By Sanjay Jha, ITV News, Delhi
The Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, has reopened after six months of coronavirus lockdown.
The Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort were shut down for the public on March 17 - days before the nationwide lockdown was instituted to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Credited with attracting the largest number of tourists to India, it is perhaps the first time the Taj Mahal has been closed for such a protracted period.
The site attracts seven million visitors each year, with a large number of foreign tourists.
The Agra Fort has nearly three million visitors in a year.
The many monuments contribute massively to the revenue of Uttar Pradesh.
The reopening comes despite the pandemic having accelerated in recent weeks - with India set to overtake the US to become the nation worst-hit by Covid-19.
Though the monument was closed during the Second World War - and also during the two wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 - the closure was never for such a long time.
"The reopening of the Taj Mahal marks the restart of Indian tourism after it was struck by Covid-19, resulting in the longest closure of the monument of love" said Rajiv Saxena, Vice President of the Tourism Guild of Agra.
Local feels that the opening of the Taj Mahal could also address ongoing joblessness issues and may provide an opportunity for all the tourism professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and handicraft workers to emerge out of their isolation and depression, and look forward to a renewed life of business activities.
To prevent crowding and maintain social distancing, no more than 5,000 tourists will be allowed into the Taj Mahal each day.
Tourists at Agra Fort will be restricted to 2,500 a day.
"We will allow visitors at the Taj Mahal in two slots: pre-lunch and post-lunch. In each of these slots, there will be 2,500 visitors at the most," said Vasant Swarnkar, superintending archaeologist at Archaeological Survey of India, Agra Circle - who manages the Taj Mahal.
Authorities have allowed selfies but no group photos.
The entire campus was sanitized before the doors opened at 8am and all officials were seen wearing masks and face shields