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Eerily empty Taj Mahal after longest shutdown

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image copyrightEPA
image captionIndian security personnel stand guard at the Taj Mahal after it reopened on Monday

Few people turned up to see the iconic Taj Mahal when it reopened its doors after six months - the longest it has ever been shut.

The entrance, which usually has long queues, was largely empty on Monday as officials waited for visitors.

New safety measures include a ban on group photos, temperature checks at the entrance and digital tickets.

The monument will allow only 5,000 visitors daily as India reports record Covid-19 cases every day.

The 17th-Century marble mausoleum was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his queen, Mumtaz Mahal.

image copyrightYogesh Kumar Singh
image captionThe entrance of the Taj was deserted on Monday

It has long been one of the leading tourist attractions, and drew as many as 70,000 people every day before the pandemic.

It was last shut briefly in 1978 when Agra city, where it is located, flooded. And before that, the monument closed for a few days in 1971, during a war between India and Pakistan.

Selfies allowed, but no 'group photos'

The entire campus was sanitised before the doors opened at 8am and all officials were seen wearing masks and face shields, local journalist Yogesh Kumar Singh, who was at the monument when it opened, told the BBC.

India has reported more than five million cases so far, and Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj is located, has the country's fifth-highest caseload.

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Authorities said there would be temperature checks at the entrance, and visitors would be asked to use digital payment methods to buy tickets.

They have also been told to follow social distancing on the property.

While visitors can take selfies or solo photographs, group photos are not allowed.

'It doesn't feel like the Taj'

"But there is no rush, it feels so unlike Taj Mahal," Mr Singh said. "I think many people will not turn up as long as cases continue to spike."

image copyrightReuters

Mr Singh added that it would be interesting to see how authorities enforce safety rules when large groups start visiting the site.

The Taj is surrounded by gardens where visitors spend a lot of time walking around and posing for photographs. But the mausoleum itself is a closed space, with almost no ventilation, making it vulnerable to Covid-19 transmission.

Typically, it is crowded as tourists move in and out of it in long lines.

Gautam Sharma, who drove from Delhi to visit the Taj Mahal on Monday, said he had been waiting for the day for months.

"I knew not many people will turn up initially, so I thought it will be safe to visit the monument in the first few days of reopening," he said.

It is perhaps India's most famous monument and is usually part of every foreign dignitary's itinerary.

US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania visited the Taj in February. Other world leaders who have visited the monument include Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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