It is one of the world’s wonders, one of the most visited sites on the planet and at least one out of ten people’s bucket list items.
The Taj Mahal in India meets all expectations and so much more. When I arrived in Delhi in May 2015 I was prepared and excited to see great, gigantic and awe-inspiring sights. One of those included the Akshardham temple complex which was completed in 2005. That is currently the world’s largest temple and although it was magnificent, deep down I was sure no amount of hand carved structures, golden temples nor superlative forts would match up to what I was waiting to see within two days.
The drive from Delhi to Agra takes about four hours by road passing ever changing landscapes. The outskirts of Delhi boast stunning new developments in a suburb called Noida, followed by lush green rice fields. Further on you see brick factories between evergreen crops. The Indian roads are very good, in fact, in great conditions and it was impressive to see billboards promoting safe driving.
When entering Agra you may experience a culture shock, especially if you haven’t visited the Middle East and Asia before. Seeing as I have experienced similar conditions for a prolonged period, I looked past the dirt and saw only beauty. I saw cows and buffalo roam the streets, where they knew they belonged. I saw monkeys swinging around having the time of their lives. I saw locals greet each other with wide grins patting each other on the back.
Nearing the hotel I spotted the structure of the Taj Mahal in the distance. I couldn’t believe my luck when I realized I would be visiting that exact wondrous place within mere hours once the sun has set and risen once again. From afar the four brown gates give it a totally different appearance and that alone made me excited to see what it was truly made to be.
That evening my mind wondered and I was literally unable to sleep. By four o’clock in the morning I had not had a wink of sleep, yet I was as energized as ever to finally come into contact with the Taj Mahal.
A short drive which included a complementary shuttle transfer, security searches where males and females were separated, as well as entrance ticket stumping meant all formalities were out of the way and only a short distance on foot was between me and that marble architectural beauty.
In all honesty, I didn’t pay much attention to what the guide had said about the four gates of the complex, but my ears popped open when I caught the first glimpse of that white, yet grey, yet pink building through the arched gate.
The entire complex is an architectural masterpiece. A building is supposed to enlarge as one walks nearer, but somehow the Taj Mahal was shrinking and I could at all times see it in its entirety.
As the sun was setting I saw it turn from a dull grey to a faint pink and suddenly as white as the finest marble that was used to build it.
Emperor Shah Jehan built this for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth of her fourteenth child and it is said that about twenty two thousand people had worked on this structure. It took about seventeen years from start to finish, which was in 1648, and today it is about one hundred and seventy meters in height.
What’s even more fascinating is the wooden structures that form the base of the building, which acts as pillars, also absorb water because the complex is actually built on the river. It isn’t open to the public but worth the attention when this site is described and explained.
The complex gardens are pristine with just the right amount of security to avoid tourists from acting out of order. Those gardens were once orchards and vineyards, yet now the trees are at home and so are the birds that fly and chirp in unison.
The interior of building doesn’t offer much besides the tombs of Shah Jehan and his beloved wife Mumtaz. I was only pleased to have put my hands on the marble of the most striking building ever built by man.
About ninety percent of the world is told – and choose to believe – the romantic version that is associated with the reason for its construction. There is a rather interesting and believable religious theory that a local, highly intelligent guide has been studying for some years. It points towards evidence and writings that this incredible structure was built as a place of worship rather than the burial place for Shah Jehan’s adored wife and mother of his children.
I can believe this because passages from the Holy Quran can be seen as decorative elements throughout the complex and on the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal you will find ninety nine names of Allah in Arabic calligraphy.
I can honestly say that standing in the shadows of the Taj Mahal is worthy of any bucket list. I left a part of myself in India and I would like to believe the love story of the Taj Mahal influences my longing to return to India one day.