Tourists pack Taj Mahal, jam roads to Agra


Agra : Thousands of tourists, domestic and foreign, flooded Agra on the last day of 2009, causing hours-long traffic holdups that stretched to the next city. In the past week, around 25,000 people have been thronging the Taj Mahal every day, bringing cheer to the hotel industry, but leading to serpentine queues at the monument.

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On Thursday hotels reported they were full. As more tourists poured in, the queues at the Taj Mahal and other monuments seemed endless. The domestic tourists preferred to spend the night in Agra after a visit to Vrindavan and Mathura which probably had a record number of pilgrims for this time of the year.

Many tourists, like the Malhotra family from Delhi, turned up late at the Taj Mahal and had to extend their stay in the city by a day. Many others were disappointed as their vehicles were stranded in traffic jams right from Vrindavan to Agra. “Never before have we seen such an influx of visitors on a single day from Delhi, Punjab and Haryana,” a small food joint owner named Mukesh said. The road to Fatehpur Sikri witnessed traffic jams for hours.

“Visitors have had a nightmare in Agra these last few days,” commented tourist guide Hashmat who expressed concern about the security breaches at the Taj Mahal, accusing the police and the security personnel of letting visitors in without frisking and checking their tickets. With mounting pressure on tourists at all the three gates of the Taj Mahal there was virtual chaos. “It is clear that the security at the Taj was not adequate. If we have not had any catastrophic experience here, it is because the almighty is kind,” Hashmat added.

A few years ago the Supreme Court had directed the local authorities to implement a contingency plan, install a public address system and provide an adequate number of metal detectors with sufficient battery backups at the Taj Mahal. “But unfortunately the powers that be hardly seem concerned about the evolving mechanism and putting a system in place that would cope with the increased number of tourists which was anticipated for this time of the year,” said tourism industry leader Abhinav Jain. He said it was the first time in history that entrance tickets were sold in black.

“Some people have obviously cornered chunks of tickets available at Shilpgram booking window 500 metres away, and have been selling them at a premium to those tourists who turn up at one of the three gates not knowing the windows have been shifted,” Jain added.

Lack of coordination among different agencies could prove a danger to the security of the world-famous Mughal monument to love, said Sandeep Arora, former president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.

“It is high time that the tourist influx into the Taj Mahal was slowed down in the interest of the ageing monument. An advance booking system should be put in place and a graded ticketing system should be evolved. Those who just want to have a look from the main gate should pay a nominal fee and those wanting to have a closer view should pay more. E-ticketing and the use of credit cards for booking tickets should be immediately introduced,” Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma told IANS.