Unable to visit the monument during his first visit to India, US President Barack Obama made enquiries about it with ASI guide. Kavita Chowdhury reports.
On his last visit to India four years ago, US President Barack Obama could not visit it due to "paucity of time" and had to make do with a visit to Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, the inspiration for the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra.
This time, the Taj is on the itinerary of the American first couple.
Should their three-day visit to India go according to schedule, the Obamas could get themselves clicked on the marble seat in front of the Taj.
Sources say the Obamas could visit Agra on January 27.
During his first visit to India, Obama had been curious about the Taj.
While admiring Humayun’s Tomb, the more humble sandstone monument, he made enquiries about the Taj Mahal with his guide from the Archaeological Survey of India.
K K Muhammad, the superintendent archaeologist, had reportedly informed him the Taj Mahal was built 70 years after Humayun’s Tomb.
Fourteen years ago, former US president Bill Clinton had split the world into “those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it and those who have not seen the Taj and love it. I would like people to watch my Taj Mahal and fall in love with it”.
During that trip, in 2000, Clinton was accompanied by his mother-in-law and daughter Chelsea. Wife Hillary Clinton had visited it in 1995.
Citing the monument’s yellowing marble, Clinton had sought to highlight the adverse effects of pollution.
Heads of state have long been fascinated by the Taj. More often than not, they have been accompanied by their spouses while visiting the monument, famed as a symbol of love.
In 2008, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had been noticeably glum when compelled by Indian state protocol to visit the Taj without his then companion Carla Bruni.
On his next visit in 2010, a married Sarkozy took Bruni to the Taj at sunset, a day ahead of his scheduled tour.
ASI sources say in Agra, the Obamas are likely to follow the schedule adhered to by most VIPs -- taking a tour around the monument, visiting the main mausoleum where the crypt is located, admiring the pietra dura inlay work and being photographed on the marble seat.
After their visit, the Obamas will have joined the Eisenhowers, the Putins, the Musharrafs and the Sarkozys, to name a few VIPs, who have visited the Taj Mahal as part of their trips to India.
Over the past weekend, a team of US security officials had visited the capital to oversee the security arrangements for the American president’s visit. They have sought all business establishments, including hotels and restaurants, along the Delhi-Agra highway be shut during Obama’s three-day visit.
Visiting dignitaries often have specific requests when visiting historical monuments; BangladeshPrime Minister Khaleda Zia when visiting the Qutub Minar in New Delhi had asked to be shown historical evidence of the monument having remnants of temples; on seeing the Arabic inscription of this, she had turned back without visiting the rest of the sprawling complex.
While his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton had waxed eloquent about the Taj, he had also used his visit to highlight environmental pollution citing the yellowing marble of the monument; What Obama will say, given India's position on climate change, remains to be seen.