Quandary looms for cleanup

Au­thor­i­ties try­ing to fig­ure out best way to scale Taj Ma­hal’s dome

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation & World - Nick Perry, The As­so­ci­ated Press

AGRA, In­dia — Au­thor­i­ties in In­dia are try­ing to fig­ure out how work­ers will scale the Taj Ma­hal’s ma­jes­tic but del­i­cate dome as they com­plete the first thor­ough clean­ing of the World Her­itage site since it was built 369 years ago.

Work­ers be­gan the makeover in mid-2015, and work on the mau­soleum’s minarets and walls is al­most fin­ished.

The work­ers have been us­ing a nat­u­ral mud paste to re­move yel­low dis­col­oration and re­turn the mar­ble to its orig­i­nal bril­liant white. Called fuller’s earth, it is the same clay that some peo­ple ap­ply to their skin as a beauty treat­ment.

But the metal scaf­fold­ing used so far is too heavy and rigid for the dome, said Bhu­van Vikrama, the su­per­in­tend­ing ar­chae­ol­o­gist from the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia.

He said other op­tions are be­ing con­sid­ered, in­clud­ing de­sign­ing and con­struct­ing spe­cial bam­boo scaf­fold­ing. Bam­boo scaf­fold­ing was used on the dome in the early 1940s, when some con­ser­va­tion work was car­ried out.

Vikrama said rain was enough to clean most of the Taj Ma­hal in the past, but air pol­lu­tion over the last 25 years had taken its toll.

“It be­came vis­i­bly clear it was all yel­low,” he said. “It even started be­com­ing black in the shaded ar­eas not washed by rains.”

He said work on the dome would likely take 10 months, start­ing next year and fin­ish­ing in 2019. The makeover was cost­ing a to­tal of about $500,000.

The work has prompted Fodor’s Travel to in­clude the Taj Ma­hal on its list of places not to visit next year.

“Un­less your dream Taj Ma­hal visit in­volves be­ing pho­tographed stand­ing in front of a mud-caked and be scaf­folded dome, maybe give it un­til 2019 at the ear­li­est,” the guide rec­om­mends.

Vikrama dis­agrees, say­ing pho­to­graphs from the 1940s with scaf­fold­ing on the dome are in­ter­est­ing and his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant.

“If the tourism even fluc­tu­ates, we should not bother about that,” he said. “Tourists should also ap­pre­ci­ate they are wit­ness­ing the work go­ing on, the right kind of ef­forts for the preser­va­tion of mon­u­ments.”

The Taj Ma­hal typ­i­cally at­tracts be­tween 7 mil­lion and 8 mil­lion visi­tors a year. Built by Mughal Em­peror Shah Ja­han in mem­ory of his wife, Mum­taz Ma­hal, peo­ple are at­tracted as much by the love story as the spec­tac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture.

“It’s the most beau­ti­ful thing I’ve ever seen,” said Kent Scheibel, a tourist from Los An­ge­les who was vis­it­ing the site this week. “It’s a liv­ing, breath­ing thing that em­anates the ab­so­lute beauty of the hu­man spirit.”

Man­ish Swarup/the As­so­ci­ated Press

Work­ers clean the dis­col­oration of the Taj Ma­hal caused by en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion in Agra, In­dia. Au­thor­i­ties are try­ing to fig­ure out how to scale the World Her­itage site’s ma­jes­tic but del­i­cate dome as they com­plete the first thor­ough clean­ing since it was built 369 years ago.

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