SONARGAON, Bangladesh (AFP) — A wealthy Bangladeshi film-maker has told how he built a replica of the Taj Mahal so that the poor of his nation can realise their dream of seeing neighbouring India's famed monument.
The life-size structure cost 58 million dollars and was five years in the making, a fraction of the time it took thousands of artisans to build the real thing.
"Everyone dreams about seeing the Taj Mahal but very few Bangladeshis can make the trip because it's too expensive for them," said director Ahsanullah Moni.
He said he hoped his version, located 30 km (18 miles) northeast of the capital Dhaka, would prove as big a draw to local and foreign visitors as the original.
Bangladesh makes little money out of international tourism, with just 0.1 percent of visitors to the Asia-Pacific region stopping off there, according to the World Tourism Organisation.
Moni first visited the original Taj in 1980 and made the trip six more times as he followed his dream to replicate it.
He hired specialist architects, sending them to India to measure the dimensions of the real Taj Mahal, and brought six Indian technicians to his building site across the border.
Work finally began in 2003 and will be completed this month, when the new Taj throws open its doors to the public.
Moni imported marble and granite from Italy, diamonds from Belgium and used 160 kilogrammes (353 pounds) of bronze for the dome.
"I used the same marble and stone as in the original Taj," Moni said. "We used machinery, which is why it took less time. Otherwise it would have taken 20 years and 22,000 workers to complete it."
The original Taj was built over two decades in the 17th century by heart-broken Moghul emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved second wife who died during childbirth.
Moni, a successful director in Bangladesh's "Dhaliwood" film industry, has made 20 movies. He owns a cinema hall in Dhaka and a three-star hotel.
"Before partition we were ruled under the emperor Shah Jahan so we all know the story of the Taj but very few Bangladeshis get to see it," he said.
"Shah Jahan built the Taj for the love of his wife. I built my Taj for the love of Shah Jahan."
Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in a war in 1971.
Until the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, the country was part of the Indian state of Bengal, before becoming East Pakistan.
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