Taj Mahal. That’s where we were heading today. A two hour drive from Delhi to Agra on the expressway and we were there. No matter how much you read or heard about it, its magnificence surpasses it all. I won’t be telling any facts or doing any description, as those could be found everywhere, but I will be sharing my feelings, the story told by our young guide – some of which I haven’t come across, yet he says his sources are reliable. So come along and live the dream of love.
You can reach the premises by walking, camel or rikshaw, we opted for the latter, and once we were at the gate we were bombarded by professional photographers, no, not because we are famous 😉 but because ever since late Princess Diana visited Taj Mahal every visitor wanted the exact same poses, and thus started the annoying business. We didn’t want someone to distract us by asking us to pose in every corner and our guide was willing to take up that task as well.
Once you are inside the gate, and if you center yourself exactly in the middle, you will be able to experience the beauty of symmetry and the splendid white marble mausoleum reflected in the pool dividing the vast garden.
A long walk and many pictures later, we sat on a bench in the shade of a tree while our guide told us the story of Mumtaz Mahal, the favored wife of Shah Jahan’s three. She fell seriously ill after giving birth to their fourteenth child, and on her deathbed she asked her husband to commemorate their love. After her demise, the grief stricken emperor locked himself for three days, then came out with a plan to build his wife a resting place that would be remembered for eternity. He chose a spot where the Yamuna River curved, and ordered the construction of the mausoleum with translucent marble, inlaid with semi precious stones. The four minarets at its corners tilt slightly towards the outside in case there is an earthquake they would collapse outwards and not on the outstanding building. A mosque was erected on the left hand side, and to keep symmetry, an identical one was built on the right hand side but not for worshipping.
According to our guide, and unlike it is believed, Shah Jahan did not cut off the workers and builders hands, nor did he poke out their eyes so they would not be able to build anything of equal magnificence. What he did was compensate whoever worked there handsomely so they would not want for anything in their entire lives. They would not need to work, and thus would not replicate the Taj.
The story goes on that one of the emperor’s sons was astounded to learn that his father was thinking of building another mausoleum for himself, in black marble this time. Taj Mahal had cost 32 million rupees in the 17th century and his son found it wise to put his father under house arrest to prevent him from going through with such a mad plan. Had his son known the value of his father’s “folly”, and what recognition it had brought along as being one of Seven Wonders of the World, would he have gone through with his plan? I can’t help picturing what a black Taj Mahal would look like … a shadow of the one we know.
Now it was time to enter mausoleum after donning overshoes. Groups of maybe one hundred are allowed in at a time and go around the replica of the tombs of the emperor and his wife. The originals are found way down beneath. We were then ushered out to the terrace overlooking the stunning view of the winding river.
The final stop in Agra without which visiting Taj Mahal would be incomplete, is The Red Fort. The residence of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal … and later where the emperor was under house arrest in confined quarters.
The saddest part of their love story, at least in my opinion, was that he had a view of his wife’s resting place during his confinement. A reminder of their love, and their days of glory, when he was ruler of the land taking off to wherever he pleased and ordering whatever his heart desired. A point to ponder; was the choice of that specific spot for imprisonment a blessing or was it a form of daily torture for eight years till his death.
Just a few steps away from those quarters was their bedroom, built specially for Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. The wanted a private area where no one had called theirs before. The vast hall had enormous windows overlooking the river. Their bed, no longer there, was set in the middle and Persian carpets were let down from hinges on the ceiling to surround them from the four sides. What a setting for true love … and the perfect end of our trip to Incredible INDIA.