Ayodhya | Security barricades, barbed wires and frequent frisking by police personnel have been a common sight in Ayodhya. But the holy city has now undergone a paradigm shift fuelled by massive infrastructure growth with the grand Ram temple at its heart.
It was the 2019 Supreme Court verdict on the fractious Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue that paved the way for the progress of this pilgrim city which till a few years ago was a sleepy town in Uttar Pradesh.
On Monday, a new chapter will be written in Ayodhya's and the country's history with the consecration ceremony at the newly-built Ram temple which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and over 7,000 guests.
This 'Pran Pratishtha' has been preceded by a series of infrastructural projects to turn the temple town into what the government calls a 'Bhavya, Divya and Navya Ayodhya'.
With a swanky new airport, a redeveloped railway station, two widened roads -- Ram Path and Dharm Path -- which are now showpiece streets, multi-level car parking facilities, e-buses, a dedicated multilingual tourist app, and new luxury hotels on the horizon, Ayodhya has changed and so has its image.
In line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of 'Vikas bhi, Virasat bhi', this infrastructure push has also embraced the heritage of the ancient city, where Hindus believe Lord Ram was born.
The airport and the railway station, both equipped with modern facilities, bear a cladding of sandstone with the design drawn from the architectural elements of the newly built Ram temple which uses sandstones sourced from Rajasthan.
"Ayodhya is undergoing a 'nav nirman' (new construction) and infrastructure is changing... We have to give a new identity to Ayodhya at the global level," Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said recently after flagging off a fleet of e-buses for the city.
The state government's infrastructure expansion is driven and centred around this grand temple whose 'bhoomipujan' was performed by Modi in August 2020.
Built in the traditional Nagara style, it will be 380 feet long (east-west direction), 250 feet wide and 161 feet high. Each floor of the three-storey temple will be 20 ft high and have a total of 392 pillars and 44 gates.
To facilitate devotees to reach this temple, the government has redeveloped four roads, including the 13-km Ram Path from Sahadatganj to Naya Ghat Chouraha -- for which partial demolition of a large number of shops, houses and other buildings had to be carried out.
The widened Ram Path with uniform facades of buildings on both sides, ornamental lamp posts bearing a design representing the traditional 'Ramanadi tilak' and the 40 Surya Stambhs installed along Dharm Path and the Lata Mangeshkar Chowk are new tourist attractions in the city.
Anoop Kumar, who runs Hotel Shri Ram Bhawan near Asharfi Bhawan here, says people earlier visited Ayodhya, but "very few stayed for a day, let alone a longer duration".
"Earlier, people visited Ramjanmabhoomi, Hanumangarhi temple, Kanak Bhawan, Asharfi Bhawan and left the same day. Now, visitors want to stay for a day or even longer to explore other places like Ram ki Paidi, Surya Kund and other temples," he told PTI.
Kumar who built this property in February 2023, said a large number of new budget hotels, lodges and homestays have sprung up in the city after the 2019 apex court verdict.
"The Mandir-Masjid dispute had halted the city's growth. But the construction of the temple has driven the infrastructure push which in turn has fuelled Ayodhya's growth story," he said.
Prabharaj Palace, a new lodge that was opened a couple of months ago in the Begumpura area, has mounted a banner-size poster of the Ram temple in its lobby.
"The excitement that preceded the 'Pran Pratishtha' ceremony had pushed our business, and it is expected to grow for the next several months," Deepak, a managerial staff at the lodge told PTI.
The excitement will reach a crescendo on Monday when all eyes of the country will be on Ayodhya.