LOCATED on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra, the Unesco World Heritage-listed Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. A whopping total of 20,000 people worked on the building, which underwent a huge restoration project in the early 20th century.
For most travelers, it is an image that is synonymous with India, as it is the nation’s biggest tourist attraction. In fact, the landmark is a favorite spot for visiting VIPs and celebrities.
The late Princess Diana took the now iconic photo of her sitting alone on a marble seat here in 1992; an image that has become a favorite for foreign travelers to recreate when they get a moment’s break in the heaving crowds.
However, the increased accessibility of domestic travel has seen a rise in the number of local Indian tourists visiting the site, with millions now making the trip to Agra to marvel at the 17th-century monument annually.
Daily visitor numbers to the 43-acre Taj Mahal average 10,000-15,000 but can be much higher on weekends, going up to around 70,000.
Unfortunately, the vast crowds have increased wear and tear on the tomb, which has been undergoing renovation in recent years to prevent the iconic white marble from turning yellow due to air pollution. There was also concern that the increased visitor numbers could put pressure on its foundations.
Various steps have been taken to manage the crowd, including raising the entry fee and imposing a three-hour maximum time allowance. Additional charges have also been imposed for entry into the main crypt, which houses the graves of the monument’s builder, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Recently, India’s Union Tourism and Culture Minister Prahlad Singh Patel told IANS in an interview that the Taj Mahal will remain open even beyond its 10am to 6pm public access time.
“We have been receiving a lot of requests to keep the monument open during the night hours. We are dedicated to make this a reality,” Patel was quoted as saying. The Tourism Ministry is also planning to illuminate the area around the monument and develop the infrastructure that will be necessary to manage the night rush.
The ministry is engaging with various departments to get clearances for this new plan so you may just be able to see the stunning Taj Mahal in a different light soon.
Currently, night access to the renowned monument is only limited to five nights per month at present – during full moon night and on the two nights preceding and following the full moon. During these nights, only 400 tourists in eight batches of 50 people each are allowed.