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The Taj Mahal has been India’s most iconic landmark for several decades and a mainstay in every foreign tourist’s itinerary of India. In fact, even today, a trip to the country is often considered incomplete without witnessing its majestic beauty. But while the Taj’s iconic status is undeniable, interest in the structure has fallen recently, prompting many to ask the question: Has the Taj lost its charm? Here are some factors often attributed to this decline.
A steady trend over recent years in tourism is the scorn among younger generation tourists towards mainstream destinations. And if anything, the Taj is just about the most mainstream destination one can visit in India. But even apart from this general trend, the opinion among tourists about the Taj is that the structure and the surrounding tourist culture has reached a point where it can be called rather too touristy, even for those that dig mainstream tourism. The relationship between any landmark and the local tourism culture needs to be a symbiotic one, but with the Taj, the number of tour guides, vendors, souvenir stalls and the like have only increased exponentially while the number of visitors has stagnated and failed to keep up. This has led to a culture where tourists, especially foreign ones, feel nagged and fleeced at every corner and are often exploited by the local vendors.
A primary reason for the Taj’s worldwide appeal is that it is one of the most photogenic landmarks in the world. It’s exquisite white marble visage and architecture has attracted a large number of tourists over the years. However, while the Taj still retains its majestic aura from a distance, a closer look often reveals that the wear and tear of tourism and lack of adequate maintenance efforts have led to yellowing marble and other visible signs of damage to the structure, leading to a decline in the Taj’s word-of-mouth popularity. A direct cause of the yellowing of marble has been the increasing and alarming levels of pollution in the region, with the Taj Mahal’s marble damaged extensively during recurrent acid rains. This has had a direct impact on the number of visitors the Taj gets annually. Just between 2013 and 2014, the number of visitors to the Taj declined by nearly 5%, and this trend has only increased in the following years. Another worrying statistic is that even among those visiting the Taj during the tourist season in April-July, the number of tourists that stayed for more than a day declined by nearly 30% between 2014 and 2015, leading to a cascading effect on tourism.
Another major factor often associated with the decline of visitors to Taj Mahal is the stagnating development of Agra, the city that the Taj calls home. A large part of the city’s development is owed to the Taj, with tourism forming a huge chunk of its economy. Agra’s tourism industry was once flourishing, with hordes of tourists not only visiting the Taj but also spending time in the city to look at its other landmarks. However, the lack of infrastructure development within the city on one hand and improved connectivity between the city and Delhi on the other has created a trend where the Taj is often considered a day-trip from Delhi and as many as 50% of tourists visiting the Taj now leave the same day.
As though its general decline was not enough to sound alarm bells, the Taj has also been the center of several controversies in recent years. With the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, there have been some rather stretched claims, including the one that Taj Mahal was actually built over a Hindu temple named Tejo Mahalaya. But despite such claims, a more recent controversy that has rocked the Taj is how the landmark, undoubtedly the most popular in Uttar Pradesh, the state in which it is located, was rather conspicuously left out of a government tourism catalog. To add to this, the new government in Uttar Pradesh has also been accused of a negative bias towards the Taj Mahal, which is a Mughal landmark.
The Taj still remains popular internationally as India’s foremost landmark, but like any other attraction around the world, many are now claiming that the Taj’s appeal has run its course. And to add to this there have been several emerging landmarks and destinations that have come up in recent years and eaten away at Taj’s appeal as India’s best. And the general consensus is that unless the iconic landmark soon gets a shot in the arm in terms of funding, publicity and overall development and maintenance, this decline will only get worse.