Despite itchy eyes, tourists flock to Taj Mahal

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AGRA, India, Nov 6, 2019 (BSS/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 250 kilometres (155 miles) to the north, where the air was
“very, very bad”, he said.

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 1.5 kilometres (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?”