India limits visitors to save Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal reflected in Yamuna river at sunset in Agra, India. Source: Don Mammoser/Shutterstock

FOR most travelers, it’s an image that is synonymous with India. But the striking white marble turrets of the Taj Mahal have proven too popular for their own good, forcing authorities to impose a restriction on the number of daily visitors to the nation’s biggest tourist attraction.

The increased accessibility of domestic travel has seen a rise in the number of local Indian tourists visiting the site, with millions now making the trip to the 17th century monument annually.

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Experts say the vast crowds increase wear and tear on the tomb, which has been undergoing renovation in recent years to prevent the iconic white marble from turning yellow due to air pollution. There is also concern that the increased visitor numbers could put pressure on its foundations.

Only 40,000 local tourists per day will be allowed to enter under the new restrictions. Currently, daily visitor numbers to the Taj Mahal average 10,000-15,000 but can be much higher on weekends, going up to around 70,000.

“We have to ensure the safety of the monument and visitors as well. Crowd management was emerging as a big challenge for us,” an official with the Archaeological Survey of India, which controls the monument, told AFP (via SCMP).

The restrictions will not apply to foreigners, who pay 1,000 rupees (US$16) to enter.

Indian visitors normally pay just INR40, but will be able to buy the more expensive ticket if they want to get around the limit.

Additional charges will also be imposed for entry into the main crypt, which houses the graves of the monument’s builder, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.

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Commissioned in 1632, the Taj Mahal was originally erected as a tomb to Shah’s favorite wife who died in childbirth a year earlier. Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years.

The decision to restrict visitors comes after five visitors were injured in the crush on the last day of the year, which often attracts large crowds.

The landmark is a favorite spot for visiting VIPs and celebrities. The late Princess Diana took the now iconic photo of her sitting alone on a marble seat here in 1992; an image that has become a favorite for foreign travelers to recreate when they get a moment’s break in the heaving crowds.