India travellers can whet Taj Mahal appetite with Google virtual tour

18th Feb 2014

The prospect of visiting India's most iconic cultural site is mouth-watering enough.

But tourists on city breaks to Agra are about to get their appetites whetted further still with a sneak preview of the Taj Mahal - without having to leave their own home.

The romantic 17th-century structure is one of 100 heritage sites being screened on Google's Street View.

This is thanks to a partnership between Google and the Indian ministry of culture.

The Uttar Pradesh monument is famous for its gleaming white marble domes and towers.

It is now being mapped digitally by Google's backpack Trekker camera.

This portable kit, which allows Google to map places its Street View cars cannot reach, is part of a huge project to collect footage of Earth's most treasured natural and man-made landmarks.

The Taj already welcomes more than eight million visitors every year.

This new added-value online offering is expected to help entice even more, according to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) - the custodian of the country's historical sites.

Taj conservationist, the ASI's Munazzar Ali, told the BBC: "The camera will be allowed inside closed rooms, the entire complex, the tomb in the basement - so people can finally see the Taj like never before."

Internet viewers will get a tantalising glimpse of the striking white marble mausoleum. The camera regularly takes photos through 15 lenses pointed in various directions.

The resulting digital footage is fused using software to give viewers a 360-degree image and the feeling they are walking around the monument.

Not all areas of the huge Taj Mahal complex are publicly accessible.

But the Trekker will be able to go where holidaymakers cannot, offering an enticing virtual supplement to the real-world visits.

Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the monument in honour of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

This symbol of enduring love was placed among the world's three leading landmarks in last year's TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Attractions Awards.

The Taj Mahal is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and numbered among the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Copyright Press Association 2014

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