Taj Mahal : An elegy in white marble

Taj Mahal

A broken heart is an inexplicable dingus. An oojah that has propelled people to conquer what seemed unfathomable. From the broken heart of an emperor emanated a desire – a desire to built a final resting place for his love. A desire to construct a monument of unparalleled beauty in annals the history. Taj Mahal is the outcome of that desire; a tomb of profound love, a testimony to the mere existence of love.

After the death of queen Mumtaz Mahal, on the behest of the bereaved Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, a Persian architect, Ustad Isa Shirazi designed the Taj Mahal, a mausoleum of regal opulence on the banks of river Yamuna which today is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Taj Mahal was constructed between 1632-43 using exquisite translucent white marble brought from Makrana in Rajasthan.

Entry fees: Rs. 40 for Indian citizens, Rs. 530 for SAARC and BIMSTEC nationals, Rs.1000 for other nationals.

Timings: Sunrise to Sunset.

I visited Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh with Bittu as the last destination of a week-long trip which encompassed many places of Rajasthan. We took a night train from Jaipur and reached early morning at Agra. We had pre booked our accommodation at Hotel Siddhartha which was very close to the Paschimi Dwar (western gate) of Taj Mahal. Our plan to take a nap during the train journey was squandered when our reserved seats were reduced to general sitting berths by the commutators travelling in the reserved compartments with general tickets. Owing to the compact itinerary and continuous travelling we were completely enervated by the time we reached Agra, so it didn’t take us much time before we dozed off in our rooms.

We woke up, had breakfast and headed for the Taj which was at about 2 mins walking distance from our hotel. It was around 11 AM. In spite of being a weekday, the place was extremely crowded. Anyway since Taj Mahal is one of the most visited monuments in the world, that was expected. The place is filled with touts and fake guides (with genuine looking duplicate identity cards). Many of them approached us trying to convince that they can provide us direct entry into the monument through a back gate so that we can eschew the long queues. Even the photographers around were claiming the same. Though it is easy to be enticed by the persuasion after seeing the long queues, please don’t get lured by these touts. After patiently waiting in a long queue under the scorching sun, I finally managed to get my hands on the entry tickets. Please note that it is mandatory to produce an address proof at the ticket counter. After obtaining the ticket you have to stand in long, slowly moving queues for security check and scanning of the barcode on the tickets. There is a separate queue for foreign nationals. After battling through the queues, we finally reached the monument premises.

The first thing we came across is the Darwaza i Rauza, which is the main entrance gate to the tomb. It has a typical Mughal architecture and is constructed using red sandstone. The archway of this entrance gate is symmetrically aligned with the archways of the main tomb.

Darwaza i Rauza: You can see a symmetrical outline of Taj Mahal archway

As we entered through this gate, first we got a glimpse of the Taj Mahal and then we were able to see the complete monument. However, all our excitement was somewhat dampened by the rod frames erected for restoration work and large ugly pieces of tattered green cloths hanging from them. It was so depressing to see the Taj like this. Well, what people say to be a lyric in white marble turned out to be a cacophony for us. DOOMED..!!!!!!!!

The first glimpse

Anyway, if it was to be like this so be it. We moved ahead after clicking some pictures from the distance. As we moved closer, the Taj looked more and more beautiful. There is podium just in front of the Taj Mahal where people click photographs with the Taj. We too clicked a few pics there. When you are in the Taj premises, the only thing you do is click photographs, lots and lots of them.

Taj Mahal

Afterwards, it was time for a closer inspection of the Taj Mahal. The visitors are required to remove their footwear or wrap them with shoe covers. After submitting our footwear, we joined a queue which led to the monument. On one side of the Taj is river Yamuna and this side is not guarded by any wall. As you go behind the Taj Mahal, you can see the expansive views of the Yamuna bank and also get a glimpse of the historic Agra Fort. At the far end of the Taj premises, on the eastern and western side, facing the Taj Mahal are two grand red sandstone structures that are symmetrically opposite to each other. While the western structure is a mosque, the other one is known as the jawab (answer), which is believed to have been constructed to maintain architectural symmetry. Distinctions between the two structures include the presence of mihrab (a niche in a mosque’s wall facing Mecca towards which the congregation faces to pray) in the mosque monument. The mosque’s basic design of a long hall surmounted by three domes is similar to the other beautiful mosques built by Shah Jahan in different parts of the country.

The Mosque
Taj Mahal as seen from the mosque
The western face of Taj Mahal

As you pass behind the Taj Mahal, through the lattice walls, you can see a wall behind which the original crypt of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal is present. Some people were dropping coins and currency notes through the openings. I am not sure what it was meant for; wonder if soul exists what would Shah Jahan be thinking seeing people drop chillar coins on his grave. 😛 Then we came close to a minaret. When you come close to it you can see the artistic brilliance of these minarets.

Behind this lattice wall lies the original crypt of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
An illustrious minaret of Taj Mahal with a glimpse of river Yamuna in the backdrop

Finally, we entered into the Taj Mahal. It was completely dark inside and in the center were two cenotaphs, each placed on a stepped plinth – one of Mumtaz Mahal and the larger one of emperor Shah Jahan. The cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal is at the exact centre of the monument while the cenotaph of Shah Jahan is placed beside it. While these cenotaphs should have been the most immaculate elements, it is the only asymmetric construction in the entire complex which may underline the fact that Shah Jahan never planned to built the Taj as a final burial place for himself. Anyway, no one constructs his own mausoleum but it was only apt that he was given a final resting place beside his beloved queen.

The cenotaphs are place here

The inner chamber was unusually cool. The lattice windows and the dome are meticulously constructed to enable an incessant flow of cool breeze from the Yamuna riverside. After circumnavigating the cenotaphs, we came out of the inner chamber. After coming out, we closely scanned the walls of Taj Mahal, appreciating the intricate carvings on them. Another thing to admire is the Islamic calligraphy on the doorways.  Arabic letters cut from black marble is inlaid into the white marble with utmost precision. These are actually verses taken from the holy Quran describing the paradise and rewards for the righteous.

Islamic Calligraphy

After our close inspection of the Taj exterior, we meandered out. Then we spent some time in the surrounding garden vying to get a glimpse of the most beautiful monument in the world from every angle. We spent about 30 mins in the surrounding garden and then left for the Agra Fort. You can read about Agra Fort here:

Agra Fort: A historical marvel in the shadow of Taj Mahal

If you are visiting Taj Mahal, make sure you visit the Agra Fort as well. Agra Fort is as important as the Taj Mahal if not more. The true emotion appended to Taj Mahal can only be comprehended by visiting the Agra Fort and understanding the nexus between the two monuments.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please share your experiences and reviews about Taj Mahal in the comments section below. Travel and spread Love…

Soul Esplanade

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