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Shahjahan’s perpetual contribution to Indian economy

Original_taj-mahal

I have been to Taj many times: in childhood as a curious visitor just to tell friends that I, too, had seen one of the “wonders of the world”, later as an appreciative keen observer noting its special features like symmetry, sense of proportion, illusion and its unique architecture. This time on my road trip to my native Azamgarh I halted on the way and visited Taj Mahal in the evening as it was too hot in the afternoon. I noticed that though the entry fee had been enhanced (local Rs. 40, foreigner Rs 1000), Taj, however, was in a bad shape. It was yellowish in colour except for one minaret which perhaps was cleaned and contrasted well. The three other minarets were engulfed in scaffolds like fractured limbs in plaster cart. There was no water for the fountains, which was understandable when many parts of the country were facing severe water scarcity. One is, however, hit by the callousness of our government leaders when lakhs of litres of water are sprinkled to make their official visits elsewhere pleasant.

Right from the parking lot I was confronted with electric vehicles, camel-driven vehicles, tourist guides, people selling souvenirs and even disposable shoe covers (for visiting the mausoleum), apart from hotel and shop agents. Serpentine queues for male and female visitors almost put me off though I was told that this was off season. With so many visitors (and quite a few foreigners among them) I wondered as to how much revenue was earned on a daily basis and now with a massive security staff how much employment is generated directly and indirectly just by this single monument built by a “Babar ki Aulad”.

Taj has been described in so many ways and by so many experts that I should better refrain from explaining details about intricate inlay work in stone, the unbelievable curved inlays in the crevices or numerous other features. Even the viewing times: sunrise, sunset etc., evokes different feelings and brings about the sensitivity of this supposedly feminine architecture. I would rather tell about another place worth visiting on the eastern gate of Taj Mahal. On my return trip after overnight stay in Lucknow, my son booked a hotel in Agra apprehending late night arrival in Delhi. Luckily, the hotel was on the eastern gate side and on our morning walk towards Taj Mahal on the paved road I came across “Taj Nature Walk”. I have not imagined the magnificent view of Taj from such a height as can be had from this park with paved tracks going up to the hillocks and down through the valley. At two different viewpoints marked as “Mumtaz” and “Shahjahan”, one can have an unbelievably splendid view of Taj among the thick green foliage of trees in the park. View from Mumtaz point is better and the place also has more benches for sitting. With peafowl dancing around their mates unhesitatingly and in natural abandon, groups of parrots twittering parroting around, conveniently-placed bowls of water and edibles, mynahs, cuckoos and scores of other birds flying or nesting intrepidly in the trees, one was ecstatic. In spite of ample signs, about not littering the place and specifically not using plastics/polythenes, I could notice empty water bottles thrown on the grass and in bushes. While calling the district forest officer on my cell phone and thanking him for preserving the park, I expressed my regret at the shameful acts of my fellow tourists.

How much business is provided to the tourism industry can just be imagined by the abundance of hotels and restaurants around Taj Mahal. When I went to purchase the Agra delicacy, petha, the shopkeeper traced its origin to the Mughal imperial kitchen.

Centuries of contribution of this Mughal architecture to Indian economy has been so poetically summed up in these few lines by Tagore:
Though emeralds, rubies, pearls are all
But as the glitter of a rainbow
tricking out empty air
And must pass away, Yet still one solitary tear
Would hang on the cheek of time
In the form
Of this white and gleaming Taj Mahal.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2016 on page no. 2

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