‘The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.’ – Rabindranath Tagore
When something becomes as overexposed as the Taj Mahal has, you have to wonder if it could possibly live up to its reputation. It is surely the first thing anyone wants to see when they plan a trip to India, as evidenced by the three million people who visit it every year (almost double the population of Agra). So dubious scepticism on the part of the traveller is understandable; yet very few who visit it leave disappointed.
The Taj Mahal dates from the 17th century, built by a grief-stricken Shah Jahan as a tribute to his beloved third wife. As much a monument to grief, then, as it is to love, and he is buried alongside her in the sombre grandeur of the mausoleum.
To experience the Taj Mahal at its most magical and atmospheric, I would advise being there for a sunrise viewing, which means queuing up as early as 5:30am. Unfortunately, with the word being out about this, you will still have plenty of other people for company. But that is the price we must pay when visiting the world’s greatest wonders.
Another thing – they were quite strict on what you’re allowed to take in to the Taj Mahal with you, or at least they was when I was there, and you’re required to deposit certain valuables you have in your bag in the lockers near the gate before they allow you in. I understand the need for security, but I’m not sure what damage they thought the paperback book I was carrying was going to do.
Anyway, that doesn’t take anything away from the moment you step inside. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘the photos don’t do it justice’. I can tell you that this timeworn phrase definitely applies here. Rising magnificent and imperious, the Taj is positioned in a way that makes it look as though only the sky is around it; almost as if it rises above all else to touch the heavens. It’s an overwhelming sight to get the blood well and truly pumping, and something the camera simply cannot capture.
The whole complex, dating from the 17th century and some 22 years in the making, is a highlight. Whether it’s the sombre grandeur of the mausoleum itself (the lighting effect that shines through the filigree screen surrounding the tombs of the Shah and his wife is wonderful – n.b. photography is prohibited inside the mausoleum), the intricate patterns of the marble work, or the jaw-dropping symmetry of everything from the Minarets of the main building to the red sandstone mosque and jiwab flanking the Taj, you’d be hard-pushed to argue against the assertion that it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
You would have to be extremely difficult to please if you’re not at least a little bit impressed. As beautifully put by the Nobel Prize winning poet Rabindranath Tagore at the top of this piece, the Taj Mahal is a timeless wonder; the ultimate tribute to the eternal, powerful and all too human phenomena we call love.