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Taj through Obama’s eyes

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 the Humayun’s Tomb in the capital which is the inspiration for the iconic Taj.

This time around the Taj Mahal is on the itinerary of the American first couple and should the three day visit go as perschedule, Barack and Michelle Obama could get themselves clicked on the marble “loveseat” in the forecourt of the Taj.

Sources indicate an Agra visit is on thecards on January 27. Fourteen years ago, Obama’s predecessor an “emotionally” moved 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.”

A smiling Clinton had in 2000, been accompanied on that trip by his daughter Chelsea and his mother in law (wife Hillary had visited it earlier in 1995). Even during his first visit to India, Obama had been curious about the Taj.

While admiring the more humble sandstone monument the Humayun’s Tomb, Obama had made inquiries about Taj Mahal from the ASI archaeologist guiding him around. Superintendent Archaelogist KK Muhammad had reportedly informed him that the Taj Mahal was built 70 years after the Humayun’s tomb.

Heads of state have long been fascinated by the Taj and more often than not been accompanied by their wives when visiting the monument that is famed to be the symbol of love (of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal).

French President Nicolas Sarkozy had been noticeably glum when compelled by Indian state protocol to visit the Taj in 2008 without his then companion, Carla Bruni. On his next visit in 2010, by then a married Sarkozy had taken Carla a day before his scheduled tour to show her the Taj at sunset.

The Obamas, say ASI sources, are likely to do in Agra what other VIPs do: take a tour around the monument, visit the main mausoleum where the crypt is located, admire the pietradura inlay work and then get photographed on the marble seat. The Obamas will then have joined the Eisenhowers, the Putins, the Musharrafs and the Sarkozys, to name just a few VIPs who have visited the Taj Mahal as part oftheir India trip.

An advance team of USsecurity officials visited the capital over the weekend overseeing the elaboratesecurity arrangements for the American President. They have asked for a closureof all business establishments including hotels, restaurants and shops alongthe Delhi- Agra highway for three days of the Obama 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.

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