India's monument to love prepares for Sarkozy
India's northern town of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, is gearing up for French President Nicholas Sarkozy's brief visit to the world famous monument to love over the weekend
AGRA, India, January 25, 2008 - India's northern town of Agra, home to
the Taj Mahal, is gearing up for French President Nicholas Sarkozy's brief
visit to the world famous monument to love over the weekend, officials said
Sarkozy, who is to be the chief guest at India's 59th Republic Day
celebrations on Saturday, arrived in New Delhi early Friday with a high level
ministerial and business delegation.
He will be Agra -- the one-time capital of the mighty Mughal empire -- on
Saturday afternoon after the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi, officials in
New Delhi said.
Agra's senior superintendent of police Naveen Arora told AFP that the
marble mausoleum, on the itinerary of most dignitaries visiting India, will be
out of bounds for visitors for the duration of Sarkozy's visit.
A special battery-operated bus will ferry the French president and his
entourage around the Taj, given the ban on petrol and diesel-run vehicles in
the vicinity of the monument, an officer of the paramilitary Central
Industrial Security Force, told AFP.
With Sarkozy's visit to the Taj designated "private," speculation is rife
that the president's supermodel girlfriend Carla Bruni could join him for the
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna told reporters on Thursday
that Bruni was not part of Sarkozy's official delegation.
Bruni herself told the Liberation paper earlier this week that she would
not be accompanying the president on the "official" India visit as they were
not yet married.
But these statements have only fuelled rumours that Bruni could jet into
India briefly to join Sarkozy at the magnificent white-marbled 17th-century
monument, built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved queen, Mumtaz
Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child.
About 20,000 workers toiled for more than 20 years to build the tomb in an
age of opulence when Muslim rulers mined precious gems to fund construction of
Meanwhile, Agra tourist operators are hoping a Sarkozy visit will boost
tourism to the Taj, already visited by almost three million domestic and
foreign tourists annually.
"The French are known for discovering tourist spots and have a sense of
appreciating art and love" said Mahatim Singh, Secretary of the Tourism Guild