AGRA, India, May 29, 2016 – London Bridge is falling down. Venice is sinking. The glaciers are receding. And the Taj Mahal is disappearing.
Listed as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the Taj Mahal is also one of India’s most precious tourist attractions, if not THE most recognized site in the country.
Sadly, the Taj, which was completed in 1643 as a tribute by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as an eternal tribute of his undying love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, is today fighting a losing battle against pollution.
Over the centuries the Taj Mahal has survived multiple threats including Mogul rule and British colonialism. But now, environmentalists must find a way to halt the onslaught of contemporary pollution.
Pollution problems have plagued the ancient mausoleum for decades. But efforts to resolve the situation have resulted in a catch-22 that will require a new approach to save the giant marble monument before it disappears.
Situated on the south bank of the Yamuna River, the Taj has been battling deterioration problems resulting from nearby industries since the early days of the 20th century. Despite a 1983 law that banned industrial construction within a 50-square mile radius of the monument, more than 200 new factories have been built in recent years.
Sulphur dioxide emitted from factories near the Taj Mahal was the primary culprit at first. But with nearly 7 million visitors to the site each year, exhaust from trucks and buses has also contributed to the problem.
At first the solution was to wash the mausoleum on a daily basis in an effort to eliminate as much of the polluting agents as possible.
Over time however, the Yamuna River has also become a victim, making it little more than a liquid garbage dump. In the process, the fish have long since disappeared, leaving swarms of insects to thrive and endanger the Taj even further.
Today the soft marble structure is visibly eroding, with yellow and brown spots that can be seen with the naked eye.
The daily chemical “baths” intended to clean the marble help alleviate the problem left by mosquitoes and other insects, but they can also seriously damage the marble and precious mosaics over time.
Among the factors involved in attempting to solve the problem is a debate over the cause of the pollution itself. It is no secret that India is smothering under the weight of its humanity, and many of the industries that are the worst offenders also provide employment for thousands of people.
Thus, locals are in a love/hate relationship both the Taj and industry that can be justified on both sides of the argument.
The love story surrounding Shah Jahan’s grief following the death of Mumtaz Mahal is the stuff of legends. The Persian princess died while giving birth to the couple’s 14th child.
Construction began in 1632 and was completed in 1643. The surrounding buildings and gardens were finished approximately five years later.
Shah Jahan was obsessed with the concept of symmetry, which is one of the first things visitors notice when they tour the grounds.
The masterful architectural design was created in such a way that the Taj Mahal is not visible until visitors enter the grounds through an archway that reveals the majestic monument in all its symmetrical glory.
Across the river on the north bank, a large area that is now a garden offers a different view of the Taj than the more familiar scenes that are frequently photographed. It is believed that Shah Jahan intended to build another black “palace” for himself that would face the gleaming white marble of the Taj Mahal.
If that is true, the dream was never realized. Shah Jahan was buried in the mausoleum beside his beloved wife. Oddly enough, Shah Jahan’s tomb is slightly catty-cornered, which makes it the only non-symmetrical item in the entire complex.
For now, the immediate problem for Indian officials is figuring a way to save the Taj Mahal from disappearing under the cloud of pollution that surrounds it.
One proposal has been to limit the number of visitors that are allowed to view the Taj Mahal on any given day.
Meanwhile, the Agra Development Authority is not helping the situation by submitting other proposals, which include night illumination and possibly a cable-car system that will offer an aerial view of the structure.
Those who are fighting to preserve the integrity of Shah Jahal’s creation argue that the Taj Mahal has its own culture and beauty without outside enhancements that detract from the original concept.
For travelers who wish to view the Taj Mahal in all of its majestic glory, time may just be of the essence. You might want to plan to see the Taj Mahal before it “melts.”
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award- winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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