the enhancing features of the destinations as well as the importance of sustaining the social and natural environment. The focus of this literature is to unveil the sustainable tourism management practices in the world heritage tourism site known as Ajanta caves, which is situated in Aurangabad, India.
The Ajanta caves are consisted of 30 rock cut cave monuments situated 107 km north of Aurangabad, known as “city of gates” in Maharashtra state of India. The caves acquired its name from a nearby village named Ajanta located about 12 km. These caves were discovered in 1819 and instantly the discovery became very famous and Ajanta attained a very important tourist destination in the world. Since 1983, Ajanta caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The caves are famous for its paintings, which are considered to be the masterpieces of Buddhist religious art and universal pictorial art.
These are the first Buddhist cave monuments date from the 2nd and 1st century B.C. During the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. many more richly decorated caves were added to the group. These caves are excavated in horse-shoe shaped bend of rock surface nearly 76 m in height overlooking a narrow river known as Waghora. The caves were excavated in different periods (circa. 2nd century B.C. to 6th century A.D.) according to the necessity. Each cave was connected to the stream by a flight of steps, which are now almost demolished, although traces of some could be noticed at some places.
The site is open to visitors from 9 am to 5 pm on all day s except Monday.
Entrance Fee: Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and BIMSTEC Countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar) – Rs. 10 per head.
Others: US $ 5 or Indian Rs. 250/- per head
Management issues of Ajanta Caves
Archaeological survey of India is the sole department responsible for maintaining and managing the site through its various branches like conservation, science and horticulture. The management issues falls into two categories; the first one causing deterioration of the caves which needs immediate attention and the second being the desirable measures which could take the site to a great level of sustainability. The primary issues are:
Construction and expansion (developmental pressure)
Lack of public information system
Insect activity due to migration from forest reserve.
Deterioration of rock surface
Entry of bats into the cave interior
Scribbling on rock surface by visitors
Construction and expansion (developmental pressure)
UNESCO has established certain criteria for destinations for being in the list of world heritage sites and one of the most important norms is the restriction of reconstruction. Reconstruction or further development of the site can be carried out only with the prior consultation with advisory bodies of UNESCO. It also calls for rules and regulations in the regional and national levels that should promise the safeguarding of the site against any development and constructions that may hinder the authentic values. So, there is pressure from an international agency for preventing expansion works against the national development pressure. Hence, for being in the world heritage list, archaeological survey of India is obliged to protect the site from any further constructions which is not necessary apart from protecting it.
Lack of practices to control the number of visitors is creating a number of issues to Ajanta caves. The norms allows 40 visitors at a time in each cave but currently the number of visitors at a time on an average is more than twice the permitted number. This may lead to destruction and pilferage, at the same time cause increased humidity which may lead to fungus growth inside the caves, attracting insects and more often bats.
Lack of public information system
Lack of public information system not only restricts the popularity of the site, but also limits the awareness of the public and the tourists, the importance of preserving it. A well established public information system can generate great level of consciousness among the visitors to cooperate with the archaeological department to protect and maintain the site. Ajanta caves have a large potential to make use of first and second agents (Pearce 2005) like mass media, travel and tour operators and other autonomous information agents like news articles and documentaries. Archaeological survey department should consider the example of incredible India campaign’s move that made Amir Khan (famous Bollywood celebrity) its grand ambassador for promoting tourism in India and creating public awareness to be hospitable towards tourists.
The caves faces water leakages in certain parts, due to cracks created by tree roots and heavy rainfall. This has been an issue for several years since it was excavated. Moisture can lead to deterioration of rock surfaces and paintings and also can cause biological attacks. Even though precautions has been taken by constructing an anti drain system (Rizwanullah, S. 2009) on top of caves which had serious problems, there are other caves in which similar problems are encountered after heavy rainfall. There are limitations to these constructions too as per the guidelines of UNESCO which is a dilemma for the governing authority.
Insect activity and Entry of bats into the cave interior
There is a problem of insects and other small animals migrating from the nearby forest reserve to the caves which may cause damages to the cave interiors and paintings. As described above uncontrolled visitor number is also accounting to attracting insects. To tackle this, fumigation and Polyvinylchloride treatments are being conducted often.
Deterioration of rock surface
Penetration of small woody roots of vegetation over the top of caves has been creating minute crack over the rock surface and water leakage is causing the deterioration of rocks for years. These problems are monitored periodically and actions are carried out as per needs. However international assistance is required to acquire any information and technology for treatment of the rock surfaces.
Scribbling on rock surface by visitors.
This is another issue in maintaining the caves. This is somewhat uncontrollable as the staff cannot watch the activities of visitors from start to end at the present situation. These activities are adding to the challenge of preservation apart from deterioration and crack formation.
The secondary issues are:
Additional training for staff
Staff would be more efficient and effective if they receive more training in the heritage preservation techniques like GPS, GIS, Photogrammetry, photo documentation, cartography etc. with international assistance.
Lack of GIS and GPS.
Archaeological survey of India is looking forward for making use of global positioning system (GPS) and geographical information system (GIS) which can enhance the preservation of site with advanced techniques. GPS can make the site prepared for any serious threats or natural disasters. GIS helps to analyse and manage geographical information affecting the site.
Multimedia visualisation & CDs
This is a desirable technique which could be an added feature to public information system and also for enhancing the visitor experience.
Lack of visitor management plan
Visitor management in heritage sites like Ajanta caves is essential as it’s not an environment built for tourist purpose and subsequently has limited carrying capacity. Even though Ajanta caves have pathways which control the movement of the visitors and information boards to educate them, there is no proper visitor management plans in use for this site. Plans should be formulated to make visitors more responsible and aware of culture and nature, conservation of the environment and to increase chances of repeat visits. Arrangements should be made to spread the visitors all over the caves and reduce the time spend in sensitive areas like wall paintings and also to promote off season visits to reduce the mass during season.
Lack of emergency or risk preparedness plan
Even though archaeological department has facilities to deal with small issues affecting the site, it does not have resources to meet any major threats or disasters. GIS and GPS can be made use for such purposes.
Current management practices
Periodic reporting – archaeological survey of India is obliged to prepare and send a detailed report on conservation of the site each year describing the position of preservation and monitoring. It includes the impacts by tourists, nature and other factors affecting the site and also the measures taken for reducing the same.
Access to the caves – the access to the caves is regulated from 4 km away from it. Vehicles are not allowed to pass beyond this point and the tourists are taken from there to the site in non polluting buses, operated by the Maharashtra Transport Corporation. This is a wise move by the authorities to reduce the air and noise pollution around the caves and to protect the buffer zone (ASI 2002) of the site.
The chemistry branch – looks after the matters like chemical treatment and preservation of paintings.
The garden branch – preserves the vegetation around the caves.
The conservation branch – looks after the structural conservation and preservation of the caves.
Geological investigations by geology survey of India – conducts the geophysical studies of caves and the surrounding areas.
Communication of heritage values to the public and tourists – ASI has introduced brochures and booklets describing the heritage values of the site and importance of conservation. It also uses print and audio media for communicating. All the activities happening in the site are also posted in the official website of the ASI namely http://www.asi.nic.in/. World heritage day (April 18) and world heritage week (November 19-25) are other activities used for communicating the values and conservation of the Ajanta caves.
Educational programmes – ASI conducts painting competitions, debates, exhibitions etc on world heritage day and week in which school and college students can actively participate. This will helps to create awareness of the ancient monuments and importance of conservation of it on young generation. This initiative by ASI can be considered as an investment for the future as it educates the next generation about the heritage values and history.
Aforestation – To reduce pollution and prevent soil erosion. Horticulture department is looking after this part to build suitable vegetation around the green belt of Ajanta caves. This helps maintain the natural environment but at the same time increase insect population and subsequent insect attacks inside the caves.
Other management practices
Path ways and pedestrian foot bridges
Illumination of the cave interiors
Construction of fallen and broken pillars
Construction of fallen and collapsed facades
Approach roads up to the foothill
Erection of barricades in front of the paintings and painted surfaces to restrict the tourists from touching it.
Viewpoint and approach stepped pathway by forest department.
Available facilities for the visitors
Drinking water facility.
Illumination of caves
Guide books, brochures and pamphlets.
There are no existing plans for public use of the site.
A site information system at the foothill or near the vehicle parking area.
Pre recorded cultural texts and messages at the entrance or parking area