Seeing the mighty Taj Mahal is the stuff that travel dreams are made of.
In fact, this is a dream I’ve had since I was about 6 years old when I began collecting Wonders of the World cards from my favourite boxes of cereal. I remember looking at those shadowed concave arches and the surreal pinky-white domes cutting arcs into a cerulean sky. Even on a tiny card that came out of a box of Wheetabix it looked impressive. And I thought now that is something I have to see.
18 years on and I finally made it to the Taj. And let me tell you right now, it lives up to the hype! As I waited in the queue at sunrise, I was almost breathless with anticipation. I walked through the security checks as the moon started to fade away and was replaced with vibrant pinks, oranges and yellow. As I passed through the giant red sandstone gateway I caught my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal, every bit as ethereal as I ever could have imagined it. Spectral mists seemed to encircle it, giving it a hazy intangibility as it stood before me. The jewel-encrusted marble sparkled in the morning sunlight, and I stood with my mouth literally hanging open. Photos do no justice to the Taj Mahal. I have never seen anything more beautiful in my entire life.
It wasn’t until I got up close that I noticed the incredible detail that went into the making of the building. Running my hands along the cold marble walls of the Taj, I was amazed to see ornate patterns running across the brickwork of the entire building. Each pattern is either delicately carved from the stone, or inlaid with jewels.The story behind the Taj is that the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan ordered it to be built as a mausoleum for his dead wife the Mumtaz Mahal. She was said to be his greatest love, and when she died he swore that he would never marry again. It isn’t until you get right up close to the Taj that you begin to feel the emotion of this story. The building is not just a beautiful testament to a lost love, but it actually physically depicts the Emperor’s mourning state. The inlaid floral patterns on the stone show drooping buds and flowers encased by depleting leaves. It is as though the very art of the Taj Mahal itself is weeping and mourning the death of the Mumtaz Mahal.
But it isn’t just the Taj that is beautiful. The buildings that surround it are worth mentioning too. The reddish-pink sandstone gates at the North and South of the complex are large and impressive, offering glimpses of the ice-white Taj through their doors. And the Muslim mosque, which sits at the back of the Taj Mahal facing the Agra fort, is a flaming mix of reds and oranges, with ceiling frescoes so stunning they had me lying on my back to take photos!
Since the Taj was built in the name of love, it is perhaps no surprise that even the people visiting and working in the Taj tend to get a little loved up. Stream of sighing poets and dreamy lovers ambled around the gardens, lapping up the beauty of the Taj like a cold drink on a hot day. I also noticed a sense of calm and friendliness in the people walking around the Taj that I hadn’t felt before in India. A group of kindly Indian women quickly befriended me when they spotted me walking around by myself, and I even saw a security guard stooping down to hand-feed a hungry squirrel!