Agra, India. Yes, you’ve seen the photos, watched the videos, rented the movies where it is featured and seen your friends posing in front of India’s top tourist attraction. So have we.
And to be honest, I thought that I had quite “seen” the Taj Mahal. But, as with every sight that becomes a world-wide must-see, there is good reason to be there in person.
To avoid the worst of the crowds and mostly to see the sunrise, we got to the entrance when it opened at 6AM. Our hotel is very close, so that made it easier. I am so glad we did it – painful as it was getting up so early – because there were certainly a lot of people there within the first ten minutes.
The entrance gate is a nice preparation for the main event, very pretty in the dawn’s early light.
And there it was, rising above the ground with an ethereal lightness, despite the weight it must actually have.
When the tomb of Shah Jahan’s beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, was completed in 1640, the building housing the mausoleum was built, taking thirteen years, and costing billions in today’s dollars. Quality shows.
The gardens facing the Taj are said to symbolize Paradise. The Lotus Pool reflects the Taj, and is a beautiful mirror of the building.
There is a mosque on the left as you face the Taj, and a corresponding building on the right, as part of the perfect symmetry of the entire complex.
And then, the magic occurred. The sun started to rise, and it was glorious. The Taj backs onto a river, which makes it even more protected and mystical at dawn.
No photos are allowed within the mausoleum, so seeing the marble caskets of the queen and her king was a nice quiet and reverent event. Their actual coffins are well below ground. The sense of them finally being together is very sweet – more on that story tomorrow.
We spent the rest of our time admiring the details of the building and the artistry of the stonework and inlaid decorations and inscriptions. (Yes, you have to look at a lot more pictures you may have seen before.) At the end of our visit, the sun was hitting the marble in such a way that it glittered.
What an amazing tribute to love and what a legacy of the artistry of the times in which it was built. It’s unlike any medieval cathedral, but not one bit less masterful. It truly deserves to be considered the most beautiful building in the world.
Don’s Food Corner
Since we got up at 4:30 am to make sure to get to the Taj Mahal when it opened, we were kind of rattled for the rest of the day. That meant spending most of the day by the hotel’s rooftop infinity pool, which actually has a view of the Taj. When you look out over the city to that massive monument, you get a sense of how really massive it must have looked before the city grew up around it.
We didn’t even bother to hunt out any lunch spot beyond the poolside restaurant. Jo found so-called vodka shrimp, which were breaded and deep-fried and served on top of some type of succotash variation with some Caesar salad thrown along side. I found a quasi-Indian dish that featured paneer (Indian cheese) stuffed with spicy potato and raisins and then coated with a flour dusting and deep-fried. The menu didn’t give its Indian name so I don’t know if this is some classic snack of the region or something created by this particular kitchen. I thought it was great. Hey, it was fried!
(See the Taj in the background?)