There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the Taj Mahal. Or none that adequately describe its majesty.
The day finally arrived for our visit to the Taj. I was excited as this was the highlight of our trip as far as I was concerned.
Earlier in our trip one of the 4 girls in our group suggested that the women wear saris to visit the Taj. By the time we arrived in Agra this “dressing up” had blossomed to involve the entire group of 9!
I’m so glad that we did this as it actually made the occasion feel very special.
We had so many smiles and nods of approval from other tourists, and more importantly, from locals with numerous requests for “selfies”!
Our visit to the Taj was planned for the late afternoon to escape the heat of the sun.
At around 3pm we headed out by minibus to get decked out in our Indian finery. We all expected to be taken to a clothes hire shop however the van pulled up on the side of the road and we were led single file down a small alley way into the back entrance of a small family home! We 4 women were ushered into a compact room adjacent to the double bed room where the men stayed to be kitted out. We chose our sari, choli (short top) and petticoat. I was the first to be dressed by a woman in her 40s who drew the petticoat cord so tightly around my waist that she almost cut me in half!
My yelps of “not so tight please!” went unheeded. In fact I think she drew it even tighter! The 5 metres of salmon pink rayon – I doubt it was silk – was expertly folded and tucked into the waistband of my petticoat, the remaining fabric was wrapped around me and then brought across my front and pinned onto my shoulder to enable the rest to cascade down my back. A bindi on my forehead and some bright pink bracelets finished off the ensemble.
All the girls looked resplendent in brightly coloured saris and the men handsome and regal. (We think that Jon was wearing a Maharaja’s (king) hat as local men called him this on more than one occasion!)
We must have looked a right spectacle as we filed out of the house: 9 foreigners all decked out in traditional Indian dress. No wonder there was laughter and intrigued glances from the locals!
At the Taj Mahal the ladies and gents queue separately to be searched (this occurs in every place you go in India, including every Delhi metro stop!) Monkeys were clambering around the walls at the entrance gate and whilst sweltering in the queue I saw a quick blurred image just above my head: a monkey had leapt over me and missed landing on me by an inch!
We entered the Taj Mahal compound from the south entrance via an impressive red sandstone gateway. As I walked through I was greeted by the most spectacular vision directly in front of me and let out a gasp. The sheer scale and symmetry of the beautiful, dazzling white marble dome and 40 m. minarets was a sight to behold. The Taj is elevated on a marble platform and as it backs on to the Yamuna river there are no buildings behind it therefore its background is simply the sky. On the day we visited a brilliant blue painted the perfect backdrop.
The Taj Mahal is arguably the finest building in the world.
Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in honour of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died giving birth to their fourteenth child in 1631. Shah Jahan was heartbroken. Soon after completion of the complex the Shah was overthrown by one of his sons and imprisoned in the Agra Fort for 8 years. (Not a lot of parental respect or love!) All he could do was merely gaze through a window at the Taj but when he died in 1666 his son honoured his wish to be buried beside his beloved Mumtaz in the Taj Mahal.
The white, semi- translucent marble is carved with floral designs inlaid with many different semi-precious stones. The perfect symmetry exhibited throughout the Taj complex is seen by its four identical faces each with identical vaulted arches. These are embellished with fancy scrollwork and quotations from the Quran made from inlaid jasper. There are Four smaller domes surround the world famous main dome.
The ornamental gardens at the front of the Taj are impressive. The formal Persian gardens which consist of rectangular water courses separated by marble plinths add a feeling of serenity, especially with the beautiful reflection of the majestic Taj. One of these plinths houses the famous “Diana bench” which is so popular for people to have their photos taken that there is a long queue. Most of our group had their photo taken there by one of a plethora of official photographers.
Not surprisingly there was a depressingly long queue snaking ahead of us to go into the mausoleum itself. We would have queued with the masses had it not been for one of the girls in our group ushering us to the priority queue. The vastly inflated ticket entrance price that foreigners have to pay to enter the Taj complex allowed us “priority boarding”!
An orderly single-file queue enters the magnificent main dome which houses the mausoleum. Directly below is the Cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal. Beside it is the Cenotaph of her husband, Shah Jahan. People are speaking in semi hushed respectful tones and although photography is prohibited some people chance their luck when the guards aren’t watching. The tombs can only be viewed through an elaborately carved marble screen. Yet these tombs are false as the real ones lay in the locked basement room below and cannot be viewed. Surprisingly we are only in the mausoleum for about 5 minutes as you walk around the tombs and exit out onto the vast marble platform on which the Taj sits.
We stay to watch the sun setting over the mosque on the west side of the complex. There is an identical building on the east side too, although this has no purpose other than to provide perfect symmetry.
The sunset while pretty and impressive had a haziness due to the air pollution. There has been quite a noticeable difference in the stunning, clear African sunsets and the hazy ones of India. Often the last quarter of an hour of the sunset could not be seen due to the smog. As the sun set and the alabaster marble turned various shades of pale pink, we took photos and marvelled at it’s beauty. I don’t know if we’ll ever return to the Taj Mahal so with the majority of tourists now departed, we linger a while longer. As I left the serenity of the Taj Mahal I felt peaceful.
Six of our group set early alarms and we left the hotel by minibus at around 5:30am the following morning. We arrived early at the public park on the banks of the Yamuna river but had to wait as the park didn’t open until 6:15am. We anticipated large crowds to watch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal but as we made our way to the river bank directly opposite the Taj it was pleasantly quiet with relatively few tourists. What a bonus!
The sunrise was pretty, especially with a mist hanging over the river as the rising sun warmed the land, water and us.
The subtle pinkish hues of the Taj changed as the sun rose and again we gazed peacefully on the mighty Mahal. As we snap away we’re so grateful for digital photography – those of you old enough, will remember the pressure of trying to compose and take the “perfect” photo as each of your 24 or 36 shots of film were so precious!
As we leave the river bank and head back through the park I turn back to take in this marvellous sight one last time.
If you have not been fortunate to visit this modern wonder then I highly recommend that you add it to your bucket list!