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Dollar no longer welcome at Taj Mahal

By Andrew Buncombe

The Taj Mahal may have been built as a testament to love but some hard-headed business decisions are now holding sway at India's most famous monument. First among them is that the US dollar is no longer welcome.

With parts of the American economy in turmoil and the dollar rapidly losing its long-held position as the currency of choice, Indian authorities have calculated they are losing considerable sums of money by allowing foreign tourists to pay using greenbacks.

A statement by India's Ministry for Tourism and Culture said the government had decided to act "in view of the international practices and also to avoid any anomaly on account of falling exchange rates of the US dollar vis-a-vis the rupee and the consequent fall in revenues".

Until the change, foreign tourists visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra, south-west of Delhi, could enter by paying a fixed $5 (£2.45) fee – a price that was set when the dollar was worth around R50. But with the dollar having fallen by 12 per cent this year against the rupee and the current exchange rate closer to R39 to the dollar, the government has now fixed the entry price for foreigners at R250 – more than $6.

"These rates have been fixed in line with international practices," a ministry spokesman said. "It will avoid any anomaly on account of falling dollar-rupee exchange rates."

The ruling will affect around 120 sites overseen by the Archaeological Society of India, of which 27 – including the Taj Mahal – are World Heritage sites. The new rates are expected to be introduced as soon as this week to avoid a loss of income as the value of the dollar continues to fall.

Indians pay around R10 or R20 to enter the archaeological sites, a disparity often questioned by foreign visitors but defended by the authorities, who say most overseas visitors are considerably wealthier than the locals.

At the moment, nationals from the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation also do not have to pay the higher fee. Neither do foreigners holding a Person of Indian Origin card. But if India's economic boom – with growth of more than 8 per cent a year and a newly wealthy middle class – continues, the authorities may have to rethink the pricing structure.

The snub to the dollar by the Indian authorities is just the latest indication of how many are now turning away from what for generations was considered the safest of the world's currencies. After months of turmoil, partly created by the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage markets in the US, the lack of confidence in the dollar has reached the point where many international traders are transferring their wealth to stronger currencies such as sterling or the euro.

India earned an estimated $6.5bn last year from the more than four million tourists who visited the country, many of whom will have made the journey to the Taj Mahal to visit India's most famous – and now, probably most expensive – monument.

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