When you think of India, you think of the Taj Mahal, so synonymous is the monument with this country. Not only is this monument an architectural feat, but it also has a wonderful and tragic history associated with its making, that makes it alluring for tourists across the globe, centuries after it was built. It is one of the enduring images of India, today. If you are in or around Delhi, it would be criminal not to do the Taj Mahal situated in (200 kms south of Delhi) Agra. The Indian Government has once again thrown its gates open for viewing by moonlight after a gap of 20 years.
The Taj Mahal, they say has to be viewed over and over again at different times of the day and during different seasons. The beauty of it is such that it takes a bit of the elements of the environment - the light conditions and weather - each time and looks enchantingly beautiful, much like a model that who would carry different types of garments - from a saree
to an evening gown - with aplomb!
The Taj Mahal at sunrise has a magical quality. The white marble monument glints in the golden hue of the first hint of the sun reminding you of the snow-clad mountain peaks touched by sun's first rays. The backdrop of the sun-set is also highly recommended, as the marble edifice glows magnificently. Awash in moonlight, it looks simply ethereal, some would say sensual, making one aware of it being a tribute to love.
An ode in stone
The Taj Mahal is not just another mausoleum; this ode in stone has a very romantic and tragic history behind it, which adds to the allure of its physical beauty. Almost every 10-year old in India is acquainted with its history as he is taught early in school about this ancient Islamic wonder. In 1631 A.D., Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor ordered this mausoleum as a tribute to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth. It was one of her wishes that he build a shrine to their love. Rabindranath Tagore is known to have described this monument as, 'a teardrop on the cheek of time'- and aptly so.
The Taj Mahal complex is built in perfect symmetry and has a garden courtyard with a watercourse running through it leading to the mausoleum. The mausoleum itself is built on a raised platform on the banks of the river Yamuna. It is flanked on one side by a mosque made in red sandstone, and a similar building on the other side, just to balance the configuration; this is not a mosque. The onion dome of the mausoleum is framed within four minarets. Even as you enter the well-laid garden walking on the concourse, the first sight of the Taj Mahal that greets you is the building along with its image reflected in water. The Taj Mahal is, more often that not, recalled and remembered through pictures, as the building with its reflection in water!
The Taj Mahal was build with materials carted from all over India and Central Asia; the white marble came from Makrana in Rajasthan. It took 22 years for 20,000 masons and craftsmen to erect the monument, which easily ranks as one of the architectural wonders of the world. The magnificence of this white marble edifice hits you as you enter the courtyard, but more riches await you when inside. Marble lattice-work adorns the interiors, which is like a screen rather than a solid wall, and these bear beautifully carved floral designs exquisitely inlaid with precious stones. The dome and archways have Quranic verses carved in Arabic calligraphy.
On any given day and time, the Taj is bound to be crowded with tourists and visitors; one way to avoid this to a large extent is to catch it at sunrise or at moonlit nights. Since the entry fee at such times is a little steep, it helps in keeping the crowd down. It would be just perfect to camp at Agra for 3 - 4 days, around the Purnima
or the full moon day. Thus you can aim to watch the splendour of Taj at sunrise, sunset and moonlit night on the same day! Also, that way, you could fit in Fatehpur Sikri in your itinerary, which is also worth a visit.