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Then, Vladimir and Lyudmila sat on the Lover's Bench

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    Then, Vladimir and Lyudmila sat on the Lover's Bench

    It took 37-year-old tourist guide Ravi Sharma a few seconds in the spotlight to realise that it was not going to be a normal day. Standing beside Russian President Vladamir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila Putina at the gateway to the Taj Mahal, Sharma knew that he was not going to do just another, regular guided tour. This was going to be different, not like the other Russian groups he had taken around and not like American President Bill Clinton's visit earlier this year.

    While Agra went about business as usual, Sharma, the best known Russian-speaking guide in the Taj circuit, walked the VIP delegation through the monument and its history.

    Sharma's day began at 2.40pm, after a battery-operated bus pulled up outside the main entrance of the Taj. The Russian president and his wife walked up to the entrance and then paused to take in the beauty of the monument, all the while listening attentively to their guide.

    After a quick photo-op, the 32-member delegation walked past the fountains towards the monument. Putin settled down on the Lover's Bench with his wife, ready for another round of popping flashbulbs. While the photographers were looking for a close-up, Lyudmila misunderstood the shout for ``closer'' and moved away from her husband. Putin had to gently pull her towards himself and as she smiled coyly, the flashbulbs blinded them again.

    Media time over, the Russians went to see the monument of love. According to Sharma, the group was fascinated and wanted to know everything about the monument.

    ``The first thing that caught their attention was the inlay work on the walls,'' Sharma said. ``They were surprised to know that in Agra, such work is still done. They also wanted to know about the calligraphy.''

    While Putin stuck to saying ``very good'' and ``very beautiful'' everytime he was asked about his visit, Sharma described in detail the effect the monument had on the couple. ``Just before leaving, the president's wife told me that we (Indians) has a wonderful treasure and that we should preserve it,'' Sharma told everybody. ``The President said that the Taj was very beautiful and one of its kind in the world.''

    All that Putin didn't say in words, he put down in paper. Signing the visitor's book on his way out, Putin wrote: ``India should be proud about its precious share in the world culture and we in Russia are proud of having such friends.''

    The beauty of the monument aside, Aurangazeb's story also seemed to have fascinated the couple. Sharma was inundated with queries about why Aurangazeb was so cruel and how he became king. The delegation also wanted to know about the black Taj that Aurangazeb wanted to build and whether he really ordered that every worker's hands should be chopped off after the monument was built. ``I just told them they were stories that could never be confirmed,'' Sharma said, before weaving his way back into the crowded streets of Agra. The show was over.


    #2
    Indeed, Taj is the crown of Moghal Monuments built in India and Pakistan. No other piece of architecture comes close to its splendor and elegance. It is not the stones, nor is it the craft of the artisans, nor is this about the brutal nature of the Moghal emperors, but a monument built out of love from one to another.

    It is our cultural heritage and we should be proud of such a showpiece of love created by one of us (ok someone who ruled over us).

    I plan to make something similar for my love, on a much smaller scale however.

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