India limits visitors to save Taj Mahal

Daily visitors to the Taj Mahal average 10,000-15,000 but can be much higher on weekends, going up to around 70,000. Nearly 6.5 million visited the monument in 2016, according to government figures. (AFP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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India limits visitors to save Taj Mahal

AGRA, India: India is to restrict the number of daily visitors to the Taj Mahal in an attempt to preserve the iconic 17th-century monument to love, its biggest tourist attraction.
Millions of mostly Indian tourists visit the Taj Mahal every year and their numbers are increasing steadily as domestic travel becomes easier.
Experts say the vast crowds increase wear and tear on the white marble tomb, which already must undergo regular cleaning to stop it turning yellow from polluted air, and could put pressure on its foundations.
In future only 40,000 local tourists will be allowed to enter the historic complex per day, authorities said Wednesday.
“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 — said on condition of anonymity.
The restrictions will not apply to foreigners, who pay 1,000 rupees ($16) to enter.
Indian visitors normally pay just 40 rupees, but will be able to buy the more expensive ticket if they want to get around the limit.
The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth in 1631.
Anyone wanting to see the main crypt, which houses the couple’s spectacular marble graves inlaid with semi-precious stones, will also have to pay for the pricier ticket.
The graves also date back to the 17th century but do not actually contain the bodies of the royal couple, who are buried under a separate lower chamber.
Visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site already have to contend with lengthy queues and heavy security.
The plan to restrict visitors comes after five people were injured in a crush on the last day of the year, which often attracts large crowds.
“It’s a welcome move because the last time we came here it was very chaotic,” Seema Sarkar, a tourist from the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, said.
Local tourist police inspector R.B. Pandey said it was a much-needed step.
“It’s priceless heritage and if we don’t cap the tourist numbers it will be lost for future generations,” he said.
“You just cannot control such huge crowds.”
Daily visitors to the Taj Mahal average 10,000-15,000 but can be much higher at weekends, going up to around 70,000.
Nearly 6.5 million visited the monument in 2016, according to government figures.
The Taj Mahal has attracted world leaders and royalty, including former US President Bill Clinton.
Diana, the late British princess, was famously photographed alone on a marble seat there in 1992.
But the mausoleum faces an array of threats, including the yellowing effects of smog.
In 2016, green stains on its rear wall were blamed on excrement from insects.
Authorities have in the past covered the iconic monument’s facade with “mud packs” made of fuller’s earth, which draws out the impurities, to restore its whiteness.


The Phoenicia: A still-seductive reminder of Beirut’s golden age

The hotel was named Lebanon’s leading hotel for 2018 at the World Travel Awards. (Photo supplied)
Updated 21 July 2018
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The Phoenicia: A still-seductive reminder of Beirut’s golden age

  • For those in search of glamor, almost every night the wealthy, the stylish and the overdressed can be seen exiting luxury cars
  • The hotel’s immediate interior is dominated by marble pillars, plush armchairs, fountains and chandeliers

BEIRUT: Of all Beirut’s hotels it is the Phoenicia that looms largest in the imagination. Opulent, brash, sexy, seductive, it is a reminder of what was and what could have been.

It’s hard not to look favorably upon its delicately perforated façades and its shimmering blue and turquoise tiles. It somehow manages to maintain a sense of mystique, a sense of otherworldliness, despite the chaos that frequently unfolds around it.

Much of this, of course, is down to nostalgia. Opened in 1961 at the dawn of Beirut’s Golden Age, the singer Fayrouz performed here in 1962, as did the Egyptian dancer Nadia Gamal. Brigitte Bardot, Claudia Cardinale and Omar Sharif were guests, while the Lebanese beauty queen Georgina Rizk was photographed by the hotel’s oval-shaped pool in 1971.

In many ways the Phoenicia still clings to the remnants of its pre-war heyday, living as much in the past as it does in the present. When the hotel was resurrected from the ashes of civil war in 2000, it clutched much of its original design and character close to its chest, with a further $50 million refurbishment undertaken to mark the hotel’s 50th anniversary in 2011. It is the end result of this later refurbishment that is primarily on display today.

The hotel’s immediate interior is dominated by marble pillars, plush armchairs, fountains and chandeliers, and hovers dangerously close to the ostentatious. Elsewhere it borders on the dowdy or the old-fashioned. Yet a grand and elegant staircase continues to welcome visitors, while lanterns and geometric patterns lend a slight but satisfying sense of location.

Outside, the swimming pool — once an oval-shaped beauty — is set against a backdrop of cascading waterfalls. It is more politically correct than its 1960s predecessor, under which could be found a subterranean bar called Sous la Mer, but it is nevertheless at the heart of much of the hotel’s continued appeal.

From the shade of the pool’s colonnades you can see the old St. Georges Hotel, designed in the 1930s by Parisian architect Auguste Perret, while Zaitunay Bay and the edge of the Mediterranean are a stone’s throw away. It is because of this location and these views that the Phoenicia retains much of its appeal, regardless of its 446 rooms and suites, spa, shopping arcade and banqueting area.

Of the hotel’s three buildings, it is the original, designed by the architects Edward Durell Stone and Joseph Salerno, that is the hotel’s aesthetic pinnacle. Combining elements of high modernism with Mughal and Muslim architecture, it is where you should stay if given the choice.

You buy into many things when you stay at the Phoenicia, which was named Lebanon’s leading hotel for 2018 at the World Travel Awards. History, of course, and location, but also a level of abundance that is not readily available elsewhere in the city.

Breakfast is a fabulous affair. Manakish are freshly cooked on a dome oven, eggs are prepared in front of you, while separate stations serve everything from a dizzying array of olives and salads to cheese, labneh, foul, sausages, honey and smoked salmon. There’s even Oum Ali and kanafeh.

For those in search of glamor, almost every night the wealthy, the stylish and the overdressed can be seen exiting luxury cars and heading to all manner of social gatherings. They dine at the Mosaic and Amethyste restaurants, or at Eau De Vie, a lounge bar and grill situated on the 11th floor. None of this, of course, is cheap. If nothing else, the Phoenicia experience comes at a price.