NEW DELHI – One of the wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, has seen receding attendance figures of late because of air pollution that is turning its ethereal white marble yellow, The Washington Post reported.
Some in India feel that a staunch Hindu nationalist government recently elected in the Taj’s home state of Uttar Pradesh is starving the world heritage site of funds and support because it was built by Muslim rulers.
The state’s new chief minister, the saffron-robed Hindu priest Yogi Adityanath, set the tone early on when he said at a rally that tiny models of the Taj Mahal are often given to visiting foreign dignitaries even though the monument “does not reflect Indian culture.”
The Taj, the country’s biggest tourism draw, was not allotted any cultural heritage funds in the state budget for the coming year. And in a blow that sparked protest from India’s opposition party, the monument was omitted from the state’s official tourism brochure last week.
Indian National Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi likened a tourism brochure without the Taj Mahal to a Hamlet-less Hamlet.
“If it is a booklet on tourism and it excludes Taj Mahal, at one level it is a joke and at another level it is tragic. It is like saying we will have ‘Hamlet’ without the Prince of Denmark,” Singhvi told reporters Monday. He called the omission “a clear religious bias which is completely misplaced.”
Adityanath’s government countered criticism by saying that the state, espoused funds from the World Bank, had slated $22 million to the monument for new gates, beautification and a multilevel parking structure.
“The Taj Mahal is the seventh wonder of the world. It has always been a priority not only for Uttar Pradesh but for the entire country of India,” said Awanish Awasthi, Adityanath’s principal secretary. “It will always be central to all our tourism policy but there were some other new projects we wanted to feature.”
The soaring white marble mausoleum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built in the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his late wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and is considered one of the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. India’s famed poet Rabindranath Tagore called it “one tear-drop . . . on the cheek of time.”
The Taj Mahal has long been one of India’s prime tourist draws for foreign visitors, but its tourist numbers have dropped steadily since 2012, despite the opening of a modern highway that can shoot tour buses there from the nation’s capital, New Delhi, in under three hours.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, 480,000 tourists visited the mausoleum in 2015, a 35 percent drop from the 743,000 foreign tourists who visited there in 2012. Even with domestic tourists, the figure dropped by almost 113,400 from 2012 to 2015, officials say.
Tourism officials have given varying reasons for the decline, including the economy, lack of infrastructure, and security concerns in the fallout of a well-publicised gang rape in New Delhi.