Agatha Watson was overcome with emotions as she braved a heavy downpour to place a wreath of red roses at the grave of her great-great-grandfather, James Robertson, in Calcutta's sprawling Park Street Cemetery. When it stopped raining, the sprightly Englishwoman shot pictures of the tranquil surroundings - although she was not too happy about the graveyard's maintenance. Ms Watson, a resident of Yorkshire in Britain, is one of the 50-odd foreigners who fly to Calcutta each month to pay homage to their ancestors buried in colonial cemeteries. Mr Robertson's tombstone says that he succumbed to cholera in 1846 while serving as a garrison engineer. For over 160 years he had no visitors. But now federal and provincial governments are actively promoting what some tour operators call 'cemetery tourism', clearing the decks for flower-carrying descendants to come calling from across the seas. 'I would love to come back next year with my grown-up children and their families,' said Ms Watson, a 62 year-old school teacher, obviously relishing the experience. The so-called tomb travellers are a big boon in the time of recession. And their numbers are fast growing, according to tourism ministry officials. 'It's grossly unfair to accuse us of falling back on the dead to lure foreigners to Calcutta or other Indian towns and cities,' says Sultan Ahmed, the feisty junior Tourism Minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government. 'Cemetery tourism sounds a bit ghoulish to be honest. But centuries-old European graveyards are an integral part of the heritage tourism circuit which we are relentlessly focusing on to get around the current economic downturn. 'We have drawn up a list of historic cemeteries across India and have roped in Christian burial boards and local churches to computerise records so that foreigners can easily find the graves of their forefathers without wasting their time, energy or money.' Documentation and the restoration of graveyards are priorities for Mr Ahmed. The minister said visitors can soon locate the graves from abroad and plan their trips with the help of Indian diplomats posted abroad, particularly in London and elsewhere in Britain. Although British men, women and children account for the majority of Europeans buried in India, there is a fair sprinkling of French, Portuguese and Dutch who colonised parts of the country for varying periods. According to the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA), established in 1976 to track the state of Christian cemeteries wherever the East India Company set foot, approximately two million Europeans are buried in the Indian subcontinent. In Calcutta - capital of British-ruled India from 1772 to 1911 - there are four major cemeteries. Uttar Pradesh has several in the cantonments at Lucknow, Jhansi, Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Bithoor, Kanpur and Meerut. Picturesque Himachal Pradesh - whose capital Shimla was the summer capital of British India - has almost 6,000 graves in cemeteries in Shimla, Dharamsala, Dagshai, Dalhousie, Kasauli and McLeodgunj. Two years ago, 68 cemeteries were declared national monuments by the Tourism Ministry and special funds sanctioned for their preservation. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, there are French cemeteries in Pondicherry and Mahe, while thousands of Portuguese are buried in Goa. 'We are digitalising burial records so that visitors can zero in on their relatives at the click of a mouse,' said Dominic Padre of the Goa Catholic Congregation. Interestingly, Jewish cemeteries in the southern state of Kerala are pulling Israeli visitors: descendants of Indian Jews who migrated to Israel from Kerala. BACSA's Rosie Llewellyn-Jones said that British tourists are making a beeline for the resting places of their forefathers because of 'often an inbuilt love of cemeteries among the British people' and a 'huge boom' in genealogy and research into one's ancestors. 'A large number of British people had relatives who served in India, not just as officials, but as soldiers, shopkeepers, traders, tea planters, forest officials, teachers, missionaries, photographers,' she said. 'Tourists and researchers are going to India to find and photograph the graves of their ancestors, and also to see the places where their ancestors lived and worked, so there is a spin-off effect.' 'In hill stations like Shimla the cemeteries are very similar to our British cemeteries. 'They were deliberately created to be like a little part of England, a 'foreign field that is for ever England' as the poet said, and so we feel at home there.' Mr Ahmed's department is in regular touch with BACSA and another London-based organisation called Families in British India Society (FIBIS). The minister himself is confident that before long India's colonial graveyards will become prime tourist destinations like London's Highgate Cemetery or the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Ms Llewellyn-Jones said that India's vigorous campaign to draw British tourists to where their ancestors are buried virtually guarantees that the 'venerable old cemeteries will survive honourably instead of degenerating into ruin and desolation in the 21st century'. Significantly, cemetery tourism is spawning a highly lucrative offshoot. Tourism officials now plan to help an estimated 10 million people of Indian origin living outside India retrace their roots. 'If we are able to locate their ancestral village and take them there where they can meet their long-lost relatives, we will give them additional reason to come to India and they will get additional value for money,' an official said. The huge Indian diaspora in the West Indies, Africa and Southeast Asia was born to parents who left India in the 18th and 19th century as indentured labour to work in plantations and build roads and railways. Over decades the Indian community has acquired a high profile in several countries, shining in business ventures as well as in politics. Not too long ago, Basdeo Panday, then the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, successfully traced his ancestral village in eastern Uttar Pradesh with the help of government officials. It was an isolated case. Now it's likely to become an organised business practice yielding high returns.