Taj Mahal could collapse ‘within five years’

As one of the world’s most iconic buildings, many gap year trips passing through India are not compete without a visit to the Taj Mahal.

However, for potential backpackers eager to see the celebrated UNESCO World Heritage site the clock may well be ticking. According to the Daily Express, India’s most famous landmark is in danger of collapsing within a few years.

The Taj Mahal is built upon a foundation of mahogany posts sunk into wells fed by the Yamuna river. But the river in Agra, north India, is reportedly running dry owing to pollution, deforestation and industrial overuse.

This has allegedly left the foundations fatally weakened through rot, and experts have predicted that the building will subside and ultimately cave in within ‘two to five years’ unless action is taken.

Professor Ram Nath, a historian and one of the world’s leading authorities on the monument, explained: "The river is a constituent of its architectural design and if the river dies, the Taj cannot survive."

The MP for Agra, Ramshankar Katheria, has agreed with the analysis and launched a campaign to save the building. He dramatically claimed: "If the crisis is not tackled on a war-footing, the Taj Mahal will collapse."

The politician has argued that around £71m is needed to construct a dam that will maintain water levels, which have been dropping by 5ft each year.

Will the sun soon set on the Taj for the last time?

The Taj Mahal, visited by approximately four million tourists every year, was built by the grieving Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz, who died in childbirth. Its white marble minarets, dome, jewel-inlaid mosaics and classical Persian garden took thousands of craftsmen over 20 years to complete, finally finishing in 1653.

The building has often been the subject of media coverage highlighting damage to the site and questioning its potential to survive. In 1998 the Independent reported that the structure of the building might be "irreparably damaged," and quoted monument officials who recommended that entry to the building should be banned.

The Daily Mail report that in 2007 concerns were raised over pollution (burning fossil fuels and dust) turning the white marble façade an unpleasant shade of yellow. The newspaper stated that environmentalists had suggested treating it with a special mud pack to restore its alabaster shimmer.

But officials haven’t left the iconic site defenceless. It is protected from surrounding development by a 500-metre conservation zone, and visitors must park their cars and buses 2km from the building and take battery-run buses or horse-drawn carriages to reach it.

The building is recognised as a jewel of Islamic vision and an architectural masterpiece. Should it collapse it would be both a cultural and economic tragedy - hundreds of thousands directly or indirectly earn a living from gap year travel and tourism interest.

But the Taj has survived 358 years so far, and with some investment and care may yet outlast us all.

Story and quotes sourced from the Daily Express

Have you visited the Taj Mahal, gappers? Is it worth the hype? What other cultural sites do you rate more highly? Let us know by leaving some comments below.