India Day 5: Getting Up Close and Personal With the Taj Mahal

Welcome back, everyone! As you may know from my previous post, today was a big day: my parents and I visited the glorious Taj Mahal!

We started our day at 5:20 AM because we wanted to beat the crowds and the heat. At 6:30, we met our new guide, Masood, who told us which items would be prohibited inside the Taj. Our driver, Rajesh, dropped us at the street entrance of the site around 6:45 AM and we could already feel the humidity. Families of grey monkeys hung out on pink pillars lining the dirt roads we walked up, their babies chasing each other and eating bananas.

Monkeys!

Our excitement mounted as we walked up to an archway of a building that gave us a glimpse of the Taj. I think my heart skipped a beat (that sounds dramatic, but you’ll understand if you’ve been there) when we finally feasted our eyes on this view:

Everyone stopped in their tracks to look!

But I soon realized that this view was nothing compared to what awaited us. I stepped under the archway and suddenly had this breathtaking and picture-perfect vista of the Taj Mahal:

Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

It is, without a doubt, the most majestic structure I’ve ever seen. The pictures do not do it justice. The story behind it is very unique: in 1631 AD, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan was so overcome with love and grief when his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, passed away that he commissioned an immense marble tomb to be built in her memory. It took over 20 years and 20,000 workers to finally complete it. The tomb’s perfect symmetry and surrounding gardens have led the Taj Mahal to be considered the single greatest achievement in Islamic architecture, as well as one of the most prominent symbols of eternal love in the world.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of the Taj’s marble dome and intricate inlay work, which apparently got its colours from various precious stones. We were able to go inside the mausoleum and visit a replica of Mumtaz’s tomb (her actual resting place is underneath the Taj, alongside Shah Jahan’s). Photos weren’t allowed inside, but I took some of the outside walls:

Such intricate work…

Imagine the tiresome work that must have gone into deciding what kind of patterns to create, how to create them and which order they should be in. Mumtaz was clearly adored by Shan Jahan! My mum and I touched the cold marble and remarked that it was in remarkably good shape for being 387 years old. There was such a sense of serenity and peacefulness that came over me as we walked by the replica tomb and came to grips with the fact that both people were buried beneath us. It helped that we were there just after 7 AM – as predicted, the heat wasn’t unbearable yet and the crowds weren’t overwhelming. The three of us lingered inside the Taj, craning our necks to look up at the patterns and calligraphy that covered the ceilings. We could hear foreigners around us expressing their awe and didn’t hesitate to join them. I actually walked backwards as we left so I wouldn’t miss a last viewing of one of the Seven Wonders of the World!

We spent an amazing hour and a half at the Taj Mahal and then went back to the hotel to freshen up and eat. After breakfast, Rajesh and Masood picked us up. We took a quick drive down Agra’s busy roads, dodging cows, goats and rickshaws, and then they dropped us off at a marble emporium. We sat down for a short demonstration of how the intricate marble patterns and colours are created; the local craftsmen there use the same sculpting and carving techniques that were used to build the Taj Mahal. Given that one set of coffee-table coasters took the craftsmen almost seven months to create, it now makes sense as to why the Taj took over 20 years to build.

Next up was Agra Fort, a former imperial residence once held by Mughal dynasties. Construction began by Emperor Akbar in the 1500s and modifications were made by his grandson, Shah Jahan. Following that, we drove to Akbar’s grave and toured its stunning gardens, which were filled with deer, monkeys and peacocks. Finally, we visited Mehtab Bagh, a lush park where Shah Jahan wanted to build something called the “Black Taj Mahal” and was later exiled because of his intention to put his life’s worth of savings into this one project. This park is also perfect for a different, but equally beautiful, view of the Taj:

After that, it was back to the hotel for dinner and packing for the drive to Jaipur tomorrow. I know that planning a trip to India is no easy feat, but I think the Taj Mahal is worth seeing at least once in each of our lifetimes. There’s nothing else like it!

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