Whether you look at it at the crack of dawn, or under beaming moonlight, India’s iconic Taj Mahal is a sight to behold. In a survey carried out by leading travel portal TripAdvisor, Taj Mahal emerged the second best-rated UNESCO World Heritage site in the world by travelers across the globe.
Taj falls short of first place by Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, but has trumped the likes of Machu Picchu in Peru and the Great Wall of China. Although the monument is currently in a tug of war over its Indian identity, that doesn’t seem to shake its annual 8-million-strong tourist visits. “You can find hundreds of tours and experiences to visit this mesmerizing site, from a private tour with a guide and visit at sunset or sunrise, to a visit including a home-cooked meal at a local home in Agra”, the portal said.
Considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The tomb is the centrepiece of a 42-acre complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenelated wall. The construction of the ivory-white marble mausoleum is believed to have been completed in 1643, but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The Taj Mahal complex was completed in its entirety in 1653 and cost an estimated 32 million rupees at the time.
The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is considered as ‘the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage’, and is described by Rabindranath Tagore as ‘the teardrop on the cheek of time’. Taj Mahal is also regarded as the finest example of Mughal, and a jewel of India’s rich heritage.
While president of Agra Tourism Development Foundation Sandeep Arora and president of Hotel and Restaurant Association, Rakesh Chauhan welcomed the TripAdvisor ranking, their concern lay with more pressing issues at hand, such a safety of tourists, assault on foreign tourists, tour guide imposters, and bogus taxi drivers and photographers that bring shame to Agra. Speaking to TOI about the issue, Sandeep Arora said, ”The big problem is touts (locally known as ‘lapkas’) who operate in well-organised gangs. They pose as guides, photographers or taxi drivers and start pestering tourists, both Indian and foreigners, for their services and charge exorbitant rates from them. They sometime even get aggressive with tourists and go to the extent of threatening them, if the latter refuse to take their services. It’s high time the activities of these lapkas are stopped”.
Regarding the TripAdvisor ranking, Rakesh Chauhan said, “India and Taj are synonymous. There should be no compromise on the upkeep and professional management of the monument complex. The lackadaisical attitude of some of those at the helm of Taj’s management is the root cause of the problem. Accountability should be enforced and there should be no excuses for tolerating mismanagement”.
Other UNESCO Heritage Sites that made it to the list include Iguazu National Park in Argentina, Sassi of Matera in Italy, Auschwitz Birkenau in Poland and the Historic Areas of Istanbul.