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It is assaulted by monkeys, who clamber up its facade. It plays host to eight million souls per year, when the blueprint envisaged it as the home of just one. However, talk of, on some level, curtailing access to it, raises a number of questions.
Imagine if Stonehenge adopted the same policy Credit: Last Refuge The first is: How will this cap work? Plans are still vague, but under proposals submitted to the country's tourism ministry by the Archaeological Survey of India ASIthe most probable course of action is that domestic tourists will be limited to a total of 40, per day, with individual visits being restricted to three hours per person.
Machu Picchu has already capped visitor numbers The second question is: The key phrase in the paragraph above is not "40, per day", but "domestic tourists" - the Indian travellers who are currently allowed to pay 40 Rupees 46p for entry to the site. True, Indians will still be able to purchase the higher-priced international ticket - for which numbers will not be limited - if the day's domestic quota has already been reached.
Imagine the fury if a similar policy was adopted at Stonehenge or Westminster Abbey. The third question is: Will this make any difference? And the answer is: Even the most rudimentary mathematical calculations show why. Forty thousand domestic tourists a day equates to This suggests that the current official annual head-count of eight million is a massive under-estimate.
The Taj Mahal is enormously over-subscribed, and a tinkering with tickets is not going to change this.
The rethink seems to have been sparked by a disturbing incident last month - a small stampede at the east entry gate on December 28 that saw five people sustain injuries as late-comers tried to force their way into the complex just before closing time. The Taj Mahal is also, according to some sources, currently in the "bad books" of Uttar Pradesh's the state in which Agra sits recently elected Hindu nationalist government - whose leader, Yogi Adityanath, reportedly views it as an Islamic monument at odds with his country's past he has said that the mausoleum does "not reflect Indian culture".
It remains to be seen whether the idea of limiting numbers at the Taj Mahal is hot air based on recent events - or evidence of a determination to tackle an issue. But whether this is lip service or concerned forward planning, any indication of a desire to tackle the Taj Mahal's people problem is part of a growing trend. Peru took a step towards safeguarding the future of Machu Picchu last June when it announced a new ticketing system which has limited the number of people able to plod round the Andean citadel at any one time.
There has been similar talk of staunching the flow of tourists through the Cinque Terre villages of north-western Italy, using a "traffic light" system for its coastal paths although nothing has yet materialised.
The Taj Mahal is usually crowded Credit: The stench from the open drains rising from its 26, plots mingles with the smoke from nearby chimneys. The sun still shines on Jehangirpuri, but no drains are visible. The tarred road to the settlement peters out into a muddy pond; the crumbling tops of a few houses could be sighted some metres away; and a placid sheet of gently rippling water had virtually erased whatever remained of the eyesore created by contemporary urban planning.
In less than two days, nearly all of the one lakh thirty thousand strong population of Jehangirpuri had been evacuated. The few who remained marooned, slept on the rapidly disintegrating rooftops to guard their few belongings. Local thugs armed with inflated tyre tubes and crude rafts indulged in open looting.
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Search parties in a few motor launches operated by the Army went out to salvage hundreds, suddenly overcome by the blight of water.
Less than a kilometre away in the more affluent colony of Adarsh Nagar, the scene was much the same. Further south, the spacious enclave of Model Town flanking the G. Road near the university was transformed, in less than 24 hours, into an intricate network of waist-deep canals negotiable by boats, makeshift dinghies, launches and upturned charpais set afloat by rubber tubes. The flood, like death, became the greatest leveller of all human disparities.
On September 3, the mood of the river was described as "catastrophic" by the Flood Forecasting Division of the Central Water Commission. By that time, the river coursing south into the city, had already overwhelmed 24 villages in the Alipur block, which remained the worst-hit even at the end of the disaster almost a week later. A 2, kilometre stretch of the country from Punjab's Ludhiana in the northwest to West Bengal's Midnapore in the east was transformed into a vast ocean.
The Jamuna, the Ganga and their tributaries, fed on the unceasing rains, overflowed their banks and swamped the fertile Indo-Gangetic plain. The dreaded annual disaster had finally become a nightmare for the apathetic Government. It did not come like a tidal wave. There was time for warnings of at least 24 hours. But the impending calamity could not be easily comprehended. The warnings, on the radio, by door-to-door distribution of leaflets, through microphones were not taken very seriously.
It was only when the water began to appear, and rise dangerously, that the panic began. An inert administration suddenly found itself called upon to shoulder the prodigious task of coming to the rescue of millions.
The bureaucracy's ineptitude was characterized by its poor communication. Several days after the worst was over, its reports on the magnitude were sketchy and the conservative estimates trickling back from the rural areas seemed undependable, when compared to eyewitness reports.
Although relief announcements had been made, and basic measures taken, they were lost in the desperate influx of thousands of helpless residents driven out of their homes.
The enormity of the situation could only be tackled by the organized and immediate aid of the army. On the morning of September 4, Jagmohan, a machine operator at the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, had come to work slightly worried. His wife and two small children aged four and two, together with his mother, were in their small house in Jehangirpuri.
The water level in the colony was static at two feet for the past three days. But working in a city office, he had heard of the impending danger.
It was, while at work in the afternoon, that Jagmohan heard of the sudden deluge. The level rose suddenly to eight feet by 3 p. Jagmohan rushed home to find Jehangirpuri completely cut off. The police was vainly attempting to cordon off the road to the colony. There was total bedlam.
I hired a rubber tube, and slowly swam to my house. Having grown up in the village, I knew a bit of swimming. My wife, children and mother were sitting huddled on the roof. In the panic, all I could think of was saving my wife and children. Taking both the children on my shoulders, I tied one end of my wife's sari to my wrist. We swam back slowly and painfully. It took two hours to negotiate a distance of yards.
You could see the water markings on her body. Our house is about 10 feet high, and at its peak the water level had risen to 14 feet. My mother was like a mad woman. She could neither speak nor react nor cry. We hit her on the face to make her respond. Few could have imagined the intensity of the havoc when they were settled in Jehangirpuri two years ago, after their jhuggis in Timarpur were bulldozed during the Emergency.
It was not the first time they had faced the Jamuna waters. As the water recedes, the scourge of diseasecholera, malaria, and skin ailments-is imminent.
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A few stray medical relief vans stood parked in the sun. But there was no proper arrangement for innoculations. There were instead, stories of foreign vaccines being stolen and surplus food rotting, and in some cases food being dried by affected victims as fodder for their cattle. From second-page features, the story of the fatal waters jumped to front-page headlines overnight. One newspaper compared the exodus of people to the scenes witnessed after partition in Another newspaper predicted that the flood would reach New Delhi's Rashtrapati Bhawan.
For four days, the relentless outpourings of the media numbed the country. According to the Central Water Commission, the "Wazirabad and Jamuna barrages at Delhi are designed to allow for two to three lakh cusecs of flooding water only".
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At its peak, on September 4, at Jamuna bridge, the discharge of water was seven lakh cusecs an hour. The record level of water at the same bridge was unprecedented: The danger level is In the face of such volatile intensity, human inhabitants were reduced to the size of crumpled cut-outs in paper. Together with catastrophe, came relief.
Official and unofficial refugee camps sprung up all over the city. Most of the refugees from Jehangirpuri were moved to a camp on Ludlow Castle Road near the lieutenant-governor's residence.
There was no dearth of either food or medical attention. But the major worry facing them was the thought of returning to their ravaged colony.