No photograph can do it justice, nor prepare you for the magical sight of its sparkling countenance hovering in mega 3D before you. The Taj Mahal represents everything that is India. It is at once immense and epic, overwhelming and ancient, with a touch of mystique and Indian style class inequity. This could be heaven - except the pick-pocketing boy at my side, reminds me it isn't. Another aside: make sure you pee before you go in. If I were ever to write a list of my ten rankest experiences, a visit to the Taj Mahal's sole female public toilet would be up there. Waiting the forty minutes to an hour to relieve oneself in its stink-pit, requires a level of patience Indian people seem to have by the bucket-load, but us Westerners are so lacking in. Toilets aside ...
The crowds to enter the gates to the great building make a David Jones post-Christmas sale look lonely.
The Taj Mahal - outstanding example of Mughal architecture.
A two-tier pricing system exists for admission - basically, if you're Indian, you will stand for hours in massive queues to get in, but pay 20 rupees. If you're a foreigner, pay significantly more (750 rupees), but get fast-tracked entry. Yep, money talks the same language all over the world. You'll see this unfair level of inequality all over India. So you better get used to it. Guilt-stricken and a bit red-cheeked, I slink through the designated female security gate, feeling the unfairness of the whole thing. If this were Australia, the crowd would have jeered abuse at me for side-stepping the queue. Ultimately, the bonus of avoiding the mammoth wait in the sun far outweighs anything you might have paid - in guilt or rupees.
You and your bags will be searched on your way through the security gates. The whole process of getting in - from the trek on foot (vehicles aren't allowed near the Taj due to the impact of pollution turning it yellow) to fielding beggars outside, to the hassle of getting in past a sea of staring eyes - isn't comfortable, but once inside, it's worth it.
Getting in the gates of the Taj Mahal - an epic experience.
From within the complex, I stare mesmerised at the shining white fairytale like building of grandiose proportions. Up close and personal, the Taj Mahal seems more fantastical than real. Magical, glorious, majestic – the celestial vision of the Taj Mahal is beyond words. Myth and fairytale come closest - Aladdin's Palace; Temple of the Angels. God Himself would find the Taj a suitable abode.
Brightly dressed crowds, green gardens and water features leading to the celestial vista of the Taj Mahal - give the complex a dream-like quality.
Once the need to stare unremittingly has been vanquished, and the obligatory photographs snapped, it's history time.
Our guide informs us that the Taj Mahal is not, as commonly believed, a holy building. Technically, a mausoleum (a type of tomb that houses the dead), the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his third wife (Mumtaz Mahal). The poor woman died in her early thirties (in 1631) giving birth to her 14th child. I start doing my maths on my fingers and conclude she must have started at around fifteen. My second thought is to wonder at the kind of love that must have inspired such a thing. Constructed over two decades, between 1632 and 1653, it was no simple feat.
The extensive list of prohibited items in the Taj Mahal complex
The remarkable marble building, inlaid with semi-precious gemstones including the 'Star of India', was entirely handmade by 20,000 workers enduring a horrific 24 hour working day. With the Taj sparkling in the vista ahead, I let my mind dwell on something darker - the inequities of imperialist rule and the stark inequalities within Indian social class today.
The exterior of the building contains passages from the Qur'an applied with paint, stucco, stone inlays, or carvings and includes jasper and black marble.
As one of the "New 7 Wonders of the World", the Taj Mahal is one of the most famous and recognisable buildings in the World. The building, combining elements of Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Indian architecture, is most likely the world's most outstanding example of Mughal architecture.
Indian women in beautiful saris provides colour at the Taj Mahal.
Getting up into the interior of the Taj Mahal is a feat. Our guide informs us, that because of the crowds, it will take between 2-3 hours. There are no takers from our tour group. Personally, my fear is of the tour bus departing without me.
Our guide warns us about pick pockets and buying anything from the people pushing trinkets on the tourists. Despite this still being in my mind a holy place, there's a decided feeling of threat in the air. Myriads of eyes seem to watch the westerners.
We explore some of the outlying buildings within the complex, including the tombs of the Shah's other wives and a mosque.
The Mosque - one of several outlying buildings within the Taj Mahal complex.
The parterre style garden, with its avenues of trees, fountains and pools of water, provides a stunning foreground to the vista of the Taj and a scenic photo opportunity. While I am trying to photograph the reflection of the Taj in the mirror pool, a small Indian boy darts to my side. Behind him an elderly Indian male hisses something at the boy in a disapproving tone. My would be young thief skirts away. Mixed feelings burgeon - gratitude to the stranger, pity, guilt and a dash of anxiety.
Beautiful foreground gardens lead to the vista of the Taj Mahal.
Apparently, there is a great view of the Taj to be had from the other side of the Yamuna river. The Mehtab Bagh (moonlight garden), opposite the Taj, offers such a view and costs a much lower 100 rupees for entry. Moonlight or sunset viewing of the building is recommended if your tour schedule permits the luxury. It is said the gemstones sparkle vividly at such times.
To visit the Taj Mahal, you need to get to Agra, which is about 200km from Delhi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It is one of the key destinations (along with Delhi and Jaipur) within India's famed "Golden Triangle" tourist route.
The Great Gate is inscribed with the words: "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you."
Ultimately, the Taj Mahal inspires hope. If mankind can create such a thing, what more is God capable of? This magnificent building remains a symbol of mankind's search for eternity, God and endless love.
I don't remember having to pay in 89. You made me laugh about the pollution as the only day it was clear was Sunday when there was little traffic. You were lucky to find a toilet - we went to Kashmir they don't exist for women. Thanks for the article which brought back memories.
India gets bad press for no reason....the imperialist rule left the country poor when once it was a very rich country. If people can't face the pollution, dirty toilets and crowds best to stay in the comfort of your first world country. If you go to the third world countries that have been robbed earlier by the first countries of the world today then at least don't complain about it....brace it with grace as these countries are still recovering from years of imperialistic thieves.