Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Agra: Home to Beauty and the Beast

Given a choice between Jaipur and Agra, I always choose to visit Agra.  Cannot get enough of the Taj Mahal.  I was surprised to discover this time that there are other monuments to visit there! 

There are a few things that inspired me to write this post.  First, the Yamuna Expressway--a recently inaugurated 165.5 km long, 6 lane highway from Greater Noida to Agra guaranteed to cut travel time from Delhi to Agra by 3 hours.  The expressway is a marvel in itself and was built at considerable expense and sacrifice.  "In 2010 and 2011, the Yamuna Expressway, previously called the Taj Expressway, had become synonymous with farmers' politics in western Uttar Pradesh as farmers launched an agitation demanding more compensation for the land they sacrificed for the project.  The long drawn agitation spread across Gautam Buddha Nagar, Aligarh and Agra Districts, with Tappal, Jikarpur and Bhatta Parsaul emerging as the nerve centres of the agitation."  (The Hindu, 8/10/2012).  In Feb.2011, the agitation had led to police firing in which half a dozen people were killed.  The expressway cost close to $2.3 billion.

On the day that we traveled to Agra from Delhi, everyone and his grandmother was on the expressway. They were traveling in groups, stopping now and then on the shoulder of the highway, getting off their cars to lean against the railings and take photographs.  Not only was our arrival delayed, but we also had to stand in long lines everywhere in the sweltering heat.  I understand Agra ran out of food that day!! Somehow we managed the heat, the hunger and the crowd and gaped at the Taj Mahal, which brings me to my second point:

The Taj Mahal is yellowing.  Quite visibly.   It is terrible because even I could make that out. It's not a good feeling to recognize that the yellowing has occurred only in the last 50 years or so, in my lifetime.  I hope the Indian government and UNESCO can take care of it so the structure can last at least another 500 years. "The coloring was blamed on high levels of "suspended particulate matter"--or tiny granules of dirt in the air---generally caused by burning fossil fuels and dust.  The deposition of SPM on the shimmering white marble of the Taj Mahal imparts yellow tinge to the marble surface."(USA Today: 5/15/2007).  Maybe all it needs is a mudpack.  The Parliamentary committee on transport, tourism and culture, suggested a clay pack treatment that is non-corrosive and non-abrasive be carried out to remove deposits on the marble.  "The committee recommends that while undertaking any conservation activity at the Taj Mahal, abundant cautions should be taken to retain the original glory of the shimmering white marble used in this.(Reuters: 5/15/2007)  It is not just the yellowing of the Taj Mahal that is depressing.  Tourists just will not follow instructions not to photograph, or  touch objects.  They are clicking away merrily  on their cellphones, their cameras and leaning on the walls, touching everything with their sweaty bodies and palms, defacing the marble structure.  I had to yell at tourists to get off the black onyx throne (on which they were posing for pictures), at the Agra fort; an apathetic armed guard was standing right next to them. There were just too many tourists and not enough security or maintenance.  One most peculiar thing about Indian tourism is that Indians have to pay a much lower entrance fee to monuments than the foreign nationals.  I think if the government upped the price of tickets for the Indian nationals and imposed heavy fines for transgressions, we might see a little improvement in the treatment of these monuments.

The condition of Agra city itself is appalling. 

"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
     (Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, from Through the looking Glass and what Alice found there, 1872)   
Reminds me of Agra's drains.
The open, smelly  drains, the stagnant rain water puddles, the floating trash and dirty streets do not inspire an overnight stay there.  

According to A Detailed Project Report (Revised) for Solid Waste Management in Agra, Uttar Pradesh  prepared by Regional Centre for Urban & Environmental Studies (Estd. by Ministry of Urban Development), 
Government of India, Adjacent Registrar’s Office, 
University of Lucknow, Lucknow:

  • The existing state of the open dumps in the city, road side dumps, clogged nallahs reflect the inefficiency of the present system. The safai karamcharis also dump the drain silt and waste at open dumps. 
  • There is a lack of awareness among city residents  and civic authorities. 
  • Awareness for segregation of waste  at source was very low and no segregation of waste was practiced at source 
  • Primary collection of solid waste was not appropriate. There was only limited door to door collection of waste. 
  • Secondary storage of solid waste is unorganized and  efficient. The dustbins were broken or rusted. There were no  closed dhallaos and main collection points were all open dumps. Animals strayed on open dumps, collection bins overflowed and waste collection appeared to be poor. There was no marking for segregation of waste into separate bins. 
  • Solid waste is transported in open vehicles like tipper trucks. Safai karamcharis involved in this activity do not use any personal protection equipment (PPE) for their protection.
  •  Slaughter house waste is mixed with  the MSW. 
  • Biomedical waste is not managed properly in all health care facilities.  Collection and disposal of construction waste is not appropriate. In EWS and LIG houses it is mixed with household waste 
  • Disposal of solid waste  is not appropriate as waste was being thrown at unauthorized dump yards. 
Jeremy Woodhouse

Actually, considering a picture is worth a thousand words--let me give you 3,000 words worth. 25,2009)

I did take pictures but they were mostly of the beautiful marble edifice.  I really could not bring myself to record this ugliness. I borrowed these pictures from other websites.

Agra garbage

Taj Mahal alone earned over $205 million in entrance fees last year.  I wonder why the city cannot spend some of it on an urban clean-up. After all, it 'attracts' millions of tourists from all over the world.

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