Now licensed, English-speaking guides for Agra, Varanasi

By Rajat Rai, IANS,

Lucknow : Smartly dressed, English-speaking, licensed tour guides will now be seen in northern India’s tourist hubs like Agra and Varanasi, marking a departure from touts who are often known to fleece visitors, particularly foreigners.

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In the first such initiative by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department (UPTD), tour guides – all of them graduates – are being chosen through a written examination and an interview.

Over 20,000 men and women have appeared for a written examination to obtain a professional guide’s licence. “The examination was conducted in August and 1,257 people have been shortlisted for the interview,” Awnish Awasthi, principal secretary of the UPTD, told IANS.

After the interview, selected candidates will undergo training for two-and-a-half months at the Kanshiram Institute of Tourism Management in Lucknow.

“The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will then issue guide’s licences after which they can work as freelance guides anywhere in the state,” Awasthi added.

The guides are expected to become available by the end of this year.

Most of the candidates shortlisted for the interview are from Agra and Varanasi. Others belong to Jhansi, Varanasi, Allahabad, Mathura and adjoining districts.

Aftab, a commerce graduate and a native of Agra, said: “It is a glamorous job and one can earn good money. If a foreign tourist is greeted by a well-dressed, English-speaking guide with an I-card provided by the government, they will definitely opt for us.”

According to the statistics of the UPTD, over 3.2 million tourists visit Agra every year. Not only is it home to the 17th century monument to love, the Taj Mahal, but it also boasts of attractions like the Agra Fort, Itmad-Ud-Daula and Sikandra Fort.

Varanasi too gets tens of thousands of tourists as it is a Hindu pilgrim centre.

“There was a long pending demand from tour operators in Agra to provide professional guides as the ‘makeshift’ guides have a tendency to cheat foreign tourists,” Awasthi explained.

“They were facing similar problems in Varanasi and other tourist spots in the state. So we decided to go ahead with this new employment opportunity.”

As far as remuneration of the guides is concerned, it will depend on ASI guidelines. “They will not be given any fixed salary,” Awasthi added.

The department will happily conduct a similar exercise next year also if the demand for professional guides persists as it could be developed as a good employment sector, he added.

(Rajat Rai can be contacted at [email protected])