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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 November, 2004, 16:21 GMT
Taj Mahal open to nocturnal visit
Taj Mahal at sundown (archive picture)
The onion-domed Taj was given a facelift two years ago
India's Taj Mahal opens its doors to the public for night-time viewing for the first time in 20 years on Saturday.

The shrine, which has just celebrated its 350th anniversary, was closed at night because of security worries.

But now the Supreme Court has ruled the famous monument to love can open five nights a month. A maximum 400 people will be allowed to see it each night.

The Taj, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a shrine for his wife, is one of India's most protected sites.

The white marble mausoleum, situated on the banks of the river Yamuna, is sometimes known as a teardrop on the cheek of time.

Local police chief Alok Prasad said security had been stepped up.

"Over 200 hundred policemen have been deployed in and around the Taj and commandos will guard key access points," he told AFP news agency.

Tourists will only be allowed to view the Taj Mahal from a red sandstone platform some 350 yards (318 metres) from the monument, the agency added.

Attack fears

Night visits to the Taj, once a romantic highlight of any visit to India, were banned in 1984 amid fears that militant Sikhs battling the government would attack it.

When moonlight falls on the white marble it's like a glowing diamond, a jewel in space. You have to sit far away and gradually walk towards it. Full moon is mind-boggling
Photographer Raghu Rai

The Sikh insurgency ended in the mid-1990s, but Indian authorities remained reluctant to let visitors back to the Taj after sunset.

During the height of tensions between India and Pakistan in 2001, officials drew up plans to camouflage the Taj to disguise it from possible Pakistani air attacks.

There were also fears that a militant Kashmiri separatist group, Laskhar-e-Toiba, was planning to try and blow up the shrine built by Shah Jahan as an expression of love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

It was designated as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1983, meaning the Indian Supreme Court must rule on major works or changes likely to impact on the site.

Visitors view the Taj Mahal by moonlight

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