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 marvels of Marbella

Updated 18 April 2018
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The marvels of Marbella

DUBAI: When Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd died in August 2005, the city of Marbella on Spain’s southern coast declared three days of official mourning. To an outsider, it might have seemed an odd reaction, but to residents and local business owners it made perfect sense. Marbella was regarded as a second-home for the King, who had been visiting for more than two decades and was posthumously declared an adopted son of the city.

The New York Times reported in 1981 that the then-Crown Prince Fahd had recently built a palace “nestled in the flanks of the Sierra Blanca” with a “bougainvillea-draped garden.” Two months earlier he had quietly inaugurated the King Abdulaziz Mosque, which was funded by the Kingdom, named after its first monarch and was the first mosque built in Spain since the Arabs were expelled from Al-Andalus in the 15th Century.

Both buildings still stand resplendent 37 years on, while the special relationship between southern Spain and Saudi Arabia continues. A 2016 report published by the Costa del Sol tourism office found the average stay of a visitor from Saudi is 17 days. Members of the royal family still visit regularly — and stay much longer. Last month, the national football team elected to train here as preparations for this summer’s World Cup ramp up. They are expected to return again next month.

Situated about an hour down the coast from Malaga Airport, visitors without the luxury of helicopters and private jets can take the efficient and economical Renfe train as far as Fuengirola or catch the irregular airport coach direct to Marbella. Either way is markedly cheaper than a $100 one-way taxi ride.

The Costa del Sol boasts 24 beaches spread across 27km of Mediterranean coastline, but Marbella is more than just golden sand, warm waves and sunbathing. Inspired by Islamic architecture, the Casco Antiguo — or Old Town — is a warren of narrow cobbled streets filled with compact homes, jewelry shops, independent retailers, statues, fountains and local cafés.

While the narrow pathways offer shade from the Spanish sunshine, ornate Andalusian-style balconies hang overhead, displaying the neighborhood’s unique mix of cultures. No eatery displays this amalgamation of Arab and Andalusia better than La Casa del Hummus, a vegetarian restaurant that doubles up as a coffee shop and is situated at the mouth of the maze, on Calle Muro and Calle Mendoza.

From there, follow the road up the hill and it will be impossible not to spot the Arab Walls. Dating back to the 9th Century, the fortification once protected the old medina, and now serves as a reminder of the city’s rich history.

Of course, life has changed immeasurably for many Arabs since the discovery of oil. For a glimpse of how the one percent now live, you need only head 10km southwards and visit the marina at Puerto Banús. Here, Arabic voices float down the promenade while luxury yachts with puns (of a kind) for names — “Sea Esta,” “Aquaholic” — float inside the bay.

On the street, you’ll find Louis Vuitton, La Perla, Michael Kors, Gucci. If it is a luxury brand, it is almost certainly located here, among the shisha cafes, expensive restaurants, real estate agents, and hedonistic nightclubs. Flashy cars — a BMW i8, a Rolls Royce Phantom, a Bentley Continental GT — purr slowly past, occasionally drowning out the shoppers speaking in languages from all over the world, including, of course, Arabic.

Marbella is like Dubai’s Marina Walk merged with Monaco’s Port Hercules. And when the sun is shining, it’s easy to understand why King Fahd was such a fan.