Agra in Decline

Most readers may not agree with what I am going to write about, especially the foreigners who visit Agra, and definitely most locals.

But it is my wont to state what I feel strongly about and I am not going to desist from uncovering my mind about the dilapidation around the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world and by any definition, an outstanding architectural marvel ever conceived and executed by man.

When I visited Agra last week, I was impressed with the journey from Delhi – I took the Yamuna Expressway, which has been so well executed by Jaypee Infratech, an infrastructure developer. Theoretically, one could cover the distance of 184 KMS between Delhi and Agra in less than 2 hours flat, but it does take more time if there is heavy fog, which was the case when I undertook the travel. The intense fog over much of Northern India, enveloped the expressway, so it became difficult to achieve more than 90 KMPH speed. However, as stupidity would have it, there were a number of speeding drivers with headlights and blinkers on, who were doing well in excess of 100 KMPH, even under dense fog conditions. For Indian drivers on the road, such expressways are a rarity – in most highways around the country, one can be lucky to achieve a speed of 60 KMPH under ordinary driving conditions. So, most drivers freak out on the gleaming new cement roads at speeds which would endanger their lives, but they mostly ignore the danger, so to say.

Our car took some 3 hours with couple of breaks in between, but it was all right, as our driver was quite conscious of the dangers of speeding in foggy conditions, when the visibility drops to some 100 metres.

Once we finished the expressway, the fun started. There is no expressway exit direct into Agra city, and that was not surprising. In other countries, that would have been the case though. But in India, strange things happen for strange reasons, so we have to accommodate as onlookers.

When we exited the expressway, we entered another highway with heavy traffic, on which we took a U-turn (!) to go towards Agra city. The drive which ensues from this point takes some 12 KMS, but in terms of time it took more than 40 minutes due to heavy city traffic. All kinds of vehicles, including bullock carts use the same roads, and there is no choice but to go slow and carefully.

The Agra city has been maintained in such a manner that I am not able to use the word “lousy”. Many visitors have thick skins and ignore the surroundings and the deteriorating conditions in the city as their main aim is to go and visit the Taj Mahal and probably nothing else. But, if you watch carefully, you would witness a place which has deteriorated beyond redemption.

The roads are narrow, there are no pavements, the traffic is unregulated, there is construction going on with encroachments on the road and affecting the traffic, there seem to be many touts roaming the streets and looking for “prey”, there is enormous dust, and in general no civic sense in a radius of some 10 KMS around the Taj Mahal.

A sensible administration would have avoided any construction in a radius not less than 5 KMS from the Taj Mahal, and avoided environmental impact. But in the case of Agra, the distance provided is only 100 Metres, which is nothing short of ridiculous. And some restrictions have been put in place, though belatedly, on industrial activities in Agra.

So, it was no wonder when I saw the Taj Mahal – it was slightly yellowish in colour, or tinted in some manner not explainable easily: it was not the pure 100% white marble that one would expect.

It is not a surprising phenomenon in India, as the government fails to use its powers and enforce regulations actively in all spheres of life. But in this case and in many other heritage monuments, I believe the government should have taken extreme care to avoid the unfavourable impact of humans and greedy folks whose only motivation is profiteering. Many carvings in Taj Mahal with embedded precious stones have been scraped away by visitors as pointed out by our guide !


Vijay Srinivasan
30th December 2012


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