| The Taj Mahal: Tourist magnet (AFP)
Lucknow, Aug. 24: Three centuries ago, the Taj Mahal was Shah Jahan’s ode to his love; now it is Uttar Pradesh’s ode to tourism.
Years after the Supreme Court banned night viewing of the Taj and cultural shows on its premises, the Mulayam Singh Yadav government is planning to throw open the monument by moonlight and stage shows there as well.
Come September, a six-month festival to celebrate 350 years of the Taj will begin. Not only will lovers get a chance to coo by the Taj in moonlight, six cultural shows will be held on the Mehtab Bagh grounds, about 500 km from the monument that will be illuminated in exotic colours.
Apart from celebrating the Taj itself, the idea is to woo tourists to the state.
Since the formation of Uttaranchal, its older sibling has been feeling shortch-anged of popular tourism hangouts.
Before the actual festivities take off on September 27, the state is planning to take the Taj to Japan and Australia. Roadshows are being planned in these countries from September 14 to 16 on the history of Shah Jahan’s love for Mumtaz Mahal with a view to drawing tourists.
Already, tour operators have booked about 60 per cent of the hotels in Agra. A convention of the operators was held early this month and plans were drawn up to improve street lighting, set up road signs and grow more plants and trees.
The Union culture ministry recently gave the go-ahead for the Taj festivities, but clearance from the Archaeological Survey of India is still awaited. Once that comes through, the state will have to approach the Supreme Court along with them.
“We have to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court for a formal go-ahead because we want to illuminate a heritage monument, for which there are clear Supreme Court guidelines. We are hoping the court will clear it,” Aloke Sinha, principal secretary in the state tourism ministry, said.
ASI director general C. Babu Raju has already inspected the Taj premises. Sources said he is unlikely to deny permission provided security arrangements are satisfactory and there is strict monitoring of decibel levels.
The ban on night viewing of the Taj and cultural shows was clamped after the Yanni music concert ran into controversy.
Environment experts objected saying the lights had been too bright and had attracted insects which settled on the monument walls and stained it with their excreta.
“This time the state government proposes to tone down the glare as well as keep the decibel level under permissible limits,” a senior tourism officer said.
The state has approached Krishna Mahajan, a Supreme Court advocate, to file an affidavit in the apex court seeking clearance for the show. The go-ahead is expected by the first week of September.