The money and effort put into Ayodhya make it a city that cannot fail

DIC says total investment amount pledged so far is Rs1,42,836 crore

PTI01_02_2024_000157A Future in faith: A man with a model of the Ram temple in Ayodhya | PTI

If there ever was a city reborn in the shadow of its own legends, Ayodhya it is. In the hushed murmur of prayers, through dusty lanes snaking between timeworn houses, temples and dharmshalas; from the slow walk of the saffron-clad and on the banks of the majestic Saryu, there is rising a city that has little in common with the one that existed just two years ago. Between its past of many fables and its future of immense possibilities, stands a city that was stranded in twilight for far too long. And thus, a city that is being forced to change at a pace that is not of its own choosing.

Real estate and hospitality are booming, as is the micro, small and medium enterprises sector. As the imagined city becomes more and more real, investment is rushing in. According to figures released by Ayodhya’s District Industry Centre, the total investment amount pledged so far is Rs1,42,836 crore, with a potential creation of 1.02 lakh jobs.

This is significant given that Ayodhya and its surrounding districts have so far had only measly, agriculture-based business opportunities. But now, a grand master plan of the Ayodhya Development Authority seeks to develop an area of 875sqkm, which is roughly six and a half times the size of the area in the previous master plan. (In 2018, the Uttar Pradesh government renamed Faizabad district as Ayodhya, thus erasing the municipal boundaries between the twin cities and brought in a number of revenue villages from adjoining districts to form Ayodhya district, to which this plan is applicable).

But Ayodhya’s change has also been born in pain, silent and staged protests, and countless tears. That is but the nature of change. By the government’s own estimates, 3,477 properties (including homes and shops) were impacted by the Ram Path and the Bhakti Path (redeveloped, widened and beautified roads). In addition, 30 temples, eight mosques and five shrines were affected.

Many homes in Ayodhya still exist in a partially demolished state. Residents said they either could not afford to rebuild or have been told by the administration not to rebuild because some more land might be acquired.

Among the worst affected are shopkeepers. Most shops were rented, and the compensation went to the landlords. The latter are uninterested in renewing leases at existing rates, so have not repaired the portions that remain after the tearing down.

Ram Naresh Gupta’s clothing shop was set up 95 years ago on the main road outside Rajostsav Kunj temple. “It was like a family tradition, our calling card,” he said. “Then the bulldozers came and shed thunderbolts on our livelihood.”

Pilgrimage with a view: Park Inn by Radisson and The Ramayana are two of the hotels that have recently sprung up in Ayodhya | Aman Kumar Pilgrimage with a view: Park Inn by Radisson and The Ramayana are two of the hotels that have recently sprung up in Ayodhya | Aman Kumar

The owner of the shop, which was brought down for widening the Ram Path, was compensated but not the Guptas.

“It is the good fortune of everyone that a grand temple is being constructed,” said Gupta. “We are devotees of Ram, much like those who are part of the government and administration. But ours is a kind Ram, not one in whose name people’s livelihoods can be snatched.”

An antiseptic sameness is being stamped on the city, what with all facades being painted an orange that seems dulled by mud. Shutters of shops (including alcohol outlets) have been painted black with symbols that include saffron flags, conch shells and tilaks.

Road widening has also been a bit of a puzzle, with drains being higher than roads, and four-lane highways with broad footpaths but no parking areas. For beautification, street lights are mounted with something akin to sun dials―the sun being the symbol of Ram’s dynasty.

This enforced sameness has brought much heartburn.

Netraja Prasad Mishra, the chief priest of the Nageshwarnath temple by the Ram ki Paidi (a series of ghats), said that when the ghats were being ‘beautified’, a senior administrative official visited and said that the tiles on the outside wall of the temple had to go.

The 85-year-old Mishra said no and dared the official to open fire on him for disobeying government orders. “He then said, ‘Why are you so sentimental about tiles that should be in a bathroom?’”, said Mishra. The tiles have raised carvings on them, which Mishra said allowed the visually impaired to touch and feel what each tile depicted―a lotus here, a goddess there. A few days later, a wall came up outside the temple, in the same dull orange. The Saryu is now blocked from Mishra’s view.

Janardan Upadhyay, retired professor of Hindi literature at the nearby K.S. Saket PG College, said that in scriptures and tradition, Ayodhya is a city of tyag and vairagya (sacrifice and asceticism). “Where else do you find a holy city that was ruled by padukas?” he asked. The reference being to Ram’s wooden slippers, which his brother Bharat set on the king’s throne when Ram was banished to the forest.

43-Shutters-of-shops-in-Ayodhya-have-been-painted Art on commerce: Shutters of shops in Ayodhya have been painted with symbols that include saffron flags, conch shells and tilaks | Pawan Kumar

“The renunciation that defines this city is not only for the gods, but also for the devotees who come here,” he said. “To live simply, with what the city traditionally offers, is to truly experience its essence.”

To Upadhyay, there is a clear divide between the Ayodhya-bound tourist and the pilgrim. The tourist, pressed for time, wants quick, easy access, fleeting darshan, a holiday experience and comfort. The pilgrim comes to attend fairs, and spend days in prayer and contemplation. The pilgrim’s choice would be to sit by the Saryu at Guptar Ghat and wonder how the Lord ended his life, and get lost in the lanes to find small but exquisite temples. “The pilgrim does not want big buildings, parks, wide roads or fancy restaurants,” said Upadhyay. “He only desires simple food in the form of prasad. His greatest satisfaction lies in embracing the city’s essence and carrying it back with him.”

One solution to that dilemma could have been developing Ram Kot―the area covered by the palace of Ram―as an island, retaining its original features while keeping fancier developments outside.

The flip to that view is that if people do not spend time in Ayodhya, the city’s economy would remain stagnant. For the longest time, the only non-dharmshala accommodation to be found was in the now non-existent Faizabad, in two middling hotels by the bus stand. Now, big non-chain hotels and resorts like The Ramayana and Taraji have sprung up. Smaller hotels are charging upwards of Rs40,000 for a night around January 22, the date the Ram Mandir is to be consecrated. At the first chain hotel―a Park Inn by Radisson―the going rate is Rs80,000 for a room, while a suite can come at Rs1 lakh plus. Reportedly, chains such as Marriott International, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts have also signed deals for hotels here.

Properties like The Ramayana are not accepting any new bookings on travel websites. The photos that Taraji Resorts uses to promote itself include one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sitting in prayer during the bhoomi pujan ceremony of August 5, 2020.

For now, it is a sellers’ market in Ayodhya. The property now marked Park Inn was actually built for Sarovar Portico. A board with the name was also up for a month. Then, one night, a scuffle broke out and the board was pulled down; some repainting was done and the hotel became a Radisson property. The chain had offered a better deal to the sellers, goes the story.

In the latter half of 2027, Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) will open two properties, a 100-room hotel under the Vivanta brand and a 120-room Ginger Hotel. Located close to the Maharishi Valmiki International Airport, the properties will be spread over five acres.

Suma Venkatesh, executive vice president, real estate and development, IHCL, said the hotels would create a strong sense of the geography for guests. “While this might not be possible in architecture as, for instance, Ginger has a set box shape, we will create this through colour, design, motifs, artworks, embellishments and interior design, and through cuisine,” she said.

Venkatesh did not agree with the observation that by 2027 the group would be a late entrant. “We take a call on future potential,” she said. “Till date, we have not shut down a single property we have opened. By 2027, the master plan [for Ayodhya] will also start coming together on ground.” At a conservative estimate, and across multiple price points, she said she would expect an occupancy of 60 per cent to 70 per cent.

As for job creation, she pegged the number of direct and indirect jobs that would be created in the upscale and midscale segment at between six and seven jobs per room. This projection is significantly higher than the government estimates of some 3,990 jobs to be created in the tourism sector for the 51 projects (including hotels) that have gotten off the ground so far. The estimate thus indicates both a higher level of luxury and greater spending power in the near future.

There is also a growing number of home-stays, many of them collated on the Holy Ayodhya app that the state’s tourism department manages.

Sashi Kumari is the owner of a double-storey home-stay called the Shri Sita Ballab Paddat Chhaya, where rooms start at Rs1,000. Nervous at her lack of experience, she said she hoped to learn from guests. “My home will be a serene retreat, within close distance of the main attractions and with a delicious complimentary breakfast to start off the day,” she said. “I am humbled to be able to facilitate Ram’s darshan for pilgrims around the world.”

Till now, her home-stay has had no government checks, but she said that she had used the internet to learn about running one. Thus, among the facilities on offer is an on-call doctor.

Ayodhya’s change transcends imagination. There was a time, not so long ago, when you would only find mithai and savouries to eat, the rare restaurant so shabby that one would not risk stepping in. And as dusk set in, you would scurry out of the dark town.

Recently, one of the older hotels threw open a bar called Tipsy Town (alcohol is prohibited within a 15km radius of the temple). Shady as that name might sound, visitors on opening night were blown away by the interiors and the food. “It could have been in the best of Delhi,” said one person who had attended the inauguration.

The aspirations have grown. Amit Ghai has an automobile dealership in what was once Faizabad. From selling around 30 cars a month, he now sells 70. The buyers are not only those who are flowing into Ayodhya for work, but also locals. “They might have received compensation for land acquired by the government or live with the notion of being wealthy as they own land,” he said. “They want to live better lives.”

Over the past many years, family-owned businesses like that of Ghai’s had shifted base to Lucknow or diversified investment elsewhere. A family into the bottling business, for instance, entered the hospitality sector in Lucknow. But now, the same families are looking at Ayodhya to diversify and expand.

Land prices at market rate, said Ghai, had doubled since the Supreme Court verdict. And as January 22 approaches, and the mandir becomes a reality, they shall go up on a weekly basis.

Ghai gave the example of a sanitary ware and upholstery dealer. Five years ago, the business had an annual turnover of Rs1 crore. Last year, it raked in Rs70 crore. With an estimated 100 big and small hotels coming up, demand has not even peaked yet.

The government’s master plan for Ayodhya will be implemented by 2031. Till then, a flurry of announcements is being made for new projects. In the state’s budget of 2022-23, the government proposed Rs35 crore for the construction of the Central Institute of Petrochemicals Engineering and Technology in Ayodhya.

There have been other significant investments announced. A surprising one being the promised Rs75,000 crore by the UK-based Trafalgar Square Capital to establish cutting-edge defence manufacturing units in Ayodhya. (The company website, though, has just a homepage with zero information.) Arahas Technologies, an AI and geospatial company, has signed an MoU with the city’s development authority to create a comprehensive Vedic Sustainability Index for the city. The initial investment is pegged at $1 million (Rs8.3 crore). The index will provide real-time insights into Ayodhya’s environmental, societal and economic dynamics, which will help decision making for sustainable practices.

There is a lot that makes this changing Ayodhya attractive to the young―those who have the votes and have or will have the money. A local photographer, Rohit Pal, said that he had previously considered leaving his city briefly to gain some experience. “But now, the world has come to Ayodhya,” he said. Pal offers his services to and learns from media workers and content creators who descend on the city with great regularity.

The city now has 13 selfie points―abhorrent to many as they view this against the nature of the city where you turn inwards. On more than one occasion, locals have heckled tourists making reels or indulging in public displays of affection while bathing at the ghats.

There is little to deny that many aspects of the city were in desperate need of change. Ajay Kumar Mishra, former divisional town planner of Ayodhya, said that during the main fairs in Ayodhya, the whole city would start smelling, and would be that way for almost three months. “The city had no sewerage plan. Pilgrims would urinate and defecate in the open,” he said.

Now, in the first of many phases, 134.5km of sewer systems have been developed. A 33 MLD (million litres per day) sewage treatment plant is nearing completion.

The amount of money and effort that the Central and state governments have pumped into Ayodhya make it a city (and a district) that cannot fail. That will not be allowed to fail. It needs not just to draw people, but draw them consistently. And give them avenues to spend. There has been some arm-twisting involved, too. One large contractor, for instance, was asked to execute a project but was hesitant, as it fell outside its core expertise. The company was told if it wanted to get any more government business, it would have to deliver.

Another aspect of this whole push is―what does the change in Ayodhya mean for other temple cities? Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, president of the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, said, “The court is doing its work in Mathura (a case is on demanding the removal of a mosque believed to be built near the birthplace of Lord Krishna). The decision on Ram Janmbhoomi also came through due judicial process. I have complete confidence that the court will provide justice to Hindu society, sooner or later.”

He denied any plans for a movement in Mathura, but insisted that the government give up control of temples and hand them to devotees.

“When our city grows, all of us will grow,” said Iqbal Ansari, son of the late Hashim Ansari, one of the original litigants of the Ayodhya title suit. “But beyond it all, I pray that the city never loses its harmony and that outsiders are never allowed to create the kind of havoc they once did.” His reference is to the violence of 1990, during which the Ansaris’ house was among the many torched. They fled the city for a fortnight.

Many of those who had left Ayodhya in those days found refuge in the villages of Raunahi and Dhannipur, between which stands the five-acre land given to Muslims as per the Supreme Court order to build a new Babri Masjid.

Biboo Khatoon, a 100-year-old who lives near the site, has clear memories of earlier times. “When I was young, we rode on tongas,” she said. “Now, there is a good road and we have cars.” The one change she did want to see was the Babri Masjid being built during her lifetime.

Mishra, the priest, said that Ayodhya, in its literal meaning, is a city that can never be won over. “Do not forget that this is a city that did not even belong to its most beloved king (for Ram spent a large part of his life away from Ayodhya―first as a student, later in banishment). If those who are changing it think they can win over this city, they are nursing illusions,” he said.

But even if an illusion, for now it is a grand, enticing vision―the charm of which cannot be allowed to fade just yet.

The first challenge was to make the temple to last a thousand years or more, like our ancient temples. Our problem was that there is not enough researched engineering material about ancient temples.”


The choice of material [used for construction] was largely inspired by our ancient temples, but on the engineering side, as new technology is available, we depended a lot on our IITs.”


In one of his recent visits, the prime minister said that despite having a temple, if we do not have the necessary infrastructure and civic amenities, it will be a major failure. We need parking, hotels, water, sewage systems and wide roads.”

Nripendra Misra, chairman, Ram temple construction committee, in an exclusive interview with THE WEEK in April 2023