US President Donald Trump does not usually visit cultural sites on his diplomatic trips, but he took out time yesterday to visit India’s iconic Taj Mahal with his wife, Melania.
The Trumps, who arrived in India for a 36-hour trip, made a stopover in Agra to visit the stunning white marble structure built in the 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite queen, Mumtaz Mahal.
The presidential couple and their entourage had an exclusive tour of the Taj Mahal – stray animals were rounded up days before and all other tourists, even those who had booked online months ahead, were barred from the popular site for six hours from noon, a police spokesman said.
Trump and Melania posed for photographs against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal lit by the mellow evening sun and walked around the complex, accompanied by a guide who informed them of the monument’s history and architecture.
The couple were seen chatting with each other and occasionally holding hands.
Trump may well have a soft spot for the monument.
Way back in 1990 he had named a casino and hotel in Atlantic City – now sold – the Trump Taj Mahal.
“The Taj Mahal inspires awe. A timeless testament to the rich and diverse beauty of India’s culture. Thank you India!” the Trumps wrote in the visitors’ book, which they both signed.
The couple’s visit may have been brief, but the Archaeological Survey of India which oversees the monument and the Agra city administration and police have been hard at work for weeks to ensure the VIP visitors had a smooth visit and saw the Taj Mahal at its best.
“All stray animals in the area – cows, dogs and monkeys – were rounded up and removed,” Agra police spokesman Subhash Chand said.
Monkeys are known to occasionally attack visitors at the Taj Mahal.
Yellowing parts of the monument along with the graves of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal were given mud pack treatment – which is very much like the clay facials women get at a beauty parlour.
Large numbers of potted flowering plants were placed around the grounds almost overnight.
The usually sluggish Yamuna river that flows behind the monument got a fresh infusion of water from a nearby dam.
Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump also posed with her husband Jared Kushner against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal.
US security personnel could be seen keeping a sharp eye around the empty compound as the Trump entourage moved around.
The complex is usually teeming with visitors. It is India’s top tourist attraction and draws 7 to 8mn visitors annually.
The Trumps arrived at the Taj at the head of a 70-vehicle cavalcade, including his luxurious ‘Beast’ after covering a 13km stretch from Kheria airport in about 25 minutes.
The president was taken to the Taj Mahal complex in a battery-operated cart.
In view of the visit, the historic city got a massive facelift.
The administration has put up huge billboards, placards, cut-outs and posters welcoming the US president and his wife.
Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath received the US first family at the airport.
However, they did not accompany the Trumps to the Taj Mahal.
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