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.”


Paris official seeks to outlaw Airbnb rentals in city center

Updated 06 September 2018
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Paris official seeks to outlaw Airbnb rentals in city center

  • With some 60,000 apartments on offer in the city, Paris is the biggest market for Airbnb
  • The administration of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has already taken action against Airbnb and others

PARIS: The Paris city council member in charge of housing said Thursday that he would propose outlawing home rentals via Airbnb and other websites in the city center, accusing the service of forcing residents out of the French capital.
Ian Brossat said that he would also seek to prohibit the purchase of secondary residences in Paris, saying such measures were necessary to keep the city from becoming an “open-air museum.”
“One residence out of every four no longer houses Parisians,” said Brossat, who is expected to head the Communist party list for European Parliament elections next year.
With some 60,000 apartments on offer in the city, Paris is the biggest market for Airbnb, which like other home-sharing platforms has come under increasing pressure from cities which claim it drives up rents for locals.
“Do we want Paris to be a city which the middle classes can afford, or do we want it to be a playground for Saudi or American billionaires?” he said.
Brossat has had Airbnb and its rivals in his sights for years, and recently published a book assailing the US giant titled “Airbnb, or the Uberised City.”
He wants to forbid any short-term tourist rentals of entire apartments in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Arrondissements of Paris, home to some of the world’s most popular sites including the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Louvre museum.
“If we don’t do anything, there won’t be any more locals: Like on the Ile Saint-Louis, we’ll end up with a drop in the number of residents and food shops turned into clothing or souvenir stores,” he said, referring to the Seine island in the shadow of the Notre-Dame cathedral.
“We’ll be living in an open-air museum,” he added.
Brossat hopes the measures will be included in a law aimed at overhauling France’s real estate laws to be debated this fall.
The administration of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has already taken action against Airbnb and others, requiring homeowners to register with the city and limiting the number of rentals to 120 nights a year.
Last month the city said the total amount of fines levied against home rental platforms rose to €1.38 million ($1.60 million) from January to August 15, compared with €1.3 million for 2017 as a whole.
Its crackdown echoes those in other hot tourist destinations including Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin.
Last month Airbnb sued the city of New York after it passed a law forcing home-sharing platforms to disclose data about their hosts, calling it a campaign “funded by the city’s powerful hotel lobby.”