Millions of Indian tourists visit the Taj Mahal every year and their numbers are increasing steadily as domestic travel becomes more accessible. Daily visitor numbers to the ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river average 10,000-15,000 but can be much higher on weekends, going up to around 70,000. Nearly 6.5 million visited the monument in 2016, according to government figures. This popularity could be detrimental to the Taj Mahal – now experts are saying that the vast crowds increase wear and tear on the white marble tomb, which already must undergo regular cleaning to prevent it from turning yellow from polluted air.
Indeed, the pristine white marble mausoleum faces an array of threats, including the yellowing effects of smog. In 2016 green stains on its rear wall were blamed on excrement from insects. Authorities have in the past covered the iconic monument's facade with 'mud packs' made of Fuller's earth, which draws out the impurities, to restore its whiteness – a symbol of purity.
The incessant comings and goings could put pressure on its foundations. The decision to restrict visitors comes after five visitors were injured after a stampede broke at the entry gates on the last day of the year.
"We have to ensure the safety of the monument and visitors as well. Crowd management was emerging as a big challenge for us," an official with the Archaeological Survey of India, which controls the monument, told AFP.
The restrictions will not apply to foreigners, who pay 1,000 rupees ($16) for admission. Indian visitors normally pay just 40 rupees but will be able to buy the more expensive ticket if they want to get around the limit.
The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tribute to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth in 1631. Should anyone want to visit the main crypt, which is home to the legendary couple's breathtaking marble graves inlaid with semi-precious stones, will also have to pay for the pricier ticket. The graves date back to the 17th century but do not actually contain the bodies of the royal couple, who are buried under a separate lower chamber.