TAJ MAHAL

TAJ MAHAL

The Taj Mahal (in Agra, 210 kilometers east-southeast of Delhi) is arguably the world’s most famous tourist sight. Over the years hundreds of writers have sung its praises. Paul Theroux wrote it "is something else. Just looking at it you are certain you will never forget it. It is not merely a visual experience, but an emotional one — its pure symmetry imparts such strong feelings; and it’s a spiritual experience, too, for the Taj Mahal is alone among buildings I have seen. It is not merely lovely; it looks as if it has a soul."

The Taj Mahal is considered by many to be the most beautiful building ever constructed by mankind. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (ruled 1628-1658), its creator, said that the beauty of the monument made “the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes”. Nobel laureate Rabindranath described it as a “teardrop on the cheek of eternity”. The monument was built as a memorial by Shah Jahan for his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and is treasured not only in Agra and India but by the world as a whole. The Taj Mahal is featured in almost all literature about India and is one of the most enduring images of the country. Its name is believed to have been derived from the Persian words ‘taj’ meaning crown and ‘mahal’ meaning palace, making it “the palace of the crown.”

The Taj Mahal is so overhyped that many people expect to be disappointed when they see it. Few are. The Taj Mahal works both from afar with its curves, symmetry and majesty and up close, with its exquisite details. The only disappointments are the pollution damage, the ugliness of Agra and the crowds. Some say the Taj is smaller than they thought. The Taj draws millions of visitors a year, more than any other attraction in India, and it often seems like half of them are there on the day you chose to visit. Among the visitors are poor Indians who say they come here to sing love songs because it makes them feel hopeful.

The Taj Mahal is set in front of the Yamuna River and the best view is with the sky in the background and the reflecting pool in front. The color of the marble changes throughout the day and turns from white to yellow to orange to fiery red and finally black at sunset. The white contrasts with the red sandstone of the mosque and its matching jawab, the two buildings that flank the Taj. The curves of the dome and the tomb have a feminine quality. The minarets help to anchor in place. The marble platform the Taj sits is a stroke of genius, showcasing its magnificence, with the only background being the sky. The gardens that surround it augment the beauty. The skills of the stoneworkers is best appreciated in the delicate, lacy marble screen around the tomb.

Taj Mahal UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Taj Mahal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. According to UNESCO: “The Taj Mahal, an immense mausoleum of white marble, built in Agra by order of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage. It no doubt partially owes its renown to the moving circumstances of its construction. Shah Jahan, in order to perpetuate the memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631, had this funerary mosque built. The monument, begun in 1632, was finished in 1648; unverified but nonetheless, tenacious, legends attribute its construction to an international team of several thousands of masons, marble workers, mosaicists and decorators working under the orders of the architect of the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahori. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

Situated on the right bank of the Yamuna in a vast Mughal garden of some 17 hectares, this funerary monument, bounded by four isolated minarets, reigns with its octagonal structure capped by a bulbous dome through the criss-cross of open perspectives offered by alleys or basins of water. The rigour of a perfect elevation of astonishing graphic purity is disguised and almost contradicted by the scintillation of a fairy-like decor where the white marble, the main building material, brings out and scintillates the floral arabesques, the decorative bands, and the calligraphic inscriptions which are incrusted in polychromatic pietra dura. The materials were brought in from all over India and central Asia and white Makrana marble from Jodhpur. Precious stones for the inlay came from Baghdad, Punjab, Egypt, Russia, Golconda, China, Afghanistan, Ceylon, Indian Ocean and Persia. The unique Mughal style combines elements and styles of Persian, Central Asian and Islamic architecture.

“The Taj Mahal is considered to be the greatest architectural achievement in the whole range of Indo-Islamic architecture. Its recognized architectonic beauty has a rhythmic combination of solids and voids, concave and convex and light shadow; such as arches and domes further increases the aesthetic aspect. The color combination of lush green scape reddish pathway and blue sky over it show cases the monument in ever changing tints and moods. The relief work in marble and inlay with precious and semi precious stones make it a monument apart.

“The existence of several historical and Quaranic inscriptions in Arabic script have facilitated setting the chronology of Taj Mahal....Taj Mahal represents the finest architectural and artistic achievement through harmony and excellent craftsmanship in a whole range of Indo-Islamic sepulchral architecture. It is a masterpiece of architectural style in conception, treatment and execution and has unique aesthetic qualities in balance, symmetry and harmonious blending of various elements.”

History the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to honor his favorite wife Empress Mumtaz-I-Mahal (“Chosen One of the Palaces”) who died at the age of 39 in 1631 after bearing her 14th child. Shan Jahan was reportedly so grief stricken when his wife died his hair turned grey overnight. When Mumtaz Mahal died, a court historian wrote: ““Alas! This transitory world is unstable, and the rose of its comfort is embedded in a field of thorns. In the dustbin of the world, no breeze blows which does not raise the dust of anguish; and in the assembly of the world, no one happily occupies a seat who does not vacate it full of sorrow.”

The name the Taj Mahal is sometimes said to be shortened version of the name Mutaz Mahal. Shah Jahan vowed to build the world’s greatest monument to express his love. For its construction, masons, stone-cutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome builders and other artisans were brought in from the all over the Mughal empire and also from the Central Asia, Iran and the Middle East. Ustad-Ahmad Lahori was the main architect of the Taj Mahal.

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “ “Part of the Taj Mahal’s beauty derives from the story the stones embody. Though a tomb for the dead, it is also a monument to love, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, fifth in a line of rulers who had originally come as conquerors from the Central Asian steppes. The Mughals were the dominant power on the Indian subcontinent for much of the 16th to 18th centuries, and the empire reached its cultural zenith under Shah Jahan. He constructed the Taj (which means “crown,” and is also a form of the Persian word “chosen”) as a final resting place for his favorite wife, Arjumand Banu, better known as Mumtaz Mahal (Chosen One of the Palace). A court poet recorded the emperor’s despair at her death in 1631, at the age of 38, after giving birth to the couple’s 14th child: “The color of youth flew away from his cheeks; The flower of his countenance ceased blooming.” He wept so often “his tearful eyes sought help from spectacles.” To honor his wife, Shah Jahan decided to build a tomb so magnificent that it would be remembered throughout the ages. [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“For more than 15 years, he directed the construction of a complex of buildings and gardens that was meant to mirror the Islamic vision of Paradise. First he selected the perfect spot: it had to be tranquil, away from the bustle of Agra, even then a thriving commercial center. “You had many flimsy detached little houses where the locals lived and where, occasionally, sparks would fly out of cooking fires and catch the thatch in the roofs and set whole neighborhoods aflame,” says Diana Preston, author, with her husband, Michael, of Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Mughal Empire.” \*\

Shah Jahan spent the last nine years of his life staring a the Taj Mahal out of the window of his palace before he was eventually entombed there. Although it is best known as a symbol of love, it is also said that the Taj Mahal as an embodiment of Shah Jahan’s vision of kingship. The story goes that he sought to build something akin to heaven on earth, a spectacular, unbelievably beautiful monument that reinforced the power as well as the perceived divinity of the monarch as next only to the Almighty.

It is also said that in the original plan a Taj Mahal made from black marble was going to be built across the Yamuna River from the white one. These plans were scrapped by the Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's son and austere successor. Aurangzib, one chronicle wrote, "was not disposed to complete it." The Black Taj story appears to be a myth. Extensive archaeological excavations at Mehtab Bagh, which lies across the Yamuna River from the Taj, has revealed no evidence of any such structure. Aurangzib chose to make a larger but less beautiful building to honor himself. Aurangzib also reportedly added his father’s tomb to the Taj to unbalance its symmetry. A fanatically devout Muslim, Aurangzeb believed that symmetry and perfection should be reserved for God.

After the Mughal empire went into decline the Taj was lotted of its fine carpets. silver doors, tapestries and jewels by Britons and Jats. One British governor general even suggested dismantling the Taj and selling the marble. That plan was scrapped and instead it and the mosque were used for dancing parties. The gardens were modified with lawns by the British and were used by picnickers who sometimes came armed with chisels and hammers to chip out pieces of agate and carnelian.

A 400 square meter green-and-black cloth reportedly was stitched together in 2002 when tensions rose between India and Pakistan to hide the Taj Mahal in the case of a Pakistan bombing attack. The idea was for the cloth to be strung between the four minarets so the Taj Mahal could not be seen from the air. Bunkers were built for armed guards.

Construction of the Taj Mahal

The world's most magnificent building is believed to have taken some 20,000 craftsmen, working around the clock, 18 years to complete at a cost of 40 million rupees (around US$1 billion in today’s money). Labor was cheap then as it is now. Construction started in 1632, two years after the death of Shah Jahan’s wife. The main tomb took 16 years to build and the rest took another five or six years. The white marble used to construct it was quarried 320 kilometers away in Makrana and transported to the site by oxen and bullock carts.

A master mason was brought in from Baghdad; a dome specialist was requisitioned from Turkey. Flower carvers came from Bukhara, pinnacle makers from Samarqand, calligraphers from Baghdad, dome constructors from Constantinople, masons from Qaundhar and Mughal gardeners were all brought in to the complete the building, which was based on the tomb of Khan Khahan in Delhi, and its surroundings. According to legend the hands of the most skilled artisans were cut off and their eyes were gouged out after they were finished so they never duplicate their work again. This also appears to be a myth. There is no historical evidence to support such claims.

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: ““Near the river, where wealthy Mughals were building grand mansions, Shah Jahan acquired land from one of his vassals, the Raja of Amber. He could have simply seized it. But according to Islamic tradition, a woman who dies in childbirth is a martyr; her burial place is holy and must be acquired justly. Shah Jahan provided four properties in exchange. [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“The Taj site was located along a sharp bend in the Yamuna, which slowed the movement of the water and also reduced the possibility of erosion along the riverbank. The water, moreover, provided a glistening mirror to reflect light from the marble, which changes color and tone depending on the hour, day and season. “Marble is of crystalline composition, allowing light to enter rather deeply before it is reflected,” says Koch. “It responds very strongly to different atmospheric conditions, which gives it a spiritual quality.” Across the river, where we had earlier tried to find a boat, is the Mahtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden). Today the area is a restored botanical garden, but it was once part of the Taj’s overall design, a place to view the mausoleum by the light of the moon and stars. \*\

“Shah Jahan employed top architects and builders, as well as thousands of other workers — stone carvers and bricklayers, calligraphers and masters of gemstone inlay. Lapis lazuli came from Afghanistan, jade from China, coral from Arabia and rubies from Sri Lanka. Traders brought turquoise by yak across the mountains from Tibet. (The most precious stones had been looted long ago, says Preston.) Ox-drawn carts trekked roughly 200 miles to Rajasthan where the Makrana quarries were celebrated for their milky white marble (and still are). Laborers constructed scaffolding and used a complex system of ropes and pulleys to haul giant stone slabs to the uppermost reaches of the domes and minarets. The 144-foot-high main dome, constructed of brick masonry covered in white marble, weighs 12,000 tons, according to one estimate. The Taj was also the most ambitious inscription project ever undertaken, depicting more than two dozen quotations from the Koran on the Great Gate, mosque and mausoleum.” \*\

Design of the Taj Mahal

Nobody is sure who designed the Taj Mahal. No official surviving document names the architect. Some think it was designed by Ustad Ahamad Lahori (Ustad Isa), a Persian master builder and architect of other Shah Jahan buildings. Others think it was the work of a committee with the shah himself playing a major role. Others say it was Venetian jeweler Geronimo Veroneo. It is said that Ustad Ahmad Lahori was the chief of the project while Ustad Isa Afandi made the site plan. The calligraphic work has been credited to Amanat Ali Khan Shirazi. Ustad Ahamad Lahori said he was the architect but accessing how involved he was in the design and construction of the building is hard to access. The court chronicler Lahori wrote that Shah Jahan would make "appropriate alterations to whatever the skillful architects had designed after considerable thought and would ask the architects competent questions."

The Taj Mahal is built in accordance with the Persian view of the world. The dome symbolizes the vault of heaven over a square building representing the world. The Taj Mahal’s design was not original. The tomb of the Mughal leader Humayan, built almost a century earlier, appears to have been a model for the Taj. Similar minarets are found in Lahore. The cupola beside the dome and other features were common in Indian architecture. What makes the Taj so extraordinary are the way all the various elements are brought together in harmonious symmetry. The position of the building was carefully chosen.

Located on a bend of a river, the Taj Mahal is surrounded on three side by water. Reflecting pools, fountains, cypress trees and gardens grace the forth side. The walls of the Taj Mahal were once adorned with diamonds, sapphires, amethysts and turquoise stones. Small pieces of turquoise, lapis lazuli, agate, jasper, malachite, coral and carnelian were inlaid in the marble to add color and delicacy to floral designs. Many of these semi-precious stones have been gouged out by vandals. Above the crypts, penitents kneel beside the candlelight cenotaphs. Around the cenotaphs is an octagon-ranged marble screens set in inlaid frames that alone took more than 10 years to make.

The Taj Mahal features many optical illusions and masterful architectural safeguards. As one first beholds the monument from the main gate, for instance, the Taj Mahal looks large and imposing, but as you move closer, it appears to shrink in size. Similarly, when viewed from a certain distance, it looks like all the calligraphy on the facade of the building is the same size, an illusion created by the fact the calligraphy gets bigger the higher up — and further way from the viewer — they are. Also, the minarets surrounding the edifice, while perfectly upright to the naked eye, have actually been constructed to lean away from it so that, should a disaster like an earthquake come about, they would fall away from and not on the mausoleum.

According to UNESCO: “The Taj Mahal is a perfect symmetrical planned building, with an emphasis of bilateral symmetry along a central axis on which the main features are placed. The building material used is brick-in-lime mortar veneered with red sandstone and marble and inlay work of precious/semi precious stones. The mosque and the guest house in the Taj Mahal complex are built of red sandstone in contrast to the marble tomb in the center. Both the buildings have a large platform over the terrace at their front. Both the mosque and the guest house are the identical structures. They have an oblong massive prayer hall consist of three vaulted bays arranged in a row with central dominant portal. The frame of the portal arches and the spandrels are veneered in white marble. The spandrels are filled with flowery arabesques of stone intarsia and the arches bordered with rope molding.” [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

Architecture of the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s finest examples of Islamic art and architecture, embracing Persian, Indian and Central Asian influences. Many of the architectural features that make the building work are hidden. The double-layered dome gives it both size and grandeur. Water for the gardens is supplied by an ingenious system of underground pipes. The symmetry of the structure is perfect except for Shah Mahan’s tomb, which was placed in the Taj Mahal by his son Aurangzeb.

The Taj Mahal complex is laid out in a rectangle, with the mausoleum standing at the northern end, and a monumental gateway on the southern side. The main building is 57 meters (186 feet) square. The dome is 21 meters (70 feet) in diameter and 36.5 meters (120 feet) high. Each facade is lightened by an arrangement of recessed arches. The great dome rests on the drum like a ball on cup, allowing it to soar above the rest of the building like a cloud. The red-sandstone platform the mausoleum and minarets rest on measure 40 meters (130 feet) on each side. The 41-meter (133-foot) high minarets rise from the four corners of the mausoleum’s platform.

According to UNESCO: “The uniqueness of Taj Mahal lies in some truly remarkable innovations carried out by the horticulture planners and architects of Shah Jahan. One such genius planning is the placing of tomb at one end of the quadripartite garden rather than in the exact center, which added rich depth and perspective to the distant view of the monument. It is also, one of the best examples of raised tomb variety. The tomb is further raised on a square platform with the four sides of the octagonal base of the minarets extended beyond the square at the corners. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

“The top of the platform is reached through a lateral flight of steps provided in the center of the southern side. The ground plan of the Taj Mahal is in perfect balance of composition, the octagonal tomb chamber in the center, encompassed by the portal halls and the four corner rooms. The plan is repeated on the upper floor. The exterior of the tomb is square in plan, with chamfered corners. The four free-standing minarets at the corners of the platform added a hitherto unknown dimension to the Mughal architecture. The four minarets provide not only a kind of spatial reference to the monument but also give a three dimensional effect to the edifice.”

Taj Mahal Mausoleum

According to UNESCO: “The Taj Mahal itself, situated in the north end of the garden, stands on two bases, one of sandstone and above it a square platform worked into a black and white chequerboard design and topped by a huge blue-veined white marble terrace, on each corner there are four minarets. On the east and west sides of the tomb are identical red sandstone buildings. On the west is the masjid (mosque), which sanctifies the area and provides a place of worship. On the other sides is the jawab, which cannot be used for prayer as it faces away from Mecca. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

“The rauza, the central structure or the mausoleum on the platform, is square with bevelled corners. Each corner has small domes while in the center is the main double dome topped by a brass finial. The main chamber inside is octagonal with a high domed ceiling. This chamber contains false tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan, laid to rest in precise duplicates in a. Both tombs are exquisitely inlaid and decorated with precious stones, the finest in Agra.”

The Taj Mahal's pure white marble shimmers silver in the moonlight, glows softly pink at dawn, and at close of day reflects the fiery tints of the setting Sun. Diana Preston, author of “Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Mughal Empire” said “The domed mausoleum appears as wondrous as a fairy tale palace. The only visual backdrop is the sky. The Taj Mahal has a quality of floating, an ethereal, dream-like quality.” There are intricate inscriptions on all four entrances, while marble carvings and pietra dura mosaics adorn the walls. Lapis-lazuli, cornelian, mother of pearl, agate and emerald are some of the precious gems and stones that were once used in its design.

It is said that while the Taj is a testament to love, it was also an embodiment Shah Jahan’s power. the emperor’s historian wrote: “They laid the plan for a magnificent building and a dome of high foundation which for its loftiness will until the Day of Resurrection remain a memorial to the sky-reaching ambition of His Majesty...and its strength will represent the firmness of the intentions of its builder.” From an octagonal tower in the Agra Fort across the River Yamuna, Shah Jahan spent his last days as a prisoner of his son and usurper to the empire, Aurangzeb, gazing at the tomb of his beloved Mumtaz.

Interior of the Taj Mahal

Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz-i-Mahl are both buried inside the Taj Mahal mausoleum. The Taj’s tombs are not really tombs but rather are cenotaphs because the bodies are buried beneath them not in them. The main crypt is below the vaulted tomb chamber and it is connected to the other rooms by corridors lit by the perforated grilles in recessed arches. The main archways are adorned with chiseled designs of plant forms, Arabic calligraphy and floral designs. The grey-grained white marble was quarried from the hills of Makrana.. The echo in the tomb its supposed to reverberate for 15 seconds.

According to UNESCO: “The large double storied domed chamber, which houses the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, is a perfect octagon in plan. The exquisite octagonal marble lattice screen encircling both cenotaphs is a piece of superb workmanship. It is highly polished and richly decorated with inlay work. The borders of the frames are inlaid with precious stones representing flowers executed with wonderful perfection. The hues and the shades of the stones used to make the leaves and the flowers appear almost real. The cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal is in perfect center of the tomb chamber, placed on a rectangular platform decorated with inlaid flower plant motifs. The cenotaph of Shah Jahan is greater than Mumtaz Mahal and installed more than thirty years later by the side of the latter on its west. The upper cenotaphs are only illusory and the real graves are in the lower tomb chamber (crypt), a practice adopted in the imperial Mughal tombs. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Inside the main room, the richly engraved cenotaphs (empty memorial sarcophagi) of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are located behind an elaborate jali, or marble screen. A second set of cenotaphs is located in a lower chamber, inaccessible to ordinary visitors. It is believed the emperor and his beloved wife are buried even more deeply in the earth. The cenotaphs, the marble screen and marble walls are decorated with exquisite floral patterns of colored stone and inlaid inscriptions from the Koran.” [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

Gateway to the Taj Mahal

According to UNESCO: “The most impressive in the Taj Mahal complex next to the tomb, is the main gate which stands majestically in the center of the southern wall of the forecourt. The gate is flanked on the north front by double arcade galleries.The Darwaza, the majestic main gateway, is a large three-storey red sandstone structure, completed in 1648, with an octagonal central chamber with a vaulted roof and with smaller rooms on each side. The gateway consists of lofty central arch with two-storeyed wings on either side. The walls are inscribed with verses from the Qu'ran in Arabic in black calligraphy. The small domed pavilions on top are Hindu in style and signify royalty. The gate was originally lined with silver, now replaced with copper, and decorated with 1,000 nails whose heads were contemporary silver coins.” [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “I walked with other tourists — mostly Indian — into the Jilaukhana, or forecourt. Here, in the days of Shah Jahan, visitors would dismount from their horses or elephants. Delegations would gather and compose themselves before passing through the Great Gate to the gardens and the mausoleum. Even now, a visitor experiences a spiritual progression from the mundane world of the city to the more spacious and serene area of the forecourt and, finally, through the Great Gate to the heavenly abode of the riverfront gardens and mausoleum. [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“The Great Gate is covered with red sandstone and marble, and features flowery inlay work. It has an imposing, fortress-like quality — an architectural sentry guarding the more delicate structure within. The enormous entranceway is bordered by Koranic script, a passage from Sura 89, which beckons the charitable and faithful to enter Paradise. Visitors stream through a large room, an irregular octagon with alcoves and side rooms, from where they catch their first view of the white-marble mausoleum and its four soaring minarets nearly 1,000 feet ahead. \*\

The Taj Mahal mausoleum looks the same from all four sides, except the one that faces the Yamuna River. This side is said to have been especially embellished to serve as the main entrance for the emperor. Shah Jahan would approach the Taj Mahal from the river, aboard a barge, while the entrance used by tourists today served, at the time, as an entryway for soldiers and common people.

Garden and Reflecting Pool of the Taj Mahal

A large garden area sits between the main gateway and the mausoleum. Water for the gardens is supplied by an ingenious system of underground pipes. According to UNESCO: “The gate is flanked on the north front by double arcade galleries. The garden in front of the galleries is subdivided into four quarters by two main walk-ways and each quarters in turn subdivided by the narrower cross-axial walkways, on the Timurid-Persian scheme of the walled in garden. The enclosure walls on the east and west have a pavilion at the center. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

“The Bageecha, the ornamental gardens through which the paths lead, are planned along classical Mughal char bagh style. Two marble canals studded with fountains, lined with cypress trees emanating from the central, raised pool cross in the center of the garden, dividing it into four equal squares. In each square there are 16 flower beds, making a total of 64 with around 400 plants in each bed. The feature to be noted is that the garden is laid out in such a way as to maintain perfect symmetry. The channels, with a perfect reflection of the Taj, used to be stocked with colorful fish and the gardens with beautiful birds.”

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “The mausoleum sits atop a raised platform in the distance, at the end of a central water channel that bisects the gardens and serves as a reflecting pool. This canal, and another that crosses on an east-west axis, meet at a central reservoir, slightly raised. They are designed to represent the four rivers of Paradise. Once, the canals irrigated the gardens, which were lusher than they are today. Mughal architects constructed an intricate system of aqueducts, storage tanks and underground channels to draw water from the Yamuna River. But now the gardens are watered from tube wells. [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“To further mimic the beauty of Paradise, Shah Jahan planted flowers and fruit trees, which encouraged butterflies to flit about. Some historians say the trees were grown in earth that was originally below the pathways — perhaps as much as five feet down, allowing visitors to pluck fruit as they strolled the grounds. By the time Britain assumed rule over Agra in 1803, the Taj complex was dilapidated and the gardens were overgrown. The British cut down many of the trees and changed the landscaping to resemble the bare lawns of an English manor. Visitors today often sit on the grass. \*\

Taj Mahal and Tourism

The Taj Mahal is the most visited monument in India and one of the country's biggest foreign tourist draws. Around 6.9 million people visited the monument in 2019, with the vast majority of them being Indians. In 1874, the British traveler Edward Lear declared, “henceforth, let the inhabitants of the world be divided into two classes — them as seen the Taj Mahal, and them as hasn’t.” Around 6.5 million visited in 2016 and 5 million in 2010. In 2018, after some people were hurt, the number of visitors was limited to 40,000 a day. An entrance ticket for foreigners is around US$16. The fee is considerably less for Indians.

At one time about 200 photographers worked at the Taj Mahal. They charged about $1 a piece and specialized in taking gimmicky pictures such as the “the Holding Taj,” which creates the illusion that the subject is pinching the top of the main dome,, and “The Jumping Taj,” in which people look as if they are flying off the Taj. You can also have pictures taken which make it look as if you are holding the Taj in the palm or your hand or are standing on top of it. These days tourists are obsessed with selfies and take all the shots mentioned above with their friends or family or the help of a bystander.

Many people like to have their picture taken on the “VIP Bench.” Among those who have been photographed there are Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Princess Diana and Jacqueline Kennedy, Every year millions of ordinary Indians have their picture taken at the same spot. Often lines form as people wait their turn. Many Indian newlyweds come to the Taj Mahal to have heir photographs taken.

In the late 1990s the hours of the Taj Mahal were extended to allow moonlight tours. These were discontinued when tensions arose between India and Pakistan and then were resumed. Work has been done on improving the tourist facilities and controlling the flow of people. On the streets and entrance ways to the Taj are hawkers, vendors and camel cart owners who view tourists as cash cows. There is — or was — even one place with a row of dancing bears that stand up each time tourist pass in hopes of salvaging a few rupees.

Visiting the Taj Mahal

Often there is fairly long line to get into the Taj Mahal and visitors endure a fairly rigorous pat down and frisk during the security check. As most of the visitors are Indians, there are less people on week days and non holidays. Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “I went to the Taj complex in the conventional manner: on foot, and then in a bicycle rickshaw. Motor vehicles are not allowed within 1,640 feet of the complex without government approval; the ban was imposed to reduce the air pollution at the site. I bought my $16.75 ticket at a government office near the edge of the no-vehicle zone, next to a handicraft village where rickshaw drivers wait for work. Riding in the shade in a cart propelled by a human being exposed to blazing sun felt awkward and exploitative, but environmentalists promote this form of transport as nonpolluting. For their part, rickshaw drivers seem glad for the work. [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“At the end of the ride, I waited in a ten-minute ticket-holders line at the East Gate, where everyone endures a polite security check. After a guard searched my backpack,I walked with other tourists — mostly Indian — into the Jilaukhana, or forecourt. Here, in the days of Shah Jahan, visitors would dismount from their horses or elephants. Delegations would gather and compose themselves before passing through the Great Gate to the gardens and the mausoleum. Even now, a visitor experiences a spiritual progression from the mundane world of the city to the more spacious and serene area of the forecourt and, finally, through the Great Gate to the heavenly abode of the riverfront gardens and mausoleum. \*\

“The bustling crowds and clicking cameras can detract from the serenity, but they also fill the complex with vitality and color. Walking around the back of the mausoleum, I stooped to take a photo of some rhesus monkeys. One jumped on my back before quickly bounding off....The first day I toured the complex, several hundred people were waiting in line to enter the mausoleum; I returned later in the week when the line was much shorter....The Taj Mahal is flanked on the west by a mosque, and on the east by the Mihman Khana, which was originally used as a guesthouse, and later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, as a banquet hall for British and Indian dignitaries. I found it a lovely place to escape the sun. A small boy in a black leather jacket claiming to be the son of a watchman at the Taj offered to take my picture standing under a large arched doorway, with the marble mausoleum in the background. I gave him my camera and he told me where to stand, changing the settings on my Canon and firing off photos like a pro. After that, he led me down some steps to a corner of the gardens shaded by trees to take what he called the “jungle shot,” with branches in the foreground and the white marble of the mausoleum behind. We found a chunk of carved stone, perhaps a discarded piece used in restoration work or a stone detached from the monument itself. (Three years ago, a seven-foot slab of red sandstone fell off the East gate.) Two soldiers approached, scolded the boy and shooed him away. \*\

Taj Mahal Full Moon Tour and Nature Walk

Taj Nature Walk covers a 70-hectare verdant natural paradise that offers exceptional views of the famous Taj Mahal. A great way to feast your eyes on the lesser-explored sites of the popular tourist destination, this takes you through a green belt situated on the right bank of River Yamuna. A trail covering roughly 9 kilometers, it also features a series of viewing points and a vast variety of flora and fauna. You can spot local butterflies and birds here, the latter including parakeets and kingfishers. There are also grass mounds, rifts and valleys as well as a natural ridge area here. One can also spot more than 46 kinds of flowers here and animals like blue bulls, jackals and hares.

Full Moon Taj Tour: Visiting the Taj Mahal is one thing and watching it gleam under the light of a full moon is another altogether. A night tour of the marble mausoleum is available on five nights every month, including the night on which the full moon appears and two nights before and after its appearance. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) sells tickets for these tours 24 hours before they commence, although a tentative list of dates is available on the official government website of the Taj Mahal. The viewing tour takes place between 8.30pm and 12.30am in a series of batches, each batch comprising about 50 people, who get to behold the monument in all its moonlit glory for about 30 minutes. The number of people allowed to visit within one night is around 400.

Visitors are required to reach the assembling venue half an hour before their slot, at the Shilpgram complex. This is located near the eastern gate of the Taj Mahal. Entry inside the monument is not allowed at night, and visitors can view it only from a distance. Bags and mobile phones are not allowed on these night tours, albeit cameras are, but only for still photography. There are no night tours organised on Fridays or during the holy month of Ramadan. The calendars mentioning the full moon dates are released well in advance and since these follow astrological signs, it should be kept in mind that they may vary.

Mehtab Bagh, the Black Taj and Views of the Back of the Taj Mahal

Mehtab Bagh (across the river on the back side of the Taj Mahal) is a beautiful garden located on the western banks of Yamuna River. Spread across 300 square meters, it stands in perfect alignment with the gardens of the Taj Mahal located across the river and has been the site of several intriguing excavations. Local lore holds that it was the last in a series of 11 pleasure gardens built by Mughal emperor Babur by the riverbank. Today, it stands as a delightful vantage point from where to view and photograph the Taj Mahal. The view from the entrance gate is particularly beautiful and should not be missed.

Legend goes that while emperor Babur built it, Shah Jahan identified it as the perfect spot from where to behold the Taj Mahal and gave it its name, intending for it to be a moonlit pleasure garden. Walkways, fountains, pavilions and pools were created to embellish it, and fruit trees were planted aplenty. The design is then believed to have been approached almost as though Mehtab Bagh were meant to be a part of the Taj Mahal complex, like a riverfront terrace.

The myth around Shah Jahan’s plan to build a ‘black Taj Mahal’ also starts in this expanse. Mehtab Bagh is believed to be the site where he had planned to build a black marble mausoleum for himself, a veritable twin to the Taj Mahal – in exact alignment to his wife’s fabled mausoleum – until his ambitions were thwarted by his son, Aurangzeb, who imprisoned him until his death. The several excavations that have taken place here over the years have unearthed various structures such as a large octagonal tank with 25 fountains, a pond and a charbagh. Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb is, in fact, said to have been found halfway between the main entrance of the Taj Mahal complex and the end of Mehtab Bagh. But nothing that even hints of a Black Taj has been found.

In recent years an effort has been made to restore “Moonlight Garden” at Mehtab Bagh.The 24-acre garden was abandoned due to flooding and buried under silt. The renovation of the park was meticulously carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).Landscape artists from ASI worked out the replanting of trees, herbs and plants to match the original garden, replicating riverside gardens such as Shalimar Bagh in Kashmir. Around 80 plants identified with Mughal horticulture were planted such as guava, hibiscus, neem, jamun and ashoka. Today, Mehtab Bagh stands pristine in its grandeur, restored to its rightful glory.

The Taj Mahal lies the on the other side of the Yamuna River from Mehtab Bagh. Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “ I had hoped to approach it in a small boat on the Yamuna River, which flows in a wide arc along the rear of the majestic 17th-century tomb. My guide....was skeptical. The river was low, he said; there may not be enough water to float a boat...We crossed the Jawahar Bridge, which spans the Yamuna, and made our way into a greener area, then took a turn where men and women were selling repaired saris on the side of the road. Eventually we arrived at a spot opposite the Taj. There we hoped to find a fisherman to take us across. [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“Next to a shrine to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a hero of India’s lower castes, the road dips down toward the Yamuna. But only a dry, dusty riverbed was to be seen, cordoned off by a fence and metal gate. We knew the river did flow, however weakly, perhaps 50 yards away. But soldiers manning a nearby post told us it was forbidden to pass any farther. Indian authorities were concerned about Muslim terrorists opposed to the Indian government who had threatened to blow up the Taj — ironic, given that it’s one of the world’s finest examples of Islamic-inspired architecture. We stood before a rusty coil of barbed wire, listening to chanting from the nearby shrine, trying to make out the glory of the Taj Mahal through the haze.” \*\

Taj Mahal Deterioration

A closer look at the facades reveals that marble has become yellowed and pitted. In some places the marble has deteriorated and crumbled. There is also fractured inlay work and graffiti. Most tourist don’t notice. One told Reuter, "It wasn't yellow, or dirty or chipped like I heard it was. It was sparkling white like it was washed everyday.” The moonlight visits were launched in part to raise funds for the restoration of the Taj.

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “The Taj is slowly deteriorating now. Seen up close, the marble has yellow-orange stains in many places; some slabs have small holes where the stone has been eaten away; in a few places, chunks have fallen from the facade; my guide Brij and I even found a bit of recent graffiti on the white marble platform, where two visitors, Ramesh and Bittoo, had signed their names in red ink.

“The sandstone of the terraces and walkways is particularly weathered. Where restoration work has been done, it sometimes appears sloppy. Workers have filled holes with a cement-like substance of a mismatched color. In at least one instance, it appears that someone stepped in the wet glop before it dried, leaving an indent the size and shape of a small shoe. The grouting in some of the gaps between marble slabs of the walls looks like the amateur work I’ve done in my bathroom. [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“R.K. Dixit, the ASI’s senior official at the Taj, has an office inside the edifice of the Great Gate. He sits under a white domed roof, with a swirling symbol of the sun at its apex. The room has one window, shaded by a honeycomb screen of red sandstone, which offers a direct view of the mausoleum. \*\

“I ask him about the Taj’s deterioration. He acknowledges the sad state of the river. But while he agrees that some of the marble is yellowing, he says that’s only natural. The ASI has been taking steps to clean it. Restorers first used chemical agents, including an ammonia solution. They now use a type of sedimentary clay called fuller’s earth. “It takes the dust and dirt from the pores of the marble, and after removing the impurities, [the fuller’s earth] falls down,” says Dixit. Some critics have derided this “spa treatment,” saying that fuller’s earth is a bleaching agent and will ultimately do more harm than good. But it’s used elsewhere, and when I later contact international conservationists to get their opinion, they tell me it’s unlikely to do damage. \*\

Taj Mahal and Pollution

A closer look at the facades also reveals that marble has become marked with brown and black spots from the pollution produced by truck and car exhaust, diesel generators used when the power supply is cut, wood and dung smoke, coal-burning factories and air-bone chemicals. The Yamuna River was an integral part of Taj Mahal’s design. Now it is full of sewage and strewn with garbage and is often dry. To improve this situation the Agra government has begun shutting down or moving factories without proper anti-pollution devices and only allowing electric-powered vehicles near the Taj.

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Traffic has surged, with more than 800,000 registered vehicles in the city. Government data shows that particulate matter in the air — dust, vehicle exhaust and other suspended particles — is well above prescribed standards. And the Yamuna River arrives in Agra bearing raw sewage from cities upstream. M[Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“The river, once such an integral component of the Taj’s beauty, is a mess, to put it mildly. I visited one of the city’s storm drains where it empties at a spot between the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, a vast sandstone-and-marble complex that was once home to Mughal rulers. In addition to the untreated human waste deposited there, the drain belches mounds of litter — heaps of plastic bags, plastic foam, snack wrappers, bottles and empty foil packets that once held herbal mouth freshener. Environmental activists have argued that such garbage dumps produce methane gas that contributes to the yellowing of the Taj’s marble. \*\

“When I stepped down to photograph the trash heap, I felt an unnatural sponginess underfoot — the remains of a dead cow. According to Brij, who has reported on the subject for Indian publications, the bodies of children have also been interred here by people too poor to afford even a rudimentary funeral. The dump and ad hoc cemetery within view of the splendor of the Taj is a jarring reminder of the pressures and challenges of modern India. Uttar Pradesh, where Agra is located, had plans in 2003 to develop this area for tourists. The project was called the Taj Corridor. Originally conceived as a nature walk, it was transformed secretly into plans for a shopping mall. The whole project crashed soon after it began amid allegations of wrongdoing and corruption. Sandstone rubble remains strewn across the dump site. \*\

“Even some international experts doubt that air pollution is the prime cause of the discoloring and pitting of the monument’s marble. At least some of the yellow marks on the monument, for instance, are rust stains from iron fixtures that hold the marble slabs in place. Marisa Laurenzi Tabasso, an Italian chemist and conservation scientist, has studied the Taj Mahal on behalf of international organizations and Indian authorities. “Most of the problems with the marble are not from pollution, but from climatic conditions,” she says. These include heat, sunlight and also moisture, which promotes the growth of algae, leading to biological decay of the stone. Laurenzi Tabasso says the main human impact on the monument probably occurs inside the tomb, where the moist breath of thousands of daily visitors — and their oily hands rubbing the walls — has discolored the marble. \*\

According to UNESCO: Integrity is maintained in the intactness of tomb, mosque, guest house, main gate and the whole Taj Mahal complex. The physical fabric is in good condition and structural stability, nature of foundation, verticality of the minarets and other constructional aspects of Taj Mahal have been studied and continue to be monitored. To control the impact of deterioration due for atmospheric pollutants, an air control monitoring station is installed to constantly monitor air quality and control decay factors as they arise. To ensure the protection of the setting, the adequate management and enforcement of regulations in the extended buffer zone is needed. In addition, future development for tourist facilities will need to ensure that the functional and visual integrity of the property is maintained, particularly in the relationship with the Agra Fort. [Source: UNESCO]

Taj Mahal and the Yamuna River

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “The main concern, however, is the Yamuna River. Some of the activists I met in Agra cited arguments made by R. Nath, who has written dozens of books on Mughal history and architecture. Nath believes that the river water is essential to maintaining the monument’s massive foundation, which is built on a complex system of wells, arches — and, according to Nath — spoked wheels made of sal wood. Nath and some activists worry the groundwater levels beneath the monument are falling — partly the result of a barrier that was constructed upstream to augment public water supplies — and they fear the wood may disintegrate if it isn’t kept moist. Nath also believes the Yamuna River itself is part of a complicated engineering feat that provides thrust from different angles as the water wends its way behind the mausoleum. But, due to the lower water level, the Yamuna now dries up for months at a time. Without that stabilizing counterforce of flowing water, the Taj “has a natural tendency to slide or sink into the river,” Nath says. [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“A detailed survey of the Taj was carried out in the 1940s during British rule in India, showing that the marble platform beneath the mausoleum was more than an inch lower on the northern side, near the river, than on the south. Cracks were apparent in the structure, and minarets were slightly out of plumb. The implication of the study is disputed: some maintain that the monument was always a tad askew, and perhaps the minarets were tilted slightly to make sure they never fell onto the mausoleum. Nath argues that the Mughals were perfectionists, and that a slow shifting has taken place. A 1987 study by the Rome-based International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property concluded there was no evidence of structural distress or foundation failure, but said there was “remarkably little information about the foundations and the nature of the subsoil.” The report advised it would be “prudent to make a full geotechnical survey” and “highly advisable” to drill several deep boreholes to examine beneath the complex. A Unesco report in 2002 praised the upkeep of the monument, but repeated that a geotechnical survey “would be justified.” \*\

“When I asked ASI officials about the foundation, they said it was fine. “Geotechnical and structural investigations have been conducted by the Central Building Research Institute,” ASI director Gautam Sengupta told me in an e-mail. “It has been found...that [the] foundation and superstructure of [the] Taj Mahal are stable.” ASI officials, however, declined to answer several queries about whether deep boreholes had been drilled. \*\

Taj Mahal, Development and Preservation

Pressure from UNESCO and an order by the Indian tourism ministry. halted construction of a shopping and entertainment center in the early 2000s near the Taj Mahal three months after construction began. Officials involved with project were investigated for corruption. There were complains that sound vibrations and floodlights from a 1996 concert by Yanni damaged the Taj Mahal.

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: ““There are many in Agra who believe that all the worries about the Taj are exaggerated — that far too much attention is paid to the monument at the expense of other priorities. They say the restrictions imposed upon the city’s several hundred brick kilns, iron foundries and glassworks to reduce air pollution have harmed the local economy. S.M. Khandelwal, a business leader in Agra who opposed Mehta’s legal campaign, has long argued that such businesses were responsible for only a tiny fraction of the fumes emitted in the city, and that the more significant polluters were vehicles and power generators. “I was very angry that everyone was so concerned about the Taj Mahal and not about the [livelihoods of the] people of Agra,” he says. [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“The Indian press has been filled with reports that the latest government efforts to control pollution around the Taj are failing and that the gorgeous white marble is deteriorating — a possible casualty of India’s booming population, rapid economic expansion and lax environmental regulations. Some local preservationists, echoing the concerns of R. Nath, an Indian historian who has written extensively about the Taj, warn that the edifice is in danger of sinking or even collapsing toward the river. They also complain that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has done slipshod repair work and call for fresh assessments of the structure’s foundations. \*\

“The criticisms are a measure of how important the complex is to India and the world, as a symbol of historical and cultural glory,?and as an architectural marvel. It was constructed of brick covered with marble and sandstone, with elaborate inlays of precious and semiprecious stones. The designers and builders, in their unerring sense of form and symmetry, infused the entire 42-acre complex of buildings, gates, walls and gardens with unearthly grace. “It combines the great rationality of its design with an appeal to the senses,” says Ebba Koch, author of The Complete Taj Mahal, a careful study of the monument published in 2006. “It was created by fusing so many architectural traditions — Central Asian, Indian, Hindu and Islamic, Persian and European — it has universal appeal and can speak to the whole world.” \*\

According to UNESCO: “The management of Taj Mahal complex is carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India and the legal protection of the monument and the control over the regulated area around the monument is through the various legislative and regulatory frameworks that have been established, including the Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 and Rules 1959 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation); which is adequate to the overall administration of the property and buffer areas. Additional supplementary laws ensure the protection of the property in terms of development in the surroundings.

“An area of 10,400 square kilometers around the Taj Mahal is defined to protect the monument from pollution. The Supreme Court of India in December, 1996, delivered a ruling banning use of coal/coke in industries located in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) and switching over to natural gas or relocating them outside the TTZ. The TTZ comprises of 40 protected monuments including three World Heritage Sites - Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.

“The fund provided by the federal government is adequate for the buffer areas. The fund provided by the federal government is adequate for the overall conservation, preservation and maintenance of the complex to supervise activities at the site under the guidance of the Superintending Archaeologist of the Agra Circle. The implementation of an Integrated Management plan is necessary to ensure that the property maintains the existing conditions, particularly in the light of significant pressures derived from visitation that will need to be adequately managed. The Management plan should also prescribe adequate guidelines for proposed infrastructure development and establish a comprehensive Public Use plan.”

Efforts to Save the Taj Mahal

Jeffrey Bartholet wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: ““For decades activists and lawyers have been waging a legal battle to save the Taj Mahal from what they believe is environmental degradation. meters.C. Mehta, currently one of India’s best-known lawyers, has been at the forefront of that fight. I met him twice in New Delhi in a half-finished office with holes in the walls and wires dangling out. “The monument gives glory to the city, and the city gives glory to the monument,” he tells me, exasperated that more has not been done to clean up Agra and the Yamuna River. “This has taken more than 25 years of my life. I say: ‘Don’t be so slow! If somebody is dying, you don’t wait.’” [Source: Jeffrey Bartholet, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011 \*\]

“When he began his campaign in the 1980s, one of Mehta’s main targets was an oil refinery upwind of the Taj Mahal that spewed sulfur dioxide. Preservationists believed the plant emissions were causing acid rain, which was eating away at the stone of the monument — what Mehta calls “marble cancer.” Mehta petitioned the Supreme Court and argued that the Taj was important both to India’s heritage and as a tourist attraction that contributed more to the economy than an oil refinery. He wanted all polluters, including iron foundries and other small industries in Agra, shut down, moved out or forced to install cleaner technology. In 1996, twelve years after he filed the motion, the court ruled in his favor, and the foundries around Agra were closed, relocated or — as was the case with the refinery — compelled to switch to natural gas. \*\

“But for all his successes, Mehta believes there’s much more to be done.When Mehta visits the city these days, he keeps a low profile. He has several new petitions for action before the Supreme Court — in particular, he wants the government to restore and protect the Yamuna River and ensure that new construction in Agra is in harmony with the style and feel of old India. He shrugs off the anger directed at him, taking it as a sign of success. “I have so many people who consider me their enemy,” he says. “But I have no enemies. I’m not against anybody.” \*\

“What would Shah Jahan make of it all? Dixit believes he would be saddened by the river, “but he’d also be happy to see the crowds.” Shah Jahan might even be philosophical about the slow deterioration. He had designed the monument to endure beyond the end of the world, yet the first report on record of damage and leaks came in 1652. The emperor was certainly familiar with the impermanence of things. \*\

“If the symbolic power of the Taj can be harnessed to fight for a cleaner river, cleaner air and better living conditions, all the better. But most of the Taj Mahal’s flaws don’t detract from the overall effect of the monument. In some ways, the yellowing and pocking add to its beauty, just as flaws in a handmade Oriental carpet enhance its aesthetic power, or the patina on an antique piece of furniture is more valued, even with its scratches and scars, than a gleaming restoration job. Standing before the Taj Mahal, it’s comforting to know that it is not, in fact, of another world. It is very much part of this ephemeral, unpredictable one we inhabit — a singular masterpiece that will likely be around for many years or even lifetimes to come, but which, despite our best efforts, cannot last forever.” \*\

Mudpacks and Restoration of the Taj Mahal

Michael Safi wrote in The Guardian: “The Taj Mahal,, is beginning to show its age. Air pollution is turning its ivory-white surface yellow. The heavily contaminated river Yamuna, on the banks of which the Taj sits, is a breeding ground for insects that leave green patches on its marble domes. The past two years have seen a flurry of restoration work to the monument... Scaffolding around the outer minarets was prominent in April 2016. Less clear from a distance is the precise treatment being used to clean the modern wonder: mud packs, similar to those slapped on faces around the world, and in pursuit of the same youthful effect. [Source: Michael Safi, The Guardian, May 5, 2017]

“Bhuvan Vikrama, a superintendent with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), said the treatment consisted of applying Fuller’s earth – a clay traditionally used to clean marble – to the entire structure of the Taj.The clay forms a thick paste that absorbs dirt, grease and animal droppings, and is washed off with distilled water, leaving the surface relatively pristine. The process is time-consuming, however. “We do this in pieces, in small patches. So far, we have completed three minarets and three vertical surfaces,” Vikrama said. “A small portion of one side is covered and cleaned, then we move on to the next portion. So the entire monument won’t ever close. It will be open as normal for tourists,” he said.

“It is inevitable, however, that some tourists will be unlucky timing their visit with the treatment of the main dome, and scaffolding will be a persistent feature until at least next year. But there is no question that treatment needs to go ahead, and the long-term benefits of the clean-up outweigh any short-term disappointment. “There’s a marked difference between the untreated and the treated areas,” Vikrama said.He declined to comment on the cost of the project, but said the Taj had become increasingly expensive in the past decade, in part because of the crushing impact of the millions of tourists walking the site each year. In August the ASI proposed to limit viewings to a maximum of two hours per day, but the measure is yet to be implemented.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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