Tourists are entering the Taj Mahal with tickets for another historical structure near Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has simply run out of gate passes for the 17th century monument to love.
"What a way to promote the Taj Mahal! They want us to vote for the Taj for the new seven wonders list. And we can't even take back the entrance ticket as a souvenir because it has Fatehpur Sikri printed on it," said Dinesh, a tourist from Patna who had come with a group of 12 people.
"A faint rubber stamp of the Taj Mahal is there, but surely a monument like that deserves a much better, more attractive and genuine entry ticket."
This, according to tourist guides, has been going on for several months.
Apparently ASI's stock of tickets is exhausted and the new supplies from Kolkata have not reached Agra.
An ASI clerk at the entrance office said tickets for the Taj were out of print. A senior official of ASI also said the same thing, but declined to comment on how long it would take to set matters right.
A tourist from Salem in Tamil Nadu was confused when a guide told him: "Taj Mahal is not in Fatehpur Sikri!" Citing the entry ticket, the guide clarified: "The tourist probably thought the Taj was in the Sikri complex."
The Fatehpur Sikri complex is the deserted capital of Mughal emperor Akbar, 35 km from Agra. It has the famous Buland Darwaza and Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chisti's tomb, in addition to a dozen other smaller monuments. Along with the Taj and Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri is the third heritage monument in Agra.
It is an open secret that travel agents and tourist guides run a racket in Taj tickets with official connivance.
Officially foreigners at the Taj have to shell out Rs 750 while Indian tourists can enter paying Rs 20. Entry is free on Fridays.
"But the tickets are not numbered, they are resold, free entry is allowed to just about anyone. In particular, there is a lot of bungling where foreign tourists are involved," alleges an ex-office bearer of Agra's Hotels and Restaurants Association.
"The guides connive with the booking window officials. The loot is equally shared."
Says historian R Nath: "I have at least eight lapses on record of irregularities under the 1958 ASI Act, which I have culled through the use of the RTI Act. Surely the Taj Mahal is not in safe hands."
Ambika Soni, the union tourism minister, was in Agra two days ago to appeal to the people to vote for the Taj Mahal as a wonder of the world.
But the infrastructure there is hardly world class. A woman from Tamil Nadu collapsed at the Taj after a heat stroke on Sunday afternoon.
The Taj Mahal and other monuments do not even have adequate water coolers in summer. Until a few days ago, the coolers installed by the Agra development authority were out of service.
After the local media raised a hue and cry, they were repaired. But since the coolers are a good distance away from the main mausoleum, visitors are put to a lot of inconvenience.