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Published: April 25th 2008
The chill we felt would well have been because of the chilly air
. Clouds and smog obliterated the sun. It was, undoubtedly, cool for 2 pm. Or maybe the chill was from anxiety. Excitement? Maybe. It could also have been from any combination of circumstances or emotions that cause the heart to beat faster or, conversely, skip a beat. All we could really remember was staring dumbfounded at one of the most awesome and maybe the most recognizable buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal and feeling a chill.
That the Taj Mahal stood detached, central and elevated on its platform surely was part of its grand design. It demanded attention and admiration. Four round, lengthy minarets anchored the borders of the Taj each sporting a metal point at its zenith. They, like the entire structure, were made from white marble. A picture of symmetry, the main structure made its way in from the minarets and, in the absolute center, swept upwards into the detailed dome crowned with the moon and star so representative of Muslim architecture. A long reflecting pool, flanked by rows of plants and walkways, directed the eyes towards the building. Immaculate gardens and other stylish structures
played supporting roles.
Visitors, and there were hundreds, either removed their shoes or, as we did, donned booties to reduced wear and tear on the white marble platform. Up close, the Taj Mahal was even more impressive. As we had come to expect from significant Indian buildings, the detailing was exquisite from carvings of flowers and vines, humps and crevices in the entry archway and diverse motifs in diverse places. Each angle provided a different, interesting perspective making circumnavigating the structure immensely pleasurable. Each view provided a different lesson in architecture at its finest. And even without brilliant sunshine or artificial light, the Taj glowed with an inexplicable translucence.
Inside was cool, dark and segmented. Light filtered in thru specially positioned openings decorated with white marble cutout patterns. The main section, under the dome, was an acoustic marvel. Eight depressions in the dome, visible only from the inside, caused sounds to bounce around the chamber. So that saying the 'bert' would catch up to and harmonize with the 'Vi' if one just happened to say something random like 'Vibert'. Branching out from the main chamber was a series of maze-like corridors and rooms all of which seemed to
empty right back into the main. In the center, protected by barricades, sat two plain crypts. These hold the mortal remains of Mumtaz Jahan and Shah Jahan
, their faces looking east.
Shabuddin Mohammed Shah Jahan was the 5th Mughal ruler of the Indian subcontinent from 1628 to 1658. Shah Jahan, Persian for “King of the world”, made 19-year-old Arjumand Banu Begum his third wife and renamed her 'Mumtaz Mahal' Begum (Chosen One of the Palace)
. She became his favorite. Tragically, she died in 1631 during the birth of their 14th child. As a testament to his love for Mumtaz, Shah Jahan commissioned a structure to hold her remains. The Taj Mahal, therefore, is a fantastic mausoleum. As soon as the Taj was completed, Shah Jahan was arrested and placed under house arrest by Aurangezeb, his own son. He died in captivity in 1666 and was buried next to Mumtaz in the Taj Mahal.
Behind the Taj is a river. To the left and right are two grand red sandstone buildings. They are mirror images of each other and their main entrances face the Taj. These mosques are often overlooked, not nearly as referenced or photographed as the Taj
but they are wonders in their own right. Shards of light selectively illuminated portions of the inner sanctums, afternoon light brought out a rich warm hue and the fine detailing was also delightful. One mosque was undergoing minor repairs. The other was where prayers were held.
Surrounding the Taj is the community of Agra that can only be described as shabby. Actually, it was rather a shock seeing the state of the community that hosts such an iconic structure. Run-down, haphazard concrete buildings were stacked on each other, the roads were small and dirty and it almost seems like there is no trickle-down effect from the Taj’s 2,000,000 annual tourists. As a matter of fact, it does seem like the volume of tourists affects Agra negatively. The city is overcrowded and littered and there is ominous smog developing.
But how did we get here to Agra? Last thing you remembered was our adventures with Musa, Taleb, Lalu and Queseria in the Great Thar desert. Well, we rode a night train to Jaipur, India’s “Pink City”. History oozed from the cracks in the pink stucco buildings of this, Rajasthan’s capital, but its hot, muggy, jam-packed streets caused us to
rush around on a day trip to a few ‘tourist traps’
like Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal and Narangarh Fort.
And the conclusion of the whole matter? Truth is, we’ve never been too excited by hype and no other building in the world is ‘hyped up’ like the Taj Mahal. But being there, seeing that ancient yet modern marvel with our own eyes was an unbelievably exciting experience. Visiting the Taj Mahal certainly ranks in our top three experiences in many, many months thru many, many fantastic places.
Train tickets from Jaisalmer to Jaipur: Rupees 693.00
Day trip in Jaipur: Rupees 350.00
Entry ticket to Taj Mahal: Rupees 750.00 The Experience: Priceless
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