As we arrived into Agra and headed for our hotel, I must admit to a little apprehension at what lay in store for us the following day. It’s not every day you get to see one of the most famous sites on earth.
Could this wonder of the world live up to the publicity that surrounds it even to this day? Having seen so many images of the Taj Mahal I couldn’t help thinking to myself “what if it’s a letdown?” What if it doesn’t live up to its awesome reputation?
Bayard Taylor, an American poet and travel author wrote “So pure, so gloriously perfect did it appear that I almost feared to approach it lest the charm should be broken”. Admirable sentiments indeed.
I needn’t have worried! It is quite simply the most breathtaking piece of architecture I have ever seen.
The Taj Mahal is in Agra, a city about 4 hours drive north of Delhi in India’s Uttar Pradesh region. It was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his 3rd wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. Shah Jahan was said to be so grief stricken by her death, he banned all music and celebration for 2 years in her memory. He then set about building his monument to love, keeping a promise he made to her on her death bed to build, in her honour, the greatest monument on earth.
The construction of the mausoleum was begun around 1632 and the main building completed around 1648. The complex surrounding the Taj took until 1653 to finish.
Constructed mainly of white marble, the tomb is decorated with painting, calligraphy and inlaid stone work, with no fewer than 28 precious and semi-precious stones being used. This blending of exotic materials gives “The Taj” the ability to seemingly change colour and mood throughout the year. It even changes its persona from morning to night!
Despite its size, most people that approach (what is today) the main entrance, don’t actually see anything of the glorious dome until you are inside the complex. After entering through the outside entrance you can see the red sandstone walls of the main complex and the main gateway leading into the mesmerising gardens.
Walking parallel to the walls toward the main gateway, I caught the tiniest glimpse of the top of the dome. She wasn’t giving away her secrets just yet!
As we continued along the path and turned right toward the main gateway, a brilliant piece of architecture in its own right, we saw The Taj Mahal. And it was simply breathtaking.
Perfectly framed by the pointed arch of the main gateway, the combination of the hazy light and the way the arch had framed the tomb gave me the impression I was looking at a painting. Was I really standing in front of The Taj Mahal? I think the reality took some time to sink in. We stood for a good couple of minutes just trying to take it all in.
The temptation to race straight to the main building is tempered by the beauty of the main gateway and the glorious Charbagh gardens that draw you towards the tomb. From almost every vantage point, the complex reveals itself in many different forms. Arriving without a very large memory card in your camera is surely a recipe for disappointment.
But we slowly made our way alongside the reflecting pools toward the final resting place of Mumtaz Mahal and, after his death, Shah Jahan himself. Because it was added later, Shah Jahan’s tomb is the only asymmetrical feature of the whole complex.
As you climb the stairs of the marble platform where “The Taj” sits, you begin to appreciate the sublime skill of the craftsman who created this masterpiece. Up close, the beauty of the floral patterns, inlay work and calligraphy of Koranic verses becomes apparent. The area below the main chamber is where the actual tombs lie. It has an almost reverential feel to it. It’s both uplifting and humbling at the same time.
After leaving the tomb and heading back out onto the platform that surrounds “The Taj”, the Yamuna River and the Agra fort become visible for the first time. The Fort stands on a hill overlooking the river and Shan Jahan always approached “The Taj” by boat.
Having fulfilled his wife’s dying wishes, Shah Jahan’s life took a turn for the worse, when he was deposed by his son and confined to the Agra fort for the last 8 years of his life. He spent his days gazing upon the tomb of his favourite wife, destined in life, never to set foot in it again.
His legacy to his wife has become a symbol of love the world over. A truly awe inspiring legacy and one I can still scarcely believe I had the good fortune to experience.