“The world is divided into two kinds of people–those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who have not.” Mark Twain said something like that and I have to believe there is a degree of truth in his statement.
“The Taj,” as they call it around Agra, is absolutely magnificent and a marvel. Even though we had visited it ten years ago on a business trip to India, we didn’t turn down a chance to view the Ode to Love once again. And actually we saw it twice. But more about that later.
The Taj Mahal, was built as a tomb for Muntaz Mahal, the beloved wife of Shah Jahan. She died at age 39 giving birth to their 14th child. Shah Jahan so loved his wife that he commissioned this amazing structure that took twenty years with 20,000 people working 14 hours a day to complete.
What took so long? The exquisite and exacting inlay of beautiful stones in the best quality marble, amazing craftsmanship and attention to detail.
For example, the four minarets that stand majestically at each of the corners around the Taj are designed to lean out an inch or so. This is so that if there was an earthquake they would fall away from the Taj.
You are not looking at a painted surface. This is inlay with semi-precious stones. The exquisite decorative inlay covers much of the surface.
The whole area is a study of four colors–the white Taj Mahal, the blue sky, the green grass and trees and the red stone of accompanying buildings. I think the contrasts and simplicity makes the white of the Taj stand out even more.
We had a unique experience of visiting the Taj twice in the same day. As a result of that I have a concrete travel suggestion. If the Taj Mahal is on your bucket list, plan your trip so you can visit at sunrise. The light is the best and the crowd is the smallest.
The Taj is open from sunrise to sunset. On our morning visit, we made our way through the gauntlet of beggars and hawkers of books and postcards before sunrise so we could be inside the wall as the sun cast it’s pinkish glow on the surface of the tomb. It was well worth a 5:15 am wake up call. As the sun rose and highlighted stones and marble, our jaws dropped and we ran out of adjectives.
We went back later in the day just to see the throngs of people. I was so glad we didn’t have to wait in the endless line–maybe hours– to get inside the tomb. Instead I could focus on the masses of people, tourists from all over India and foreign groups who marveled and took photos of each other with the Taj in the background. This is people watching at its peak.
It was fun to see couples preen and pose in front of the Taj, knowing their framed photos would grace many a book shelf or coffee table. Even more amusing were the people who posed in exactly the correct position to make it look like they were touching the top of the gorgeous dome.
I particularly enjoyed seeing the women in their colorful attire. I have learned someone in the know can tell where a woman is from based on how she ties her Sari and what colors she wears. The variety and vibrancy stood out in glorious contrast to the white marble of the Taj Mahal.