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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Mock Taj Mahal draws crowds

By Charles Haviland
BBC correspondent in Madras

Hundreds of visitors have been flocking to enjoy a replica of the Taj Mahal in the southern city of Madras.

Replica Taj
Made out of polystyrene, plywood, plaster-of-paris and aluminium foil
It has been built to help attract visitors to a series of trade fairs organised this summer by the Zak company, based in the city.

Two Bollywood designers, Salim Tamimi and Anand Shinde, are the brains behind the project.

Mr Tamimi told the BBC he was inspired by a desire to win a place in the Guinness Book of Records for speed of construction.

Cheaper and faster

This is certainly a Taj with a difference.

The original Taj Mahal, one of the world's supreme artistic wonders, was put up in the 17th century by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb to his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

We used 300 labourers, carpenters and artisans
Wasim Tamimi

It took 22 years to build and is said to have been worked on by 20,000 craftsmen and labourers.

"Our one took 22 days to put up," said Salim's brother Wasim Tamimi, chuckling.

"We used 300 labourers, carpenters and artisans."

And in contrast to the original's marble, inlaid with precious stones, this value-for-money Taj has been constructed out of polystyrene, plywood, plaster-of-paris and aluminium foil.

Thirty metres tall, it occupies about half the land area of the real Taj.

Clever copy

Even half-closing your eyes, it would be difficult to mistake any part of this structure for the original.

A "marble effect" has been simply painted on, while the four minarets that surround the main edifice aren't quite vertical.

Salim Tamimi
The designers hope to attract a million visitors
But there have been some painstaking attempts to capture the original.

Wasim Tamimi says photographs of Agra were used as guides, and he employed a calligrapher, Mr Shoaib, to copy some of the many Koranic verses inscribed on the walls.

While the flower and leaf motifs on the real Taj were created by embedding precious stones in cavities in the marble, on this replica they have been painted on by watercolour - to surprisingly good effect, viewed from afar.

This Taj has its own small garden and waterway, and - like the real one - its own spot for taking that snap for the family album.

Only inside, Wasim says, was there no desire to imitate the Agra Taj.

"It would have been disrespectful to copy the graves of the king and queen," says Wasim Hamimi.

Instead, a candle is being put up as a simple memorial.

After its five-week summer sojourn in Madras, the replica Taj is due to move on later to Hyderabad and then to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

Its designers hope it will attract a million visitors while here.

They are already flocking in to decide on the artistic merits - if any - of this polystyrene Taj Mahal.

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