Despite Itchy Eyes, Tourists Flock to Taj Mahal 

In this Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, photo, vehicles wait for a signal at a crossing as the city enveloped in smog in New Delhi, India. Authorities in New Delhi are restricting the use of private vehicles on the roads under an “odd-even” scheme based on license plates to control vehicular pollution as the national capital continues to gasp under toxic smog. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

AGRA, India (AFP) — Even with pollution cloaking northern India, visitors are still thronging the Taj Mahal, the shining marble mausoleum south of Delhi.

Every year around eight million people — mostly domestic tourists — visit the monument, built by a 17th-century Mughal emperor for his wife.

On Tuesday, with smog levels many times maximum levels, only a few of the roughly 10,000 daily visitors wore pollution masks, and most of them were foreigners.

Gildas Courtois, a French visitor, complained that he was coughing, his nose was running and that his eyes were sore.

“We don’t feel comfortable with it,” he told AFP. “It makes it bitter. Makes the visit bitter, because it’s a wonder, one of the wonders of the world.”

He had travelled to Agra from Delhi, the choking Indian megacity of 20 million people 155 miles to the north, where the air was “very, very bad”, he said.

Schoolchildren protest outside the Indian Environment Ministry against alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Air pollution in New Delhi and northern Indian states peaks in the winter as farmers in neighboring agricultural regions set fire to clear land after the harvest and prepare for the next crop season. The pollution in the Indian capital also peaks after Diwali celebrations, the Hindu festival of light, when people set off fireworks. (AP Photo/Shonal Ganguly)

A Japanese tourist wearing a mask at the Taj Mahal felt the same way.

“Breathing dirty air affects our health directly and instantly,” he said.

“I am feeling chest congestion and my eyes are watery. We are using masks but I’m not sure how effective they are.”

Every winter, smoke from thousands of farm fires combine with industrial and vehicle emissions to create a toxic mix that doctors say is taking years off Indians’ lives.

For the Taj Mahal, a van with a large air purifier on Tuesday was parked up, but it was around one mile away in a busy car park filled with diesel buses.

“The van is deployed at locations where pollution levels are high to clean the air,” said Bhuvan Yadav, head of the local pollution control board.

“But we don’t have empirical data whether it is effective in cleaning the air.”

Most cities in north India, including New Delhi suffer from high levels of pollution around winter, when pollutants, dust and fog mix to form a thick blanket of smog. 

Last week New Delhi authorities declared a public health emergency after pollution levels skyrocketed, prompting the government to shut schools, ban construction and ration private cars on roads. 

India’s Supreme Court Wednesday questioned the government over its response to the crises, asking how it “permit people to die like this due to air pollution?”

© Agence France-Presse

%d bloggers like this: