Surfing schools shut, roadside shops moved out, road being relaid, 10,000 police personnel expected...
A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com finds a historical town getting ready to grab the headlines for 3 days.
With a fortnight to go for the second informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mahabalipuram, the historical town 50 km from Chennai, restrictions have been imposed and beautification efforts undertaken in what was the port city of the 7th to 10th century Pallava kingdom which today is a major tourist attraction.
The two leaders, who between them preside over the destinies of almost one-fifth of humanity, had launched the first of their informal summits at Wuhan in China on April 27-28, 2018.
Ahead of the Mahabalipuram summit, all surfing schools in the town have been asked to shut down. Pavement businesses and hand carts selling anything and everything have been told to move out.
Even the famous shore temple, a popular tourist attraction, is feeling the heat, with boards inside announcing 'work in progress'. "As Modiji will be here next month we have been told to sell tickets to only people who can furnish an identity card," says the man at the ticket counter.
Across the town many road laying machines and roadrollers have been deployed to ensure the VIPs's ride into town is not disrupted by potholes and such.
Elsewhere too, Mahabalipuram is being spruced up in a hurry, with grass bring trimmed, plants and trees watered, pathways cemented, and ugly walls broken down.
A tea shop-owner says merchants in Mahabalipuram had been told to shut shop between October 9 and 13, as they are located on government land and pay rent to the local town panchayat.
"Using the Modi visit as an excuse, the panchayat is planning to demolish all the shops," alleges another shop-owner, adding, "they will build them further away from the beach and increase the rent."
While official records show the number of shops as 72, the actual number is close to 125, said another merchant.
A local hotel owner said he had attended a special meeting conducted by the administration where they were told not to accept any Internet bookings after October 9. They were told they needed to allot rooms for police personnel who will travel from outside town.
For the three days the two leaders will be in town, Mahabalipuram will see the deployment of 10,000 police personnel -- in a town whose population was pegged in the 2011 census at a little over 15,000.
The shutdown and town beautification have evoked mixed reactions from the locals.
"So far they have not told us anything, but it will reflect badly on the leaders if we are all asked to shut down for five days. What will people do for provisions, what will the tourists eat?" asks a provision shop owner, while another is elated that "We are getting new roads, new lights, everything is being freshly painted."
"We are still discussing the matter, but we will agree to shut down all shops from October 10 to 12, it is for security and we are ready to cooperate," says Traders Sangam leader R Rajasekharan, who owns a department store in the town.
"We have requested local BJP leaders to let us meet the prime minister as we want to present him a shawl and click a picture with him. We have given a list of 15 people, we will not make any other demand," says Rajasekharan, who has an MBA and a post-graduate diploma in computer applications.
Local reports indicate that Modi and Xi will stay at the Taj-owned Fishermen's Cove, some 20 km away off the scenic Eastern Coast Road to Chennai.
The hotel itself bears little sign of activity, barring two police jeeps outside and some cops in the lobby. All that a hotel official would say was, "We don't have any information to divulge."