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.


Melting glacier in China draws tourists, climate worries

This Sept. 21, 2018 photo shows a Chinese Academy of Sciences research team atop the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. (AP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Melting glacier in China draws tourists, climate worries

  • The team operates remote sensors that collect data on temperature, wind speed, rainfall, and humidity
  • Millions of people each year are drawn to Baishui’s frosty beauty on the southeastern edge of the Third Pole

YULONGXUESHAN, China: The loud crack rang out from the fog above the Baishui No. 1 Glacier as a stone shard careened down the ice, flying past Chen Yanjun as he operated a GPS device.
More projectiles were tumbling down the hulk of ice that scientists say is one of the world’s fastest melting glaciers.
“We should go,” said the 30-year-old geologist. “The first rule is safety.”
Chen hiked away and onto a barren landscape once buried beneath the glacier. Now there is exposed rock littered with oxygen tanks discarded by tourists visiting the 15,000-foot (4,570-meter) -high blanket of ice in southern China.
Millions of people each year are drawn to Baishui’s frosty beauty on the southeastern edge of the Third Pole __ a region in Central Asia with the world’s third largest store of ice after Antarctica and Greenland that’s roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined.
Third Pole glaciers are vital to billions of people from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Asia’s 10 largest rivers __ including the Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, and Ganges __ are fed by seasonal melting.
“You’re talking about one of the world’s largest freshwater sources,” said Ashley Johnson, energy program manager at the National Bureau of Asian Research, an American think tank. “Depending on how it melts, a lot of the freshwater will be leaving the region for the ocean, which will have severe impacts on water and food security.”
Earth is today 1 degree Centigrade (1.8 Fahrenheit) hotter than pre-industrial levels because of climate change __ enough to melt 28 to 44 percent of glaciers worldwide, according to a new report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Temperatures are expected to keep rising.
Baishui is about as close to the Equator as Tampa, Florida. And the impacts of climate change already are dramatic.
The glacier has lost 60 percent of its mass and shrunk 250 meters (820 feet) since 1982, according to a 2018 report in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Scientists found in 2015 that 82 percent of glaciers surveyed in China had retreated. They warned that the effects of glacier melting on water resources are gradually becoming “increasingly serious” for China.
“China has always had a freshwater supply problem with 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its freshwater,” said Jonna Nyman, an energy security lecturer at the University of Sheffield. “That’s heightened by the impact of climate change.”
For years, scientists have observed global warming change Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the Chinese province of Yunnan.
One research team has tracked Baishui’s retreat of about 30 yards (27 meters) per year over the past decade. Flowers, such as snow lotus, have rooted in exposed earth, says Wang Shijin, a glaciologist and director of the Yulong Snow Mountain Glacial and Environmental Observation Research Station, part of a network run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Nestled into a suburb of Lijiang, population 1.2 million, the station is home to Wang and his team: geologist and drone operator Chen, postgraduate glaciology student Zhou Lanyue and electrical engineer Zhang Xing, a private contractor.
After breakfast, the team heads off by van for the day’s mission. A cable car carries them up to a majestic view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
The team shuffles past a line of tourists __ many in red ponchos, most sucking oxygen canisters, a few vomiting from altitude sickness __ before descending to replace a broken meteorological station.
The team operates remote sensors that collect data on temperature, wind speed, rainfall, and humidity. Other sensors measure water flow in streams fed by melted ice. Cold, downpours, rock slides, gales and glacier movement break the equipment.
“It is not easy to encounter good weather here,” Wang said.
This weather will ensure Yunnan has plenty of freshwater while other glacier loss poses serious risk of drought across the Third Pole, he said.
The next day, the team wore crampons while repairing more sensors scattered across the glacier’s crags.
“Where we’re at right now was back in 2008 all covered with ice,” Wang said. “From here to there at the side, the glacier shrank about 20 to 30 meters. The shrinking is very remarkable.”
The team forded streams and jumped crevasses in search of long iron bars they previously embedded in the ice. GPS tells them how much the bars, and thus the glacier, have moved. They also measure how much height the glacier has lost during the summer.
Back on the viewing platform, Che launched a buzzing camera drone over the white expanse. The photographs help tell a story of staggering loss. A quarter of its ice has vanished since 1957 along with four of its 19 glaciers, researchers have found.
Changes to the Baishui provide the opportunity to educate visitors about global warming, Wang said.
Last year, 2.6 million tourists visited the mountain, according to Yulong Snow Mountain park officials.
On blustery day recently, hundreds of tourists climbed wooden stairs through grey fog to snap selfies in front of the glacier.
Hou Yugang said he wasn’t too bothered over climate change and Baishui’s melting. “I don’t think about it now because it still has a long way to go,” he said.
To protect the glacier, authorities have limited the number of visitors to 10,000 a day and have banned hiking on the ice. They plan to manufacture snow and to dam streams to increase humidity that slows melting.
Security guard Yang Shaofeng has witnessed a warming world melting this mountain, which his local Naxi minority community considers sacred.
Yang remembers being able to see the glacier’s lowest edge from his home village. No longer.
“Only when we climb up can we see it,” he said sadly, as tourists lined up to have their names engraved on medallions bearing the glacier’s image.
The etching is already outdated.