Taj Mahal Closed to Tourists

When I was in India, the only time I ever felt even a little bit unsafe was in Agra, on our way to see the Taj Mahal. We had just heard on the news that morning that Saddam Hussein had been hung, and the citizens of Agra, many of whom are Muslim, were reacting to the news as we pulled into town.

“What’s going on over there there?” I asked our local fixer, pointing at a large gathering of people. “Some sort of festival?”

The scene was chaotic, but having been in India for a few weeks at this point, I knew that “chaotic” was a daily thing, and rarely a sign of danger. “They are burning an effigy of Mr. Bush,” he replied nonchalantly, as if burning an effigy of the President of the United States was a regular thing in Agra. Maybe it was. Even then — being the only white person within rock-throwing distance — I felt relatively little danger. We drove on and watched the sun set behind the Taj Mahal.

By the next day we were out of Agra and onto Jaipur, but the news that night told me that a small-scale riot had broken out in Agra and a tourist van had been attacked. I gasped when they showed the footage, because the van on the television looked exactly like ours, but this one had shattered windows and screaming tourists fleeing from it.

It came with little surprise today that I read the Taj Mahal has been closed to tourists. Apparently four members of the Indian Muslim community were hit by a lorry (large truck) after returning from “Shab-e-Barat or the ‘night of forgiveness or atonement,’ when Muslims pray for the dead,” and an angry crowd responded, according to Reuters. No word on how long it will be closed, but a curfew is in effect for many parts of the city.

(Thanks, Scott!)