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Wah Taj?

For an edifice considered one of the wonders of the world, it’s in poor shape due to sheer apathy of those who are supposed to look after it and also of the many who visit it, writes Rahul Sharma.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2007 00:40 IST
Rahul Sharma

Agra was always a dump that long learnt to live peddling its only glory — the Taj on the banks of what was once a river but is now mostly a dirty nullah. I remember first visiting the city as a schoolboy. A bunch of us had got into a train for a weekend furlough to a city that had found mention in our history book for the only reason it existed. When the train chugged into the Agra Cantonment station in 1979, we were a scared bunch. The excitement had turned into fear as we huddled together in the dead of the night in an unknown city, trying to find a place to sleep before waking up for an early visit to the mausoleum that still hadn’t lost its pristine white.

We finally did find a dharamshala that let us in for Rs 2. No food or soap, the caretaker said. The beds were so filthy that we all slept on the floor. Bad idea, we realised in the morning when we work up with aching bodies — a result of a very cold floor thanks to the next-door ice factory.

Not much seems to have changed in Agra since then, I realised during a recent visit. It’s only grown bigger, has more people and an infrastructure that like in many cities has virtually collapsed. Touts still sell everything from carnal pleasures to shoddy soapstone replicas of the Taj. The tongas are still there, battling for space with cars on roads that haven’t kept pace with modernisation. And so are the long queues outside the monument.

At the Taj, about five pot-bellied and bored security men pat your body at inappropriate spots and look for video cameras while letting you take digital still cameras and the latest mobile phones in. A single policewoman handles a separate queue for ‘females’. I was almost on my way out by the time my wife managed to get past her!

Why can’t we be more organised? Why can’t we look after something that’s so precious? Why can’t we have better roads and better access points in a city that attracts thousands of tourists every year? Anywhere else, a monument such as the Taj would be cherished, pampered and groomed for the economic benefits it brings. In Agra, the Taj stands alone. Its lawns are poorly maintained, the trees are ready to die and there is no order in letting tourists into the mausoleum.

For an edifice considered one of the wonders of the world, it’s in poor shape due to sheer apathy of those who are supposed to look after it and also of the many who visit it. Crushed plastic bottles, used camera rolls, broken slippers, empty food packets can be found littered on the lawns leading to the main building as dustbins hang forlornly.

It’s probably time to hand over the maintenance of the Taj and its periphery to a private agency — a group of top hotels for example — that could professionally run the place after weeding out the stifling babudom. Share the profit with the city, folks.