The Taj Mahal in Agra reopened on Monday for tourists after more than six months, with strict guidelines in place to check the spread of the coronavirus, NDTV reported. The Agra Fort also reopened for visitors.
Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, the superintendent archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, Agra circle, has said that the Centre’s safety guidelines on the pandemic, including maintaining physical distancing and sanitising hands, need to be followed while visiting the fort or the mausoleum.
About 5,000 visitors will be allowed each at the world heritage site, Swarnkar said in a statement, adding that the visiting hours have been divided in two slots. In the first half till 2 pm, 2,500 visitors will be allowed and the rest after that, he said. At Agra Fort, 2,500 tourists will be allowed every day, Swarnkar added.
“Masks are mandatory to enter the monuments and all tickets must be purchased online,” he said. “Ticket counters will not be open”.
The Officials said that about 160 tickets were booked for Monday’s reopening and the first person to enter the world heritage sites was a tourist from Taiwan, Hindustan Times reported.
They added that the mausoleum was not left ignored during the lockdown. “Lawns were maintained all through these six months and we are all set for the Taj reopening from September 21 – from sunrise to sunset,” said AN Gupta, conservation assistant, Archaeological Survey of India at Taj Mahal. “All would go through thermal check and they would be provided with sanitisers.”
He said that only five people will be allowed into the main mausoleum at a time. The mausoleum stores the bodies of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. However, many did not visit the main mausoleum but took photos with the world heritage site in the background.
Further, Central Industrial Security Force personnel will check visitors with hand-held metal detectors, while adhering to coronavirus-related guidelines. An ambulance has been kept at the gates of the Taj Mahal, the conservation assistant said.
“[The] ASI [Archaeological Survey of India] needs to follow the Covid-19 protocol so that all goes smoothly,” said Rajiv Tiwari, president of the Federation of Travel Association of Agra. “The government should begin thinking about restarting international flights as European nations have resumed tourism. We have to live with the coronavirus.”
Tourism trade experts said they have not seen the monument stay closed for so long. “This is unprecedented,” Arun Dang, former president of Tourism Guild. “Though the monument was closed during the Second World War and also during two wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, the closure had not been so long.”
Uttar Pradesh has so far reported 3,54,275 coronavirus cases, according to the Union health ministry data. The toll stood at 5,047. India’s coronavirus count reached 54,87,581 on Monday, after the ministry reported a rise of 86,961 cases in 24 hours. The toll rose by 1,130 to 87,882.