When the Tata's Taj group of hotels agreed to collaborate with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in "improving" the Taj Mahal in June last year, following the department of culture's decision to harness private resources for cultural projects, the ASI's requirements in the MoU it signed with the group of hotels were typically modest: a few repairs like missing inlay work and disintegrating outer walls like the eastern one and the riverfront boundary, water treatment for the garden, better lighting, advice on how to redo the existing Taj museum, pre-recorded tour programmes, and even better restroom facilities. But the Tatas would have none of it: this was going to be a conservation project fit for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan's masterpiece, involving global conservation experts like James Westcourt, a world authority on Mughal gardens, and art historian Ebba Koch, conservationists from Getty Foundation and world experts on crowd and visitor management besides museum experts and architects from Intach, lavishing both money and time in designing a project that is likely to become a model for future conservation plans.
Roping in experts for the Taj Mahal Conservation Collaborative (TMCC), a body of world professionals working together on the project with the ASI, was the easiest part of the project, says Rahul Mehrotra, a conservation architect from Mumbai and one of the consultants on the project. "It's a sacred moment in our professional life," he says, "a very intense experience and everyone in TMCC is overwhelmed to be working on the project. The monument itself is of overwhelming beauty but there are so many other layers of perception in its immediate surrounds."