Musafir Says

Taj in trouble

OPINION

taj-eid450
File photo of Eid prayers at the Taj. Approximately 15,000 visitors come to the Taj daily, and peak hour visitors numbers are much higher!  (PIc: AFRP)

Over the Diwali weekend, apparently 1.5 lakh people visited the Taj Mahal. Such was the overcrowding that the crowds overwhelmed the security guards, and did pretty much what they pleased.

On this occasion, reports mention that people had a free run, from clicking pictures in the mausoleum to running their sweaty palms down Shah Jahan’s labour of love, the damage done to this 363 year old building in a single weekend must have been considerable. Apparently shoe covers ran out of stock and innumerable tourists were seen stomping around in their shoes, rendering the lone policeman’s duty impossible.

This was not the first time. Conservationists have long expressed concern over the way entry into the Taj is regulated. In 2012, following a Supreme Court order, the The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had commissioned a study to the NEERI to gauge the Taj Mahal’s load bearing capacity. The final report is awaited.

Experts believe that if this kind of unregulated and undisciplined traffic goes on, the damage to India’s biggest tourist attraction will be irreversible.

[stextbox id=”alert” caption=”Saving the taj” float=”true” width=”350″ bcolor=”529C4C” bgcolorto=”D5FFD4″ mleft=”1″ mright=”10″ mtop=”3″ mbottom=”3″]

The Taj Mahal has been diagnosed with a life threatening disease; Marble Cancer. Experts predicted that if the air in Agra was not monitored and cleaned, the exterior of the mausoleum would, eventually turn black.

Up until 1993, 1,700 factories in and around Agra were belching out noxious fumes and gases, most of them illegall. The Supreme Court ordered the closure of 212 industrial plants in Agra.

When the smog was most intense, it was impossible to see the Red Fort, just 1.6 kilometers away across the Yamuna River. In 1998 UNESCO, in conjunction with the French company Rhone-Poulenc and the Archaeological Survey of India spearheaded a clean up programme.

The restoration objectives included the cleaning of the marble, research into the cleaning products and waterproofing. To prevent rain damage and algae growth special silicone-based agents have been applied to the façade.

A green buffer zone was also established around the Taj Mahal and prohibits the construction of industrial plants and supports the planting of trees and shrubs. Oil refineries have been ordered to reduce their pollutant levels and coal based brick kilns have been banned or ordered to switch to gas.

Traffic is also a significant problem in Agra, with high levels of carbon monoxide in the air. The city and the surrounding area have 5.5 million people living there and attract 7 million tourists annually.

Source: http://www.taj-mahal.net

[/stextbox]

Conservationists have long called for the carrying capacity of the Taj Mahal to be fixed in the long-term interest of these buildings. The average number of tourists is 15,000 a day. On some days, the number of visitors at the Taj crosses 20,000, stressing the monument in several ways including raising the level of noxious gases. ASI, which maintains this monument, has mentioned that 60,000 to 70,000 people are inside the monument sometimes!

Even entry ticket prices are skewed. While most foreigners travel long distances to see the Taj, and are usually from societies where care for history is paramount, they are charged between Rs 750 and Rs 970. Most Indians however, travelling often in large groups – treat it as a picnic destination, running around, playing, and displaying utter ignorance of their own land’s history and legacy, pay just Rs 20 (Indians pay Rs 110 for sunrise and sunset entry). And damaging the monument in the process. There are exceptions in both categories, but they are few and far between.

Concessions in the name of pleasing religious groups is another challenge. Conservationists had expressed concern over the decision to allow free entry to the Taj Mahal for three days when the annual Urs pilgrimage of Shah Jahan was held. Reportedly, thousands entered the Taj Mahal free to offer ‘namaz’ and had a free tour of the monument!

The Taj is supposed to be closed on Friday, basically to provide breathing time and for maintenance work after the apex court accepted the recommendations of the high-powered S. Varadarajan Committee, but now even on Fridays the number of visitors is increasing, again in the name of offering prayers at the mosque.

According to conservationist VP Singh, the movement of heavy traffic including thousands of buses and trucks daily between the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal – both World Heritage monuments – needs to be restricted or banned. ASI has opposed a proposed museum on the Taj at the site, but far more needs to be done.

The people of India have to take a call as to whether the Taj is to have a future. This probably means the informed group, who realise the dangers of overtourism. What it will to the already fragile image of India, tourism related or otherwise, is incalculable. Also, surely no state government, especially one that has done so little in helping its cause – the Uttar Pradesh state government should have no say in allowing free entry in the name of populism.

[stextbox id=”custom” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ bcolor=”5257FF” bgcolorto=”D4DFFF” mleft=”10″ mright=”1″ mtop=”3″ mbottom=”3″]

Taj Mahal basics:

Location: Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Built by: Shah Jahan
Built in: 1632–1653
Purpose: Funerary tomb
Architectural style: Mughal
Main facade material: White marble
Height: 73 m (240 ft)

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Type: Cultural
Criteria: i
Designated: 1983 

[/stextbox]

If money alone speaks, then let it. The Taj is Indian tourism’s golden goose, and brings in millions of dollars in revenue each year. According to estimates from the Centre, the mausoleum and its integrated complex of structures raked in Rs 21.84 crore, mostly in entrance fees, last year. The cost on maintenance and repairs of the Taj in the last fiscal – Rs 2.85 crore – for a monument the government of India has not spent a rupee to build. Agra Fort brought in another Rs 10.22 crore – and that only because the Taj is there in the first place. Together these two monuments earn the maximum revenue of all monuments in India, the top 20 monuments generated Rs 80.01 crore together. It would be a huge loss to lose this revenue surely.

Experts have long suggested many steps to improve the health of the Taj. Many suggestions have been made into law, and post its listing into UNESCO’s World Heritage List, steps have been taken. It is just that they seem to be lacklustre. It’s almost as is preserving the Taj is just another chore for the government.

In August this year, the ASI announced plans to restrict the number of tourists allowed entry to the Taj Mahal in a day, and introduce a provision to issue a limited number of tickets per day. The step needs to expedited as it will a crucial one to prolong the life of the Taj.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here