Ayodhya: Inside the temple town’s epic makeover

The Bhakti Path in Ayodhya, one of the key roads that lead to the Ram temple. Building facades along the road have been painted in the identical shade of yellow with a temple spire drawn on them.  (Madhurima Nandy )
The Bhakti Path in Ayodhya, one of the key roads that lead to the Ram temple. Building facades along the road have been painted in the identical shade of yellow with a temple spire drawn on them. (Madhurima Nandy )


  • Infrastructure and real estate projects around the Ram temple in Ayodhya have picked up pace

Ayodhya: The bricks have ‘Shri Ram 2023’ inscribed on each of them. Trucks with hundreds and thousands of these bricks move along the Ram Path, a 13-km long busy road that stretches from Sahadatganj to Naya Ghat in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.

The road, which leads to the under-construction Ram temple, is being widened and laid with pavement blocks. Houses and shops on both sides of the road are in the middle of a makeover. Building facades are being redone. Every single building front is being painted in the identical shade of yellow with a temple spire drawn on them. Shutters of every shop have different Hindu religious motifs painted – the swastika, the conch shell and the Tripund (the three parallel lines on Shiva’s forehead) among others.

The temple would be inaugurated a month from now—on 22 January. The arterial road will bring in millions of devotees and tourists from the Lucknow-Gorakhpur National Highway (NH)-27. Construction work, therefore, is on at breakneck speed.

“My family has lived in Ayodhya for generations and we have never had this kind of construction," Anil Singh, a local taxi driver, says. “The whole place looked like it was being broken down till a few months back. There was digging and dust everywhere."

The landscape of Ayodhya, with its narrow, crammed lanes and bylanes, transformed gradually after the November 2019 Supreme Court verdict that cleared the way for the construction of the Ram temple at the disputed site. The ‘Ayodhya Master Plan 2031’ was approved a year ago by the state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath. That’s when the real rebuilding started.

The plan includes a new airport, rejuvenation of the railway station, new road-over-bridges, multi-level car parks with food courts, hotels, townships, an aerocity, road widening, and beautification. More than 200 different projects backed by the central and state governments are being executed in the town presently with a sanctioned budget of over 30,000 crore.

Private investments are pouring in as well. Vishal Singh, vice chairman at the Ayodhya Development Authority (ADA), a key agency leading the development work, says that the city had not seen any organized development for years. “After the 2019 verdict, a Vision Document 2047 was designed to plan what Ayodhya could become and the kind of development that was possible. The goal is to make Ayodhya the global spiritual capital," he says. “The journey has just started and the development you see is the beginning. We are nowhere near completion, but we know where we are going," he adds.

Road, rail, air

The Ayodhya Junction railway station, which is undergoing a facelift and expansion.
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The Ayodhya Junction railway station, which is undergoing a facelift and expansion.

In the office corridors of the Ayodhya Development Authority (ADA) in Faizabad area of the town, everyone walks around wearing new colourful badges that say ‘Humari Ayodhya’ (Our Ayodhya). There is visible urgency as executives rush from one room to the other carrying stacks of files. Project plans are being approved; fresh tenders for civic and beautification works are being uploaded on the agency’s website; Singh and his colleagues are perennially in video conferences and back-to-back meetings.

Ayodhya, until a few years back was a smallish nagar palika (municipal council) in the former Faizabad district. Faizabad and Ayodhya were merged in 2018 and the entire area is now under the Ayodhya Municipal Corporation. As of today, most of the development work is concentrated around the old Ayodhya region. In real estate terms, that’s about 133.67 sq km.

ADA’s Singh says the challenge is to make Ayodhya more accessible. The critical issue of connectivity—by road, rail and air – will be addressed by the year-end. While domestic flights will start early next year, international flights will be ready to operate by 2024-end.

Airline carrier IndiGo recently announced its inaugural flight from Delhi to Ayodhya on 30 December, and commercial services from 6 January. The terminal building at the Maryada Purshottam Shri Ram International Airport, spread across 820 acres, is in the last leg of completion and a giant entrance gate is being constructed.

The Ayodhya Junction railway station is also undergoing a facelift and expansion, with a new station building, two foot-over-bridges, lounge area, and a residential complex.

Brothers Vineet and Virendra Kumar have come down from Varanasi to work at a road-over-bridge project site, one of the six such projects, at the bustling Teri Bazar neighbourhood, where a new multi-level car park has just been built. Four such parking facilities, with food courts, shops, and dormitories will open shortly.

“We have been given a deadline of 31 December to finish the project. So, we are all working double shifts here. Many of us have come from Varanasi and other cities because they needed workers," Kumar says. The brothers work on the pre-casting process of girders—large steel beams used for building bridges.

Meanwhile, all major roads connecting Ayodhya to six cities—Lucknow, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Prayagraj, Gonda and Raebareli—are being widened and converted to at least four lanes. Six entrance gates are being erected; they would be named after the characters from the Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic.

“The UP government has already announced state inland water connectivity and Ayodhya is a top priority. For in-city infrastructure, accommodation is important given the scale of inbound tourists," Singh says. “We will acquire land near the airport to build a hotel district and transit facilities, similar to Delhi, under our aerocity plan. In future, industrial facilities will also come up along the highway," he adds.

While 15 hotel project proposals have been approved, ADA receives two-three applications every month for new hotel projects.

Rooms with a view

Close to the temple, a swanky ‘Tent City’, developed by ADA, promises luxury stays. Here, tents can be rented for  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>10,000-20,000 a night.
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Close to the temple, a swanky ‘Tent City’, developed by ADA, promises luxury stays. Here, tents can be rented for 10,000-20,000 a night.

Akhilesh Singh was working as a front office manager at a three-star hotel in Mathura, before he landed in Ayodhya a couple of months back. “My father called me from our home in Prayagraj and suggested that I should move to Ayodhya because big hotels are opening here. So, I left my job and came," he says.

Last week, Singh went to check out a new upcoming hotel—Ira by Orchid. “It’s a small property. I’ll wait for a better opportunity and a bigger brand," he says.

Job opportunities in the hospitality sector of Ayodhya will indeed explode. The Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL), Radisson Hotel Group, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International among others have signed deals to open properties.

K.B. Kachru, chairman emeritus and principal advisor, Radisson Hotel Group South Asia, says Ayodhya’s history and religious significance, coupled with the upcoming Ram temple, holds the promise of transforming the town into a key hospitality and travel destination.

“Owing to the diverse demographic, we foresee a surge in demand for accommodation, ranging from budget-friendly homestays to luxurious hotels. This presents business opportunities for major hotel chains and empowers the smaller players," says Kachru.

An 80-room Park Inn by Radisson in Faizabad is opening soon. ADA’s Singh says this will be the first big branded hotel in the city. Park Inn is a budget to mid-market brand.

ITC Hotels, meanwhile, is in discussions with developers in Ayodhya to offer branding and management services. IHCL has signed management contracts for a 100-room hotel under the Vivanta brand and a 120-room Ginger hotel, expected to be operational in three years. Its five-acre complex with the two hotels, not too far from the new Ayodhya airport, will cater to both business and leisure travellers.

Suma Venkatesh, executive vice president, real estate and development, IHCL, says that the infrastructure-led growth spurt in India, with an overhaul of the transport network, has helped in adding new markets in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, creating scope for adding more rooms across segments.

Close to the temple, a swanky ‘Tent City’, developed by ADA through a public private partnership (PPP) model, promises luxury stays. Here, tents can be rented for 10,000-20,000 a night, depending on the demand.

For budget travellers, there is Oravel Stays Ltd, which operates OYO, an aggregator of hotels. OYO plans to add 50 hotels and homes, totalling around 1,000 rooms, before the opening of the temple. “In Ayodhya, we have initiated partnerships with the Ayodhya Development Authority and the Uttar Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation to facilitate the opening of properties in a timely manner," says Anuj Tejpal, chief merchant officer, OYO.

ADA, meanwhile, has floated a homestay scheme, where homeowners can offer homestay facilities to tourists. Staying in a homestay will cost between 1,500-2,500 a night. So far, 350 homestays have been registered.

Where’s the land?

The under-construction gate of the Maryada Purshottam Shri Ram International Airport. Spread across 820 acres, the airport will be completed soon.
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The under-construction gate of the Maryada Purshottam Shri Ram International Airport. Spread across 820 acres, the airport will be completed soon.

All this is very striking considering that Ayodhya never had a thriving real estate scenario. The town is dotted with mostly small residences and bungalows. Apartments—the sort of high-rises we are used to in Bengaluru, Gurugram, Noida and Mumbai—are a rarity. For Ayodhya’s real estate to take off and remain hot in the future, the availability of land would be key.

In and around Ayodhya, farm land is with the farmers. A new breed of intermediaries and aggregators are helping them thrash out land deals.

The House of Abhinandan Lodha, a Mumbai-based real estate firm, started acquiring land from farmers for a development project in early 2020, completing the process only in May 2023. Why did it take so long?

“It took us three years to acquire 50 acres. It was the most difficult land acquisition in my life," says chairman Abhinandan Lodha. “Ayodhya is a once in a lifetime opportunity but the city hasn’t seen a lot of development, and quality supply of land is limited. While the government has been supportive, the land aggregation process was tedious," he adds.

Lodha’s project, about 6km from the temple, opposite the Saryu river, will initially sell plots priced at 1 crore upwards. The chairman expects the real estate market to heat up from February-March next year, with demand being driven by both domestic and non-resident Indians.

Eight township projects by private developers have been approved so far. However, apart from Lodha, established real estate brands from other metros are yet to venture in Ayodhya. That may change soon since ADA is acquiring land for a 1,400 acre township along the NH-27. Once the land is in place, a developer will be appointed to build out the project.

The anticipation about the coming boom has seen real estate prices jump—by almost three times in the past year—particularly in the vicinity of the temple. ADA recently auctioned a one-acre commercial plot, where a hotel is expected to be built, for 16.75 crore, against a reserve price of 11 crore. As per ADA estimates, Ayodhya has attracted private investments of around 5,000 crore so far.

Santhosh Kumar, vice chairman at property advisory Anarock Group, says that thus far, Lucknow, Allahabad and Gorakhpur are the established property markets in Uttar Pradesh. But under the Modi government, spiritual destinations have been given makeovers, making people want to stay back for longer periods. “Besides residential and hotels, I think hospital chains will come in. Mall operators will build neighbourhood malls targeted at tourists," he says. “The 13-km Rampath stretch, particularly, will see a lot of retail action," he adds.

Nonetheless, rebuilding the entire town, which has had subpar infrastructure and civic facilities for years, would demand much more. As mentioned earlier, the ongoing development work is largely in the 133 sq. km area of the town. The master plan for the remaining 740 sq. km is still under preparation.

“Till the master plan is finalized, land use cannot be defined, which means the government or any administrative agencies cannot sell land. ADA, for instance, doesn’t have a land bank and for every project, land needs to be acquired. Developing an entire city is a new concept, but it needs to be well-regulated," says a government official who didn’t wish to be named.

The show

Challenges apart, industry watchers say that Ayodhya has been making the right moves to garner attention. There is a resurgence of religious tourism and the town would benefit from it.

When tourists flock to the city in the months to come, they will find murals drawn from the Ramayana along the Ram Path, the Bhakti Path and the Ram Janambhoomi Path—all the three roads lead to the temple. An island named ‘Panchwati Dweep’ in the Saryu river is being developed for recreation.

The spiritual capital doesn’t want to cut off the millennials either. ‘I love Ayodhya’ selfie points have been planned across the town. Adventure water sports and light and sound shows are expected to be the other show stoppers. Tourists, nonetheless, would have to do without alcohol and non-vegetarian food in the town.

Just like Akhilesh Singh, who moved to Ayodhya to work, locals in the town are now hopeful of finding better employment opportunities.

“My friends moved out of Ayodhya because of the lack of opportunities. But the city is changing very fast," says Dhirendra Kumar. The 25-year-old, who works at his family’s paint shop in Faizabad, was planning to migrate to Allahabad, a few months ago. He decided to stay back.

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