Worldwide, extreme weather poses a threat to cultural sites, but the recent monsoon in northern India could actually be beneficial to the Taj Mahal.
On July 18, after days of torrential rain that forced many from their homes in the neighboring state of New Delhi and caused severe floods in the region, rising floodwater from the Yamuna river, a major tributary of the Ganges, approached the compound walls of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Local media said that the flood waters from the Yamuna River had come closer to the Taj Mahal than they had in 45 years, flooding the area where tourists usually stand to admire the monument.
However, Raj Kumar Patel, superintendent archaeologist for the Archaeological Survey of India, a government agency responsible for archaeological research and preservation of historical monuments, believes that the increased water level will likely increase the moisture content of the structure’s wooden foundation, thereby increasing its life span. The white marble exterior of the Taj Mahal is expected to sustain minimal damage.
According to Patel, the Taj Mahal was built in part on a basis of deodar wood, which fortifies itself when exposed to water. The river water is channeled away by drainage pipes, while the large structure above is supported by deep wells stuffed with rock, wood, and other solid material.
The Taj Mahal, erected in the 17th century by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in honour of his queen Mumtaz Mahal, had previously been threatened by a drying Yamuna river due to shrinking supporting rafters at its base. Air pollution and acid rain have been so bad for the monument over the years that it has turned a sickly yellow-green.
This is just one illustration of the effects of climate change on historic buildings. Extreme rains in China’s Gansu province is threatening ancient cave paintings from the 4th century that have been carefully conserved throughout the centuries.
Unfortunately, not everywhere in northern India was spared by the recent flooding. Patel claims that the recent rains completely inundated the Mehtab Bagh, also known as the Moonlight Garden, located close to the Taj Mahal. The Yamuna River continues to rise, putting New Delhi on high alert. Twenty thousand people from the city have left already.