Taj amid sand, this time for real!

April 3rd, 2011 - 1:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Agra, April 3 (IANS) Some years back there was a story in a leading daily that the Taj Mahal is being shifted to Rajasthan. It later emerged that it was an April fool’s joke. With a camel safari project being planned on the dried up Yamuma riverbed here, the joke has partly come true.

In a literal admission of their failure to save the Yamuna river and the march of the neighbouring desert to this city, district authorities have given the go-ahead to the project.

As the sand dunes on the dry river bed are giving out a desert like look, tourists would get to take camel rides and stay at tents to get a feel of the Rajasthan desert - right here in Agra.

The project would come up behind the 17th century monument to love, the Taj Mahal, which was once conceptualised with the cool, clear Yamuna waters as its backdrop.

Speaking to IANS, N.K. Janu, divisional forest officer, said: “The forest department will implement the camel safari project in two phases. The state government has sanctioned the project and now we are awaiting central funding. We intend to recruit local villagers as guides.”

“The tourists will get a camel ride from the eastern gate of the Taj to the western and northern side, providing a breathtaking view of the monument from the rear, the Mehtab Bagh side, along the two camel pathways, flanked by greenery,” Janu said.

“In the Mehtab Bagh area, we have 57 hectares of additional green cover. In fact, the green cover in Agra has increased by a good 300 hectares.”

But obviously not everyone is happy with the decision to start the project.

“Who knows, in course of time, the Yamuna river, which is revered by millions of devouts, would be used to organise night parties in tented huts and tourists would be entertained by belly dancers,” said activist Sudhir Gupta.

Shravan Kumar Singh of Heritage Society said: “Instead of filling the river with water and restoring the original ambience of the monument, they are going to increase the dust and consequently the SPM (suspended particulate matter) level in the area.”

Already scores of camel carts can be spotted ferrying tourists around the Taj Mahal.

“These officials have no imagination or vision. The whole Taj Mahal area is being dirtied by these camels. Starting a camel safari would only send a message that Agra is a desert and an extension of Rajasthan. This would harm the city’s image,” said Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.

Rajiv Tiwari, senior tourism industry leader, said: “It’s unfortunate that the administration so thoughtlessly comes out with such questionable projects. The camel safari will send a wrong message across the world. Agra is not part of Rajasthan. The river needs to be saved and filled with water.”

Surendra Sharma, a hotelier, said: “The camels leave tonnes of dung all around, not to forget the stink. We need modern battery buses. The camels can go back to the desert.”

Some years ago, an environmental study had predicted that the Rajasthan desert would gradually move towards Agra.

“Already the westerly winds have been bringing tonnes of dust daily, damaging the surface of the Taj Mahal,” said green activist Ravi Singh.

(Brik Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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