Spruced-up Taj forerunner awaits US first couple

Spruced-up Taj forerunner awaits US first couple

For, he heard that the Humayun’s tomb would be closed for visitors a day before the US President’s visit, tentatively scheduled in the evening of November 7.

“This is the peak season and lots of foreign tourists are coming to Delhi. And the tomb is one of the must-see for them,” says Prakash. “Closing it for almost two days is not only going to cause disappointment to many tourists, but will also result in a substantial loss of revenue for the Archaeological Survey of India.”

About 1,000 foreign over 1,500 tourists from across India visit Humayun’s tomb daily during the peak seasons. There is no official word from the authorities on the exact time of Obama and his wife Michelle’s visit to the tomb or when the complex would be closed for common visitors.

But ASI’s monument attendant Mohammed Sharif and his colleagues say that the monument would most possibly remain off-limits for commoners for at least 24 hours ahead of the US president and first lady’s visit.

Officials of the US Embassy in New Delhi and members of the advanced team of the American Secret Service have been making frequent visits to the tomb over the past few days to plan the security set-up that would be put in place before the visit of the Obamas.

Mughal Emperor Humayun’s grieving widow Hamida Banu Begam had commenced the construction of her husband’s tomb in 1569, fourteen years after his death in 1556. She had appointed Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, a Persian, as the chief architect for the mausoleum, which had later turned to a splendid synthesis of Persian and Indian architectural traditions.

While Sikandar Lodi’s mausoleum in Delhi had been the first garden-tomb to be built in India, but Humayun’s tomb had set up a new vogue, the crowning glory of which would be the Taj Mahal at Agra.

Though the US officials had also considered the Taj Mahal as one of the ‘culture stops’ for the Obamas during their much-hyped visit to India, they finally settled for its ‘precursor’ as Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication, put it.

Cultural marvel
“I am sure President Obama would love to see this great cultural marvel,” says Nancy Whitman, a tourist from San Francisco. “And, unlike me, that handsome young man wouldn’t find climbing up so difficult,” adds the elderly lady, as she manages to climb the steep stone staircase to the upper level of the mausoleum.

The ASI, Aga Khan Foundation, Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Central Public Works Department have over the past several years been engaged in massive restoration works at the tomb.

“We were at first told that the Obamas might like to spend a few minutes to see how we are doing the restoration works. But now we have been told that no worker would be allowed to stay here when they would come and the workshop area had to be put behind curtains,” says Chief Engineer of the Aga Khan Foundation, Rajpal Singh.
The Obamas, however, would not cause much disruption in the restoration works. With most of its 500-odd workforce away for Diwali, it is anyway a time for a break.

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