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.


A cultural delight: Ambassadors visit Okaz Souq and the treasures of Taif

Updated 09 July 2018
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A cultural delight: Ambassadors visit Okaz Souq and the treasures of Taif

  • More than 100 diplomats took part in activities from riding camels to traditional dancing, and enjoyed a glimpse into how Saudis used to live. 

TAIF: Far from work, and mostly for play and cultural enrichment, diplomatic envoys took a trip to Souq Okaz and other historical sites in Taif on Thursday. 
This year alone, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has hosted the envoys and their families on a series of trips to different regions in the Kingdom. Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Protocol affairs, Azzam Al-Gain, said: “The aim of these visits is to connect with the envoys and their families; to introduce them to our history, and at the same time to create an environment of friendship. 
“This year we have taken them on four visits to different regions in the Kingdom to introduce the visitors to our history. The last visit was Horaymla’a. It was a desert place. Each visitor had a chance to plant a tree with their flag on it as an initiative to combat desertification.” 
From riding camels to participating in traditional dances, the diplomatic envoy was exposed to the real face of Saudi. Far from politics and nearer the heart, they witnessed first-hand the generosity of the Saudi people and their fun side. 
They had a chance not only to visit Souq Okaz, but also the treasures of Taif, including Shubra Palace and Al-Sharif Museum. A glimpse of history, and how Saudis used to live, and a taste of cultural delight. 
British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Simon Collis said: “The highlight was the time we spent at Souq Okaz. Although I had a small idea about the place, it’s not until you go that you realize two things. The first is the history and how deep it goes back, deep roots. Second that this history is expressed in a way that is accessible to people. I was especially pleased to see the theater, with the songs in the beginning.”
Abderrahmane Dadah, Mauritania charge d’affaires, said: “The weather in Taif is beautiful and Souq Okaz reminded us once more of Arabs’ glory and history. Arab tribes would come from all over to celebrate their ancestory. Being here reminded us once more, as Arabs and diplomats from Arab countries of that. We came here and were introduced to the Saudi culture. We are grateful for this trip and thank MOFA for arranging it.”
Souq Okaz hosts many spectacular activities that are lively and re-enacted, to give the audience a true feel of past. Old history merged with new technology, that has a feel of both. “I’ve read in the past about the Arab tribes, and the history of the Bakreeyn and Taghlebeeyn, but to see it re-enacted in front of us brought us back to pre-Islamic times and gave it life. It was lovely.” 
Ambassador of Serbia Mohammed Sebhy said: “Every time, I come to Taif -- and I’ve come many times -- I feel a sense of comfort. The people are kind and the weather is beautiful. Even in the middle of the day when the heat peaks, Taif is 33 degrees, which is the same as any European country. The weather is nice, the people are kind and the fruit is great.”
Most of the ambassadors agree that Souq Okaz is an ideal tourist attraction, because of the history it holds and Taif’s cool weather even in the middle of Summer. 
Ambassador of Serbia, Mohammed Sebhy said: “We feel joy being here. Souq Okaz is a great tourist attraction. Powerful countries invest in their local tourism and that is what Saudi is doing.”
German Ambassador Dieter Haller said: “Taif has an important place in the history of Saudi Arabia. I now understand better why so many kings have chosen Taif as a summer residence. It reflects the diversity: culturally, ethically, and geographically, of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Which is one of the big assets of the Kingdom.”

He added how impressed he was by Souq Okaz, and that he has heard a lot about it. “I think it’s very important now at a time where many changes are unfolding that people must adapt, yet old traditions are still equally cherished. The bridge between tradition, modernity and history is a history socially and culturally of a country and of a society. Souq Okaz is a wonderful opportunity to maintain one of the prime cultural expressions of the Saudi traditions -- the old traditions.
“The Shubra museum showed in the past how modestly those have governed lived. It was a reminder that simplicity and modesty is also part of our life. It was wonderful architectural reflection of the influences that have enfolded in the kingdom. It is so good to know it has been maintained.” 
The German ambassador added that preserving these historical sites was important for the future generation to see how their forefathers lived.
World Cup matches took place during the visit, and many of the ambassadors are passionate football fans. A fun-filled trip didn’t stop them from watching the matches, though. The Uruguay and French ambassadors sat together in Souq Okaz to watch the match. When the game finished, both were in high spirts and shook hands, even though Uruguay lost to France. 
Igor Busygin, Russian charge d’affaires, proudly wore the Saudi national team jersey -- signed by all the players on the first day of the trip. Commending Arab News’ innovative revamped look, he said it was now more visually appealing. 
Chinese Ambassador, Li Huaxin, an avid photographer, captured each moment. He took photographers of sites and the delegation, creating a joyful atmosphere that many are sure to remember. 
Jameela Al-Qahtani, a diplomat at MOFA, said: “It was an honor to serve our country. We are proud that we had this opportunity to show them our heritage. We work with love and it was truly a pleasure. We were excited for this chance to show the diplomatic envoys this side of us and our history.” 
Applauding the Saudi female diplomats’ efforts in conducting a successful trip, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Protocol affairs Azzam Al-Gain said: “They were the stars.” Their welcoming attitude and unique contribution helped facilitate a memorable experience. The visit had a delegation of 160, including more than 10 female diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign affairs who participated in this trip. 
The tour ended with the visitors being introduced to the famous Taif Rose, in a Al-Shifa district.