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Veil goes up on Taj by moon

Nov. 25: Taj Mahal by moonlight, an enchanting sight the world has missed for 20 years, will be back on the tourism circuit from Saturday.

The visual feast ' with several checks in place ' will be on offer five days a month for three months initially, according to a night-viewing plan cleared by the Supreme Court today.

The marble monument should have been thrown open for viewing tomorrow, but in keeping with a Supreme Court condition that night viewing should not take place on Fridays ' the Muslim day of prayer ' visitors will be allowed in from Saturday.

'We are ready and the first show of the Taj on a full-moon night would take place on November 27,' Aloke Sinha, the Uttar Pradesh principal secretary, home, said.

The court has restricted visitors to 400 a night, with viewing fixed from 8.30 pm to 12.30 am. Barring a fleeting interlude, night viewing was banned since 1984 soon after Operation Bluestar. Visitors will be allowed on the fullmoon night as well as two days before and after.

Eight batches of 50 viewers each will be allowed entry to the monument for 30 minutes. 'After three months we will review the situation,' a three-judge bench of the court said.

The order said: 'Everyone, including the VVIPs, shall alight from their cars 500 metres away from the Taj and only battery-operated vehicles shall be used to ferry spectators, who would be allowed to carry nothing except the still camera and binoculars after a thorough check.'

The judges added that none, 'howsoever high one may be', would be allowed to go to the red sandstone platform for the night viewing without buying a ticket.

Uttar Pradesh officials said the tourists would not be allowed to go very near the Taj at night. They said a viewers' platform would be put up about 15 meters away from the monument.

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