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A trip to Agra, the Taj Mahal

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View of the Taj Mahal with symetrical answer on the right

View of the Taj Mahal with symetrical answer on the right

I have travelled only a little. Most of  India is yet to be explored. Even with that the Taj Mahal would not have been on the top of my list of places to see, and if not for my friend from Philippines who had since childhood dreamt of visiting it, I may not have seen it.

Nevertheless, in India she was and off we went from Delhi to see The Taj by the Delhi Tourism bus that leaves early morning at 7 am from Hanuman Temple, near Connaught Place. We were joined by another friend of mine who resides in Delhi. In truth we were asked to come in by 6 am when booking the tickets the previous day. And so there we were at 15 minutes to six after travelling nearly an hour from our hotel to find that the tourism office was not open yet and the bus is expected to leave only by 7.

After about 4 hours on the Delhi-Agra Yamuna expressway stopping for breakfast in Mathura, we reached the outskirts of the Taj Mahal where our local guide joined us. There were eight of us in the bus, who were all shuttled into environment friendly electic cars from about half a kilometer from the entrance. These were introduced by the Government to keep vehicle emissions away from the Taj Mahal and hence from eroding the marble on the Taj.

There need not be an introduction to the Taj Mahal itself since it is a very popular monument and perhaps the most well known symbol of India to outsiders.

To enter and see the Taj Mahal, you have to purchase tickets that are around INR 20 for Indians, INR 510 for visitors from SAARC countries and INR 750 for tourists from other countries. See more Taj Mahal ticketing Information. However we were lucky to have coincided our visit on International Tourism Day which is on the 27th of September every year, on which day all tickets for every tourist place across the world are waived off.

View of the Taj Mahal from the entrance

View of the Taj Mahal from the entrance

There are multiple entrances to the Taj but all of them were closed on that day except the main Great Gate called the Darwaza-i rauza. All gates to the Taj Mahal are constructed of red sandstone that was the material of choice for most Mughal buildings then. It was Shah Jahan who introduced the use of marble into the Mughal architecture.

The huge crowd at the entrance, attempting to take pictures of the main monument of the Taj Mahal, pauses you for a few minutes as you get the first glimpse yourself of the white marble picturesque building; one that you have seen innumerous times pasted in different travel brochures or magazines.

The first thing that captures your mind is the size of the garden that leads to the Taj and immediately after your mind is drawn to the symmetry of the entire structure including the main tomb, the buildings adjacent and the gardens.

As you walk down the pathway towards the mausoleum, you see how the crowd that seem so large earlier dwindles down into the large  garden and the structure of the Taj Mahal comes in clear view.

The arrangement of the building and the surroundings intend to reiterate the symmetry with the main mausoleum right at the center with a mosque on the left of the Taj. To the right is then an Answer (jawab) to the mosque on the right and therefore an (external) mirror image of the mosque.

Relief work on the walls of the Taj Mahal

Relief work on the walls of the Taj Mahal

You are guided up to the Taj structure towards the main entrance via the left side where you are also supposed to wear shoe covers to protect the marble from damage. The entrance is massive, you begin the see the reliefs on the arch ways and the etched carvings using semi-precious stones with designs of flowers, vines and fruits.

And slowly in a queue you walk inside, wondering what you will get to see. The interior chamber is sparse with the the sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and  Shah Jahan distanced by a fence made of latticed marble jalis. The sarcophagi are false though and the true tombs are in a chamber down below, inaccessible to the public. The ceiling dome is high and decorated with motifs. The only light in through the multiple lattices on the walls and hence the room is  comparatively dark. You are ushered through into another room with even more intricate designs and carvings, and you exit out the back.

The Taj Mahal was constructed on the banks of the Yamuna and the exit faces ther river.

The octagonal design of the building is clearer when you exit and  see it from the side. The arches mimic the entrance on four sides and on scale are massive.

My friend resting on the arch gate with the backdrop of the main entrance seen in the background

My friend resting on the arch gate with the backdrop of the main entrance seen in the background

We exited down to get closer to the mosque but were then prevented from getting to it by security or even getting back into the main building. We had no other option there on except to get back to exit via the main entrance, talking a slow walk through the gardens.

This ended our short journey but with a note to come back once again with more time on our hand to explore the entire structure in more leisure.

There is a small museum on the left, while going from the main building towards the entrance, that is worth a quick visit.

We were also taken to a “government authorised” shop that sold marble carvings and other items for purchase as a souvenir. This reminded me of Egypt where every second building on the road towards the Pyramids of Giza is an “authorised by government” shop selling papyrus. The “in your face” push-selling seems not to convince many people to make a purchase even though some of the items weren’t expensive.  Attempts at elaborate presentations seems to put people off than induce them to buy. Most people, I would think,  would purchase if sales attempts were not so intrusive and the display more like a super market.

Opinion:

It is a massive building and it is beautiful. After having resisted for so many years, I do see value of finally seeing the Taj Mahal in person. It is also indeed very photogenic and the scale of the main building with its precise symmetry is awe inducing.

Entrance to the Taj Mahal, view from it's left

Entrance to the Taj Mahal, view from it’s left

I could sense why the Taj Mahal is liked and admired everywhere. But did it  create in me the level of awe that one expects it to, with all the hype around it? I am not sure and quite frankly I have felt really awed in other monuments in India such as the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Tanjavur for its simple size and of the Sri Kalahasti Temple near Tirupati for the intricate stone carvings. Perhaps because I had deliberately suppressed my expectations and hence my reactions.

It would also interest the student of architecture with with elements of Mughal, Persian and Indian architecture.

I also did not feel the story of the Taj Mahal so compelling. Attempts to portray its attachment to a grand love story exposes the lack of depth except for the grandiose of the building itself. I was far more impressed upon by the Agra fort, that had a mesh of emotional stories woven within. Even the story of the Taj Mahal is more emphasised by the end days of Shah Jahan and his melancholy, spending his days in the Agra fort. The story of the Taj lies in the Agra fort, with the ghosts of the then living sould. The Taj Mahal, on the other hand, is just a large beautiful building.

I wish, as always, that we take more care of our environment and surroundings. The road towards the Taj Mahal was messy with the road-side gutters over flowing, slightly stinking and messy. The Taj Mahal area is however very well maintained.

 

Getting there:

To get to the Taj Mahal is perhaps too easy. With an airport in Agra and easy distance from Delhi, one can take government tourist buses. These usually do a day trip showing the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. If you are in Agra, your hotel should be able to guide you easily with local travel methods including Auto Rikshaws or taxies.

Agra is about 210 kms from Delhi

Best time to Visit:

There is no particular season to visit the Taj Mahal although the summer (May-June) may be quite hot for someone not accustomed and it may be difficult during the monsoons (June to September).

Winter may be the best time to visit, especially in the months of November to April. It mayh however be foggy in the months of December and January, so it is worthwhile to check the weather charts before you pay a visit.

The Taj Mahal is closed to visitors on Fridays.

Where to Stay:

There are plenty of hotels in Agra for different budgets. It is important to note that staying overnight in Agra enables you to visit the Taj Mahal in the late evening. This is organised by the Hotel for you. There are some limits to the number of people allowed on a single evening and your hotel may be able to guide you to the rules at that time.

Read more

  1. The wikipedia is quite informative on the Taj Mahal.
  2. ScienceDirect has a case study on the architecture and the story of the Taj Mahal Love Story
  3. Leora Novick weaves Leora Novick weaves the story very well here.

 

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