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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September, 2004, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Taj birthday under a cloud

By Geeta Pandey
BBC correspondent in Agra

US tourists Jane (left) and Linda
US tourists Jane (left) and Linda had no idea of the anniversary
The much-hyped 350th birthday party for the Taj Mahal in the northern Indian city of Agra has been clouded by allegations of bad planning and crumbling infrastructure.

Local tour operators are complaining about the lack of planning in organising the six-month-long festivities to fete the stunning marble mausoleum.

Though last minute touches to spruce up Agra are continuing - kerbs are being painted, rubbish is being cleared and fresh paint being applied to buildings - the streets remain pot-holed.

SM Azmat, the president of the Tourism Guild of Agra, is critical of way the celebrations have been organised.

"There's a lot that could have been done better. The marketing of the event should have started a long time ago," he says.

Most tourists said they had no information about the festivities.

George, from Hungary, said he would have brought his family along and stayed a night in Agra if he had known about the celebrations.

I wish I had known, I would have stayed back on Monday
US tourist Jane

Sitting on a bench near the manicured lawns of the Taj were Linda and Jane, who had come from the United States.

Linda says she travels around the world, but there's no other monument in the world that even comes close to the beauty of the Taj.

Her companion, Jane, says she had absolutely no idea that the Taj was 350 years old.

No brochures

"I wish I had known, I would have stayed back on Monday then. This is so much larger than I thought it would be. It's extraordinary," she said.

Taj Mahal

Linda and Jane were part of an American tourist group that left Agra on Monday morning for their next destination, Varanasi.

Most of them did not hear about the festivities until they reached Agra.

Margaret Dell from Boston, US, thought it was a real coincidence.

"I found out this morning when I switched on the television that Taj Mahal turns 350 today. But I'm pleased to be here."

There are no pamphlets or brochures to inform the tourists about the celebrations.

But Mr Azamat of the Tourism Guild says he expects the celebrations to benefit Agra in the long-run.

"An attempt has been made to clean up the place, and all these events will bring in more tourists. They may not come now, but they will come six months or a year later," he said.

"That can only be good for the Taj, and Agra."

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