Taj Mahal entry fee hiked by 400 percent in bid to deter visitors
"We want people to pay more to limit the footfall," says an official at one of the world's most popular attractions
Entry to the Taj Mahal - one of the world's most exquisite landmarks, and also among the most visited - has soared in price for Indian residents as part of an ongoing government initiative to bring visitor numbers down.
As of Monday, an all-inclusive ticket to access the 365-year-old main mausoleum in Agra will rise from 50 rupees (61c) to 250 rupees (€3.05) for Indian nationals, and from around €14.50 to €16.50 for foreigners.
Domestic tourists make up the vast majority of visitors to the Taj Mahal, and the decision by authorities to increase the entry fee will likely have a significant impact in a country where the average daily wage is just 270 rupees (€3.30).
The price for international visitors only rose by 15 per cent.
"We want people to pay more to limit the footfall," said an official from the Archaeological Survey of India, the government body responsible for its maintenance.
"This will cut down the number of visitors to the mausoleum by at least 15-20 percent and generate revenue for its conservation."
Earlier this year, in another crowd-control move, the government capped domestic visitor numbers to 40,000 a day. Before this, up to 70,000 tourists would flood the Unesco-listed site on weekends and holidays.
The cap was partly sparked by a small stampede at the east entry gate last December that saw five people sustain injuries as late-comers tried to force their way into the complex just before closing time.
In July, India's Supreme Court threatened to either shut or even tear down the monument over the failure of the authorities to protect it from degradation, according to AFP.
What's the key issue here?
Preservation. The Taj Mahal has been suffering for some time under the weight of eight million annual visitors. The pale marble from which it was so carefully crafted is being yellowed by air pollution.
The River Yamuna which runs alongside it is dank and contaminated, and the whole site is assaulted by monkeys, who clamber up its facade in great numbers.
To protect it from further pollution, motor vehicles are not allowed within 500 metres of the complex, and there are plans to clean the facade and dome, possibly from April 2019.
Is it fair to raise the price so high for Indian natives?
It's certainly controversial. Imagine the fury if a similar policy was adopted at Stonehenge or Westminster Abbey. Then again, if it's the only way to significantly lower visitor numbers, it could be a necessary evil.
"We need to preserve the Taj Mahal for the generations to come," insists India's culture minister Mahesh Sharma, by any means necessary.
But will this really make enough of a difference?
Possibly not, according to travel writer Chris Leadbeater, who argues:
"Even the most rudimentary mathematical calculations show why. Forty thousand domestic tourists a day equates to 14.6 million people over the course of a year - and that is before you add in international visitors.
"This suggests that the current official annual head-count of eight million is a massive under-estimate. The Taj Mahal is enormously over-subscribed, and a tinkering with tickets is not going to change this."
I want to visit, any tips?
India expert Gill Charlton advises:
"To see the Taj Mahal with the fewest people, it is best to arrive at the West or East Gates at 6.30am in winter – around half an hour before it opens (the South Gate doesn’t open until 8am). On reaching the East Gate, you will find four lanes leading to security: foreign women, foreign men, local women and local men.
"Joining the queue at 7am can mean a wait of 30 minutes to reach security as a foreigner. If you don’t want to get up that early - or it is a really foggy morning - the queue is often shorter around 8.30am after the first rush to get in."
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