12.14 trip to the taj

we see two monuments in Agra today - the first one is lovely but i cannot remember what it is... i hate to admit it but it has been outshadowed by hours spent at the taj mahal.

we meet our guide in the afternoon after lunch and are on our way. the road leading in is smaller than i imagined. per usual at most monuments, the street leading to the entrance to the taj is a bazaar where shopkeepers send their hawks to prey on tourists, unrelenting in their quest to get us to visit their shops. i am triumphant as we manage to get through without stopping even once. i am with my mom, i may remind you!!

our guide is great. he goes to purchase the ticket and shoves my mom and me almost in front of the security check line, cutting in front of 100 people. gotta love india! inside, we find my dad and our guide, who warns us to ignore the "photographers" who will stop us inside the taj complex. our guide is our photographer too!

inside the gates we walk to a central square, flanked by giant arch walls to the north, south, east and west. we are told that shah jahan, mughal emperor who had the taj built to house the tomb of his favorite wife, mumtaz, had built two other tombs in this complex for his former two wives. how sweet.

we walk towards one of the giant archways and once inside, where we have to surrender our video cam, we see the great white taj. it looks like all the pictures i've seen. we pose for some shots and walk towards the building as the tour guide retells the story he must have told a thousand times.

the taj was built entirely of white marble, brought in ships from italy. it is a giant architectural masterpiece, a very photogenic building. we get more snaps in front of the fountains. i have a really bad cold and at this point i want to run inside and lie down on the tombs. but i continue.

from the arch entrance to the taj is 500 feet or more lined by immaculate gardens, pools and fountains. the four pillars of the taj are leaning a few degrees outward from the central building, in the case of an earthquake. if the pillars fell, they would fall outward and not touch the building that houses the tomb. pretty smart. as we get up close, the two pillars at the back of the building disappear, and only the two in the front are still visible. a bit of an optical illusion. the giant dome in the centre is topped by a controversial pinnacle about 35feet tall, with "allah" carved in arabic. the controversy comes from some reserach i did over whether shah jahan had the taj complex built or whether it was a hindu temple complex that had been purchased and refurbished. either way, it's still genius and (i say unfortunately because of how i feel about monuments being places of death versus being places of life) it's now a tomb.

the guide then gives us little sockettes to put on our feet over our shoes. although we look like we are going into surgery, it's better than leaving your shoes outside to be stolen.

as we climb the giant stairs to the building i emerge to see a thin strip of metal running the height of the building. you can't see this thing from a distance. thinking it must be to hang lights at night to light up the building, i ask our guide. wrong! the metal strip has been there for ages, a ground in case lightning strikes the place. not bad, i say.

inside, it's a quick trip. keeping our belongings close to outwit pickpockets we take a walk clockwise around the intricately carved fence protecting mumtaz's and shah jahan's white marble tombs in the centre of the building. these are just replicas. the real tombs are actually under our feet, in the basement of the building. the remaining light of the day coming in through the immense vault of this room is stunning, as are the red and green inlaid stone patterns on the walls. and out we go.

outside, we take a clockwise walk around the building itself, where we get a closer look at the white marble pillars, the immaculate redstone buildings to the left and right of the taj, and the yamuna river, almost completely dry now. the sun is setting and the place is magical.

our guide stops us as we are directly behind the taj. there, across the yamuna river, the guide points to a garden and concrete platforms. this is where shah jahan had intended to build a black stone replica of the taj for his own tomb, to overlook his wife's tomb across the yamuna river. oh what poetry! unfortunately, the family would not commission this building to be completed and so shah jahan was buried next to his wife in the basement of the taj itself.

back at the giant arch we stop to look at the taj in twilight. this is supposed to be the taj at its most magical. unlike what i thought, there are no lights on the building, no fireworks and music and people selling peanuts and coca cola by the gardens. just a hauntingly peaceful monument ensconced in the dusk. i remember thinking i'd forego the trip to the taj but i'm glad i came. i take one last snap before calling it a day.

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