The Man from Madras Musings has come to realise that one of the ways to remain in love with this city of ours is to travel as much as possible to other parts of the country every once in a while and return. Then, after having been bumped around on poor roads, alternately roasted and drenched in the heat and rain, and finally, having suffered practically non-existent public transport, you come to realise that Chennai that was Madras is heaven after all. To quote from a Mughal Emperor, if there be a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.

And everywhere that MMM went, he found that the Archaeological Survey of India has been earlier. This organisation is capable of really good work, but suffers from everything beginning with lack of funding, bureaucracy and a general lassitude. Consequently, its track record is patchy at best, ranging from excellent in a few places to abysmal in most. But no matter how good or bad it is, you cannot fault it on its standard operating procedures that are so inviolate that it is a wonder that this organisation has not yet obtained an ISO certification, something that some of the most inefficient of entities are in possession of.

The obligatory blue board declaring a monument to be protected is one such. MMM is not certain as to what the ASI hopes to achieve by erecting these in front of all the monuments that nominally at least come under its protection. Does it assume that those who come to these places and scratch their initials, phone numbers and messages to loved ones on the immortal plaster or stone, actually pause to read as to which Act of the Government they are likely to be prosecuted under? And even if they did, these boards are often so rusted that they cannot be read. MMM has even seen one planted upside down.

An ASI signboard at Hampi, fixed upside down

The behaviour of the staff, if they happen to be on the premises at these sites, is a second standard. No matter which part of India you happen to be travelling in, chances are you will come across a bad-tempered person at the ticket counter, who asks you to tender exact fare, for the ASI does not carry loose change, ever. It is also only with reluctance that tickets will be sold, for by asking for them, you the tourist are preventing the ASI staff from continuing with their reverie. There is very little you can do at ASI monuments, apart from gawking at what is around and wondering as to what it is all about. Very few have any information. But when it comes to what you cannot do, the rulebook is clear and has copious amounts of information. Moreover, the staff themselves are absolute authorities on don’ts – no photography, no videography, no sketching, no singing and no many other things.
The condition of toilets in most ASI-controlled monuments leaves much to be desired. In fact most of these places have no toilets at all, barring the ones for the exclusive use of the ASI officials themselves. These no doubt, are spic and span but MMM has no clue as to where they are.

The second and concluding part can be read here