by Shafiq Alam
DHAKA, Dec 16, 2008 (AFP) - The owner of Bangladesh's newly opened replica of the Taj Mahal has defended the building after visitors said it was shoddily designed and constructed of cheap materials.
Thousands of Bangladeshis have descended on Sonargaon, 30 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of the capital Dhaka, since film director Ahsanullah Moni unveiled his own version of India's monument to love last week.
Moni said he had spent 58 million US dollars building the "Bangladesh Taj Mahal" importing marble and granite from Italy, diamonds from Belgium and using 160 kilograms (350 pounds) of bronze for the dome.
His project attracted interest around the world and even prompted Indian diplomats to question whether Moni had breached copyright laws.
But a report in the Bengali language newspaper Prothom Alo said that visitors who travelled to Sonargaon felt cheated.
"We came to see the Taj Mahal with high hopes but we are greatly disappointed," Dhaka resident Asma Mita said.
"The whole project is done in a shoddy manner. It is nothing compared to the real Taj," another visitor, Sohana Parvin, told the paper. "There is no sign of the valuable stones, tiles and diamonds the owner has spoken of using."
Bloggers too have reacted angrily to Moni's replica, which he claims is life-size.
Aparna Ray concluded that the hype surrounding the attraction was a gimmick.
"[It's] a money-making scam in the name of the Taj," Ray wrote.
"The tiles look like the type you'd use in a bathroom. We've been cheated by this guy," another blogger wrote.
Moni, who will next month raise the entry fee from 50 taka (US 73 cents) to 100 taka, defended his building to AFP, saying the quality of the tiles he used was better than those in the real building.
"It's the Taj of Bangladesh. If you want to see the real Taj you have to travel to the Indian city of Agra and spend at least 20,000 taka. It costs just 50 taka to see my Taj," he said.
"There's nothing I can do if a visitor is disappointed," he said.
Moni's copycat construction took five years to finish, while the real Taj Mahal was built by 20,000 people over 22 years by Moghul emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife who died during childbirth in 1631.
Moni, a successful director in Bangladesh's "Dhaliwood" film industry, has made 20 movies. He also owns a cinema hall in Dhaka and a three-star hotel.