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Last June, for the first time in decades, a faint beacon of hope pierced the choking fumes. The Tata Group, India's mightiest industrial chain, took on the landmark's preservation. The company has previously converted former palaces into functioning hotels and promises to bring in international experts from the Getty Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution and UNESCO, among others, to help restore damaged engravings and stones and revamp the lighting system. In a move that could spell an end to the bedlam around the entrance gates, Tata also plans a tourist center that will offer interpreters, computerized ticketing, banking, a fleet of shuttle buses, a cafe and washrooms. While some see this as the transformation of the site into something like contemporary Versailles in France, others see it as a commercial affront. There are angry challenges to the Tata deal. Is this the Taj Mahal or the Taj Mall? And is the country's national heritage now up for sale? Can the Taj Mahal be purchased for a paltry $383,000?
An army of 20,000 men took 22 years to build the Taj Mahal, finishing at last in 1653. The hands of many of the workers were later mutilated to prevent them from duplicating their work elsewhere. Saving India's great jewel may take a similarly monumental and ruthless effort.