Even with pollution cloaking northern India, visitors are still thronging the Taj Mahal, the shining marble mausoleum south of Delhi.
Every year about 8 million people — mostly domestic tourists — visit the monument, built by a 17th-century Mughal emperor for his wife.
On Tuesday, with smog levels many times maximum levels, only a few of the about 10,000 daily visitors wore pollution masks, and most of them were foreigners.
French visitor Gildas Courtois complained that he was coughing, his nose was running and that his eyes were sore.
“We don’t feel comfortable with it,” he said. “It makes it bitter. Makes the visit bitter, because it’s a wonder, one of the wonders of the world.”
He had traveled to Agra from Delhi, the choking Indian megacity of 20 million people 250km to the north, where the air was “very, very bad,” he said.
A Japanese tourist wearing a mask felt the same way.
“Breathing dirty air affects our health directly and instantly,” he said. “I am feeling chest congestion and my eyes are watery. We are using masks, but I’m not sure how effective they are.”
Every winter, smoke from thousands of farm fires combines with industrial and vehicle emissions to create a toxic mix that doctors say is taking years off Indians’ lives.
For the Taj Mahal, a van with a large air purifier was deployed on Tuesday, but it was about 1.5km away in a busy parking lot filled with diesel buses.
“The van is deployed at locations where pollution levels are high to clean the air, but we don’t have empirical data whether it is effective in cleaning the air,” said Bhuvan Yadav, head of the local pollution control board.
Most cities in northern India, including New Delhi, suffer from high levels of pollution in winter, when pollutants, dust and fog mix to form a thick blanket of smog.
New Delhi authorities last week declared a public health emergency after pollution levels skyrocketed, prompting the government to shut schools, ban construction and ration private vehicles on the roads.
The Indian Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the government over its response to the crises, asking how officials “permit people to die like this due to air pollution?”
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