After a six-month closure, India’s most-visited attraction welcomes back visitors, with strict protocols in place.

By Rachel Chang
September 22, 2020
Advertisement

For the last six months, the 42-acre complex of the Taj Mahal has kept to itself. Shut down on March 17 because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, India’s most-visited landmark reopened to visitors on Monday, Sept. 21, with new safety protocols in place.

Among the restrictions: “No group photography is allowed within the premises.” That limits photo-taking to only selfies, which must also include face coverings, as they are mandatory during the duration of the visit.

The number of daily visitors has also been capped at 5,000 — 2,500 before noon and 2,500 after — but less than 300 people booked the required digital ticket for its reopening day. That's a far cry from the 40,000 a day allowed pre-pandemic, or the 6.5 million who visited in 2018, as reported by CNN. Among the first visitors on Monday were a Chinese citizen and a Delhi visitor, according to NPR.

Before entering, visitors must pass temperature checks as well as “mandatory hand hygiene.” Once inside, instead of moving about freely, “there shall be designated routes for entry and exit and movement within the monument,” the provisions state. “The route shall be one way only with a single line maintaining norms of social distancing.” Security will also be on hand to prevent any crowding.

The Taj Mahal reopened to visitors on September 21 in a symbolic business-as-usual gesture even as India looks set to overtake the US as the global leader in coronavirus infections.
SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

To limit touchpoints, in addition to the electronic entry tickets, all payments in cafeterias and parking facilities will be digital, since “no physical cash transaction is allowed.” Also, the only thing the cafeteria can sell is bottled water, as “no food/eatables shall be allowed inside the premises.”

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which operates the site, also reserves the right to restrict access to certain areas, and promises the cleaning and sanitizing of high-use points, including toilets and benches. According to NPR, as the landmark opened at sunrise on Monday, workers were spotted cleaning handrails and officials warned visitors not to touch anything.

The UNESCO World Heritage site has only closed a few times in its history, according to NPR, including during World War II, the India-Pakistan conflict in 1971, and the floods in 1978.

The regulations against group photos and food on-site also apply to all of ASI’s sites, which include the Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb in Delhi, Group of Monuments in Chennai, Shaniwarwada and Elephanta Caves in Mumbai, and Hazarduari Palace in Kolkata.

Along with the Taj Mahal, which was built between 1632 and 1647 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal, the adjacent Agra Fort, which was home to the Mughal rulers, also reopened on Monday. Both are located in Agra, about a four-hour drive south of Delhi.

The reopenings come as India reports its lowest coronavirus infections in nearly a month, according to Reuters. However, the country is second to the U.S. in most COVID-19 cases, with 5.56 million cases reported and 88,935 deaths. According to NPR, some experts say it could soon surpass the U.S. as the most affected country.