Agra: The scorching
summer heat is taking its toll on the Taj Mahal, the timeless
monument of love, blasted by sand from the dry Yamuna bed and the
dust-laden winds from the Rajasthan desert.
However, conservationists say that the crisis the Taj confronts
comes not merely from nature and pollution but also from people
themselves - too many tourists and too many vehicles that bring
them to Agra.
Eco-activist Shishir Bhagat, president of Wake UP Agra, says: "The
number of vehicles in the city has shot up from just around 40,000
in 1985, when Firozabad was part of Agra district, to almost
800,000 now. The air is loaded with pollutants."
Originally described as "Bagh e Baahist", a heavenly garden, the
Taj Mahal has now degenerated into just another popular tourist
spot, according a historian.
"When thousands of tourists 'invade' the serene monument every
day, leaving behind hand and foot marks on the white stones, and
tonnes of noxious gases through breathing, the cumulative affect
on the fragile structure is huge," historian R.C. Sharma told IANS.
According to him, while many tourists are genuinely aware of the
historic significance of the monument and its great heritage
value, there are others who care nothing for the sanctity of the
The human-load is increasing every year and is taking its toll.
Last year more than four million people visited the Taj. The entry
is free for children below 15 years.
"Each Friday, when the mausoleum is closed for tourists, Muslim
faithfuls are allowed free entry to offer prayers. During the
annual Urs of emperor Shah Jahan, the entry is free for three days
and the number exceeds 50,000 daily," Rajeev Tiwari, president of
the Tourism and Travel Agents Association, told IANS.
Tiwari recalled that in the past a visit to the Taj was "almost
like a spiritual journey to a shrine".
According to heritage photographer Lalit, "the hyped-up
romanticism attached to the monument and the guides spinning out
cheap gossipy yarns to titillate the tourists have in a way
defiled the sanctity of the structure".
Abhinav Jain, a tourism industry leader, said: "The mausoleum must
have been originally designed for 50 or 100 visitors a day. But
now there is no end. With the tourism department and the Agra
Development Authority making extra efforts to promote tourism, the
number will continue to rise."
According to Jain, there has to be a better way of regulating
visitors inside the Taj.
He said: "It is time they had a system in place, allowing a
specific number of visitors inside the Taj for a fixed period.
Also online reservation facility should be made available so that
the entry is orderly and spread out."
To a casual observer the iconic white marble monument looks pale,
jaundiced, fatigued and sick. The vibrant freshness of the past is
missing, said Sandeep, a hotelier of Taj Ganj.
According to Ved Goutam, a tour guide, Agra has already become a
"When you see the camels moving around on the dry river bed, one
gets the impression that Agra is in a desert, a part of the
Rajasthan state," he said.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has restored the Mehtab
Bagh at the rear of the Taj Mahal and the state forest department
has developed a dense green buffer along the river bank on the
But the major problem is the Yamuna, which has been reduced to a
Shyam Singh Yadav, retired chief horticulturist of the ASI, said
"it was a herculean task developing a well laid out green heritage
garden behind the Taj".
However, conservationists remain worried whether this small patch
of green can insulate the Taj from the high SPM (suspended
particulate matter) level at the peak of the summer.
"If there is no fresh supply of water in the river that touches
the Taj foundation to provide a shock-absorbing buffer to insulate
the building from seismic movements, the fear is that the monument
could tilt, cave in or struggle for stability," said Surendra
Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation
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