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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 09:24 GMT 10:24 UK
Living in the shadow of the Taj
Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal provides a living for many of Agra's residents
As the Indian city of Agra celebrates 350 years of the Taj Mahal, BBC World Service's Outlook programme investigates what is life like for the people living in its famous silhouette.

The Taj Mahal, the great marble monument of love, was built as a tomb for Mumtaz Mahal, beloved wife of Shah Jahan.

But the Taj also has another function. As a major global tourist attraction, it provides a source of income for thousands of local people.

Thousands of tourists visit the Taj daily, providing the income for the people touting for their business - tour guides, camera sellers and souvenir shops.

Among these is Wuhabedeen, whose family have been doing the same business - marble inlay artistry - for four generations. His work provides food for his 10 sons, 13 daughters and three wives.

Wuhabedeen is now a sick man, having been diagnosed with lung cancer.

He is working on his own tribute to the Taj.

With the help of his sons he has decided to create a replica of the masterpiece as seen from above, complete with flowers and gardens.

"After this I will not work again, because I'm 62 years old, and this will take a year to complete," he said.

"This piece will be only one of its kind in the world - the whole world."

'Beautiful thing'

Another man who earns his money from the tourist trade is boatman Manooj, whose house is in the street in front of the Taj.

At five o'clock every morning, he walks down a lane at the side of the monument to his boat. Although he does not advertise, he still has many clients.

Taj Mahal
It is something extraordinary. And it is always beautiful
Restaurant owner Apinaph Jane
"There are lots of tourists for whom the Taj entry fee is nothing - but there are some who look at the Taj from the outside, and then go away," he explained.

"They come to my boat, and say, 'the Taj entrance price is very expensive. Take us out in your boat' - especially during sunrise and sunset."

Usually he takes people across the banks to take photographs of the Taj in the river.

"The Taj today brings me my bread and butter," he added.

"What a beautiful thing it is."

This part of Agra is now more dependent than ever on tourism, as air-polluting businesses have been banned from the area.

Apinaph Jane, who runs a restaurant that directly or indirectly employs 1,000 people, said that after the 11 September attacks in the United States11 a drop in tourist trade meant much of the city went through a worrying time.

'So-called love'

However, he now says India is back on the tourist map - and that to him the 350th anniversary matters little, as the Taj Mahal is always special.

"Whenever I go to the Taj Mahal, I always find something new," he points out.

Taj Mahal at dawn
The tourist trade is booming
"You see it from the left side, the right, the atmosphere, the lighting effect, morning, sunset - I've seen the Taj Mahal many times.

"If you see the Taj Mahal in the moonlight at midnight, it is something extraordinary. And it is always beautiful."

But not everyone has such a favourable view of the monument, however.

Gori Kilkurni, a yoga teacher based in Delhi - who used to live in Agra and grew up there - argues that the love it is a memorial to is strongly male-centred.

"Everybody knows how women are treated in this part of Asia - they are treated as animals," she said.

"When they die, we treat them as a God, and we pray for them - but when they're alive, we don't treat them as human beings.

"If you look at the history of Mumtaz, she died giving birth to her 16th child. So you see the kind of so-called love Shah Jahan had for Mumtaz."

Taj Mahal birthday party begins
27 Sep 04  |  South Asia
In pictures: Taj Mahal celebrations
27 Sep 04  |  In Pictures
Taj birthday under a cloud
27 Sep 04  |  South Asia


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