Taj Mahal, the 17th-century architectural marvel, shut since March 17 due to Covid-19 pandemic, opened for public on Monday. About 160 tickets were booked online but first to enter was a tourist from Taiwan staying in India, officials said.
A maximum of 5,000 visitors will be allowed in two shifts per day into the monument which will be a sight for sore eyes with its well-manicured lawns.
Officials at the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said they had not neglected the monument despite its gates having remained closed for so long.
Tight Covid-19 protocol will be followed for checking tourists. There will be no window ticket sale, visitors can scan the code to purchase tickets or book online through the ASI website or the mobile app.
Not many paid Rs 200 to visit the main mausoleum but appeared more content taking photos of the monument and clicking themselves on the ‘Diana seat’.
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“Lawns were maintained all through these six months and we are all set for the Taj re-opening from September 21 – from sunrise to sunset. All would go through thermal check and they would be provided with sanitizer,” said AN Gupta, conservation assistant, ASI at Taj Mahal.
Gupta said not more than five visitors will be allowed at a time within the main mausoleum which houses the graves of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Taj Mahal will remain closed on Fridays,” said Agra district magistrate Prabhu N Singh.
Vasant Swarnkar, superintending archaeologist for ASI’s Agra circle, said, “The Taj Mahal will have visitors in two slots — pre-lunch and post-lunch. In each slot, there would be a maximum of 2,500 visitors. Once tickets for the first slot are sold, tickets will be issued for the second slot. In a day, a maximum of 5,000 visitors can visit Taj Mahal.”
Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) jawans will remain at a distance and check visitors with hand-held metal detectors.
While no goods are to be carried inside Taj Mahal, an ambulance would be ready at the gates, Gupta said.
Taj reopening has excited all those who make a living in and around the monument. For instance, Munawwar Ali, 50, began cleaning items at his marble goods shop on Sunday for the first time since March 16.
“We have called the staff on Monday after six months. We expect business to be slow but at least we will see tourists going to the Taj,” said Ali who has a shop adjoining the western gate of the monument.
‘Yes, we are excited about the reopening of the Taj after such a long duration. A day will come when international flights will resume. In the beginning, domestic tourists from nearby regions would come,” said Rajiv Tiwari, president of the Federation of Travel Association of Agra.
“ASI needs to follow the Covid-19 protocol so that all goes smoothly. The government should begin thinking about restarting international flights as European nations have resumed tourism. We have to live with the coronavirus,” Tiwari added.
Indians will have to pay Rs 50 per ticket for visiting Taj Mahal and shell out Rs 200 more for entering the main mausoleum. During routine days, it was mostly foreign tourists who used to pay extra to enter the main mausoleum.
Tourism trade experts recollect that the Taj Mahal had never remained closed for such a long period before. The decision to close monuments all over the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic was taken on March 17, before the lockdown.
“It is perhaps for the first time that the ‘monument of love’, which attracts a large number of tourists to India, had been closed for such a long time,” said Arun Dang, former president of Tourism Guild.
“This is unprecedented. Though the monument was closed during the Second World War and also during two wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, the closure had not been so long,” said Dang.