Minus Bruni, Sarkozy poses with lady photographer at Taj


Agra : French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited the Taj Mahal Saturday, but minus his girlfriend Carla Bruni who had been widely expected to make it to the monument to love.

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Her absence notwithstanding, Sarkozy appeared to be in a relaxed mood. At one point, he cajoled a French lady photographer to pose with him for a snap at the central tank, the imposing Taj providing the perfect backdrop, a witness said.

“Unforgettable! Will come soon!” the president wrote in the visitors’ book in French, the translation provided by an Indian official.

With the Taj Mahal complex barred for tourists, Sarkozy spent a relaxed hour at the white marble monument, looking awe struck by its beauty.

“He kept asking questions to his people,” said an official of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which maintains the Taj Mahal.

The bright sunshine made the Taj dazzle, a cool breeze adding life to the atmosphere.

Moved by rumours over the days that Bruni might make it to Agra with the love-struck president, large crowds gathered outside the Taj but were kept behind makeshift barricades erected by the police.

Journalists – at least a majority of them – were kept confined to the parking lot of a nearby shopping complex as well as the Eastern Gate and Western Gate of the Taj.

Even after the president and his delegation left the Taj at 3 p.m. to board his plane at Kheria airport, 10 km away, many wondered why Bruni kept away from the Taj.

“Indians love lovers. They worship Radha and Krishna. The two together (Sarkozy and Bruni) would have made a lovely picture,” said Abhinav Jain, an exporter who was standing at the Eastern Gate.

Sarkozy reached the 17th century Mughal monument, built by emperor Shahjahan for his wife Mumtaz, at 2 p.m. after being the guest of honour at the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi.

The excitement among those gathered near the Taj reached a crescendo when half a dozen battery-operated buses drove in. Many craned their necks to see if model and singer Bruni was with the president.

For days there had been speculation that Bruni might fly to Agra although she had announced that she was not going to visit India. Some locals kept insisting that she would land directly in Agra from Paris.

Even some senior police officers admitted they were confused.

Sarkozy’s visit put the average tourist to the Taj to a lot of inconvenience. They had turned up in large numbers due to the Republic Day holiday. But the Taj was closed to visitors around 12.30 p.m. and stayed closed till 3.15 p.m.