No end to eyesores at India’s Taj Mahal as restoration work drags on

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Restoration teams use scaffolding for restoration works at the Taj Mahal facade, blocking views of the ornate Islamic carvings engraved on its walls. (AFP)
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The number of local tourists is also being capped to 40,000 a day in a bid to reduce wear and tear on the monument to love. (AFP)
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Experts warn that iron scaffolding risks leaving irrevocable scars on the fine marble. (AFP)
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Building restoration at India’s most popular tourist attraction is now into its fourth year, with work yet to even begin on its imposing dome. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2018
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No end to eyesores at India’s Taj Mahal as restoration work drags on

AGRA, India: Tourist Muskan Mahuwakar pictured the Taj Mahal as a dazzling vision of symmetry and beauty but upon reaching the monument, she — like thousands of other visitors — was disappointed to find it covered in scaffolding, its once white marble now yellowing due to pollution.
Building restoration at India’s most popular tourist attraction is now into its fourth year, with work yet to even begin on its imposing dome.
“It’s disappointing not to get a perfect frame of this immaculate structure,” Mahuwakar, a history student, said on her first visit to the Taj, as nearby cleaners armed with colorful plastic buckets and large mops desperately tried to scrub some luster back into the stained stone.
Other restoration teams scale the facade, blocking views to the ornate Islamic carvings engraved on its walls. The interruption to the serenity of visiting one of the seven modern wonders of the world.
“The repair has been going on for so long. Of course, old monuments need to be conserved, but we must find solutions that are quick and effective,” Mahuwakar said, casting a dejected look at the scaffolding around.
Pollution and old age are taking their toll on the 17th century mausoleum, nestled on the south bank of the Yamuna river in Agra, but critics warn that even the options authorities are using to try to fix, may be exacerbating the problem.
Mudpacks have been applied in stages to draw out stains but critics say the process is as damaging as bleaching the fine stone.
Authorities reject this, but admit they are concerned about how to proceed with handling the fragile central dome.
There are fears this inevitable work risks damaging the unmistakable feature of the Taj and will put off tourists.
Experts warn that iron scaffolding risks leaving irrevocable scars on the fine marble. But bamboo frames are inadequate for such heights, leaving few options for those charged with executing the daunting task.
“We have to clean the dome, but the challenge is how to erect the scaffolding,” Bhuvan Vikrama, the government archaeologist overseeing restoration efforts, said.
“The structure is almost 400 years old, so we can’t put any extra load on it. In righting the wrong, we should not wrong the right.”
It remains unclear when work will begin or for how long the central dome will be encased in scaffolding.
Fodor’s Travel, a publisher of tourism guidebooks, has advised readers to avoid the Taj until at least 2019 lest visitors be disappointed.
The number of local tourists is also being capped to 40,000 a day in a bid to reduce wear and tear on the monument to love, which was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth in 1631.Currently daily visitor numbers average 10,000-15,000 but can be much higher at weekends, going up to around 70,000. According to government figures, nearly 6.5 million people — mainly from India — visited the historic complex in 2016.
Anyone wanting to see the main crypt, which houses marble graves inlaid with semi-precious stones, will also have to pay for a pricier ticket.
But critics warn that restoration is only half the solution, pointing to the industrial factories across the river that near continuously belch out noxious fumes, leaving the air thick with smog.
This toxic haze from this and from dung and garbage burning in and around Agra is responsible for discoloring the Taj, experts say.
Efforts to curb these pollutants, including banning motor vehicles within 500 meters of the building, have failed to clear up the air.
M C Mehta, a lawyer, said his battles in court to shift polluting industries — including a huge crematorium — had fallen on deaf ears.
“No one wants to take hard decisions,” Mehta said.
“The Taj used to be surrounded by lush greenery, but now there is nothing. Taj is in the last stage of cancer. It is dying, it is gasping for breath.”


Saudi Tourism chief urges Arab countries to focus on tourism

Head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. (AFP)
Updated 12 December 2018
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Saudi Tourism chief urges Arab countries to focus on tourism

  • The new sites belong to the pre-Islamic and early Islam eras and were found in three provinces including Bisha, Tathlith, and Balqarn

JEDDAH: Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) called on the Arab countries to increase cooperation in the field of tourism.
Speaking at the 21st session of the Council of Arab Ministers of Tourism on Monday in Egypt, he said a vibrant tourism sector could play a huge role in creating employment opportunities in the Arab world.
Saudi Arabia, he said, is taking all measures to boost its tourism sector. The SCTH president said the recently launched tourist visa platform is part of the Kingdom’s plan to diversify its economy and promoting domestic and international tourism.
In a bid to end reliance on oil, the Kingdom is investing in tourism, aiming to increase spending by Saudis at home instead of on holidays abroad.
Encouraging visits to local places of beauty or interest is a key goal of Vision 2030 and the Kingdom has some world-class sites, some in remote areas, which are all but unknown outside the Kingdom.
The SCTH’s Asir office recently added records of 19 new archaeological sites to the National Antiquities Register.
SCTH official Mohammed Al-Umrah said the number of sites listed in the National Antiquities Register through their office in Bisha during this year has increased to 214.
The new sites belong to the pre-Islamic and early Islam eras and were found in three provinces including Bisha, Tathlith, and Balqarn.
The SCTH’s efforts to register heritage and archaeological sites to the Urban Heritage List fall under the Kingdom’s Cultural Heritage Care program that includes a system of projects and programs to develop, highlight and preserve national heritage sites.
Saudi Arabia’s five national treasures have already been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2008, including Al-Ahsa oasis, Al-Hijr archaeological site (Madain Salih), Historic Jeddah and the rock art at Hail.
The fifth site, recognized by UNESCO in 2010, is Al-Turaif Historical District, the remains of a settlement that dates back to the 15th century. Located in the northwestern outskirts of the capital, Riyadh, it is one of the Kingdom’s oldest heritage sites, though its potential was only recognized relatively recently.