World Heritage Week ends, Taj Mahal 'much more hypnotisingly beautiful' than imagined
The World Heritage Week celebrations came to an end on Sunday, after a series of activities including a cleanliness drive at historical monuments, a painting contest, ritualistic welcome of foreign guests and a photo exhibition.
The 17th century Monument of Love -- Taj Mahal -- was visited by more than 40,000 tourists on Sunday, while on Saturday the figure was 41,350. Entry to children below 15 is free.
Aditi, a medical doctor, who arrived early with her husband Arjun from the United States, was truly ecstatic after a glimpse of the white-marble marvel from the entrance. "Wow! Just like the picture postcard, I saw, in fact much more hypnotisingly beautiful than I had imagined."
After the recent mudpack 'beauty treatment', the Taj wears a dazzling shine.
"In the soft winter sunshine, flanked by green foliage and the river Yamuna flowing majestically at the rear, the scene is plain heavenly," exclaimed Arjun, who saw the monument for the first time.
Visitors to the Taj Mahal appeared largely satisfied with the facilities available at the monument.
The toilets are cleaner and much better maintained, noted Yogesh Kapoor of Karnal, who had come after several years with his family. He was particularly happy at the way the crowd was being managed. "So many people, yet such smooth flow and such good ramps for the disabled on wheelchairs."
While tourists showed plenty of interest in visiting monuments in Agra during the World Heritage Week, the locals lamented the rampant encroachment by squatters. The cultural activists blamed the Archaeological Survey of India for not doing enough to bind the local population with the rich historical heritage of the city.
"It is sad and unfortunate that the public in Agra hardly feel a sense of pride or emotional connection with some of the world's best architectural properties. Rather, the heritage is seen as an impediment in the economic development of the city. This is perhaps due to a series of restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court to control pollution," said Surendra Sharma, President of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
This perhaps explains the general apathy towards history and heritage in Agra, Sharma added.
Agra, about 200 km south of New Delhi, has three World Heritage monuments - the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri - and numerous other buildings and sites drawing lakhs of tourists around the year.
Eminent Mughal historian R. Nath said: "The mandarins in ASI, mostly passionless babus, have little idea about history, culture or modern-day conservational practices."
Perhaps the greatest threat to heritage monuments is the encroachments. The ASI, however, says that the state government agencies have not provided it with the necessary support and police back-up to deter the encroachers.
Almost all Mughal monuments have been dwarfed by encroachments, though the Taj has been able to breathe easy because of the apex court and international concern for its safety. Other monuments are not so lucky.
Delhi Gate, close to the Raja Mandi station, finds itself threatened by new constructions, but the district authorities do not have the courage to act against the powerful encroachers.
(With inputs from agencies.)
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