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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 June, 2003, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Taj Mahal fends off developers
By Vijay Rana
BBC South Asia reporter

After widespread protests the Indian Government has halted a major construction scheme next to the Taj Mahal.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his wife Sehba pose in 2001
The Taj Mahal is a must for world leaders

Conservationists heaved a sigh of relief after Culture Minister Jagmohan ordered a halt to building on the complex, which includes shopping malls, restaurants, multiplex cinemas and other entertainment facilities.

The project, worth $36m, was being built on the bed of the River Yamuna.

Opponents of the scheme had argued that putting embankments on the Yamuna would alter the local ecology and dry up the flood plains.

They had warned it might also disturb the soil structure, damaging the Taj Mahal.

Construction on the project - planned by the state government of Utter Pradesh - began quietly in November last year.

Already there have been reports that the lack of water in the Yamuna was damaging the red stone base of the Taj Mahal.

The state government said it needed to relocate shops which have been removed from the Taj Mahal premises under a Supreme Court order.

It also argued that tourists would be able to visit the Taj Mahal without travelling through the crowded and polluted streets of Agra City.

Monument to love

Perhaps no love story in India is complete without the lovers being photographed with a backdrop of Taj Mahal.

Poets have endearingly called it a "monument to love".

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Shah Jahan in the 17th Century for his beloved wife Mumtaj Mahal, who died in childbirth.

THE TAJ MAHAL
More than 10,000 Indian and Persian artisans took 22 years to build it in the 17th Century
Legend has it that after its completion the hands of the artisans were chopped off so that they would not be able to build anything to rival it

Soon after its completion, the shah was dethroned and imprisoned a few miles away in the royal palace, the Red Fort.

The story goes that the distraught king rather cleverly put up a small mirror on the wall of the balcony there and would watch for hours the newly built Taj Mahal which stood across plains flooded by the River Yamuna.

Most tourists still go to that balcony and emulate Shah Jahan watching the Taj Mahal in the small mirror.

This majestic view would have disappeared if the Uttar Pradesh government had been allowed to have its way.

Threat not receded

For the moment the crisis seems to have been averted with the Indian Government's decision to overrule the state government's construction plans.

But the powerful construction industry, which thrives on making generous donations to its political masters, have set their heart on this prime land.

They will try to find other ways to commercially exploit it.

Those who love their heritage have a long battle on their hands to save the Taj Mahal.




SEE ALSO:
Mock Taj Mahal draws crowds
19 May 03  |  South Asia
Full moon vision of the Taj
24 Dec 99  |  South Asia
Hotel group bails out Taj Mahal
22 Jun 01  |  South Asia
Taj Mahal disappears under magic spell
10 Nov 00  |  Media reports


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