Agra, India part I: Timeless Love at the Taj Mahal
The T A J M A H A L
Cue Rhianna's "This is what you came for". Because seriously, I traveled 10 hours on 2 different planes, 1 hour in a cab, and 4 more on a charter bus full of Australians to get here and this IS what I came for. One of the 7 new wonders of the world...
And hell yeah, it was worth every second and every penny!
Obligatory "blog" picture- but also just taking a moment to be completely overwhelmed by how awesome this place truly is!
It's iconic, and completely worth the hype if you're into design, architecture, engineering, history, culture, symmetry, photography, or just aesthetically pleasing things, in general.
The Taj Mahal, settled on the south bank of the Yamuna River in Agra within the state of Uttar Pradesh, means "crown of the palace". Rightfully so, the Taj became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and sees more than 7 million visitors a year. Fun fact: Uttar Pradesh (also called UP by locals) is the most populous country subdivision in the world, with a staggering 200 million people. With that said, the Taj is almost always flowing with visitors, open from sun up to sundown every day except Fridays when it is open only for worship.
Can you believe something so grand was built in only 12 YEARS- that's all! I have seen many beautiful cathedrals in Europe that took (and are currently taking) hundreds of years to construct (looking at you, Sagrada Familia). Of course this came at the great expense of the 20,000 laborers, 1,000 elephants, and entire dynasty's fortune to construct it. Finishing the surrounding complex and gardens took a few more years, bringing the grand total to around 20 years from start to finish.
For me, I think that's one of the things that inspired me the most during my day at the Taj. Imagine 20,000 skilled laborers and artisans working in tandem with builders to construct intricate designs of mosaics and what is called "painting in stones". The famous marble was brought from neighboring Indian state of Rajasthan, while the beautiful stones were brought from all over Asia including Afghanistan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, and Arabia. All in all, 28 different types of precious and semi-precious stones used for the striking carved inlay on the Taj Mahal and one single mosaic could be made of over 100 shaped by hand stones!
There are many other precious mausoleums in India, and they were used as inspiration to create the Taj Mahal- but alas, nothing compares to the perfection, harmony, and splendor.
With such an iconic building, much care has gone into preservation to ensure its everlasting status. Engineers today still admire the calculations that went into this work of art! Though it appears to be perfectly perpendicular and symmetrical, the minarets (surrounding towers) were built to lean slightly outwards, because otherwise if built perfectly straight, they would appear to lean inwards from far away. Another perk of this design is that in case of an earthquake, they would fall outwards, sparing the iconic dome from possible destruction.
The mini version I bought broke on my way home... so there's that!
The Taj is dutifully guarded, and during previous times of war it has been covered with scaffolding in hopes to disguise it from bombers flying above. Some tourists are also disappointed to arrive at the premises and see scaffolding for scheduled cleaning during their visits, too. Thankfully during my visit we were sitting pretty and scaffold free! ((Karma for having to see so much scaffolding during my trips to Rome, surely))
But how is it that something so opulent and grand could ever exist, especially in a country that is shrouded in poverty? THAT juxtaposition is what makes you even more mesmerized when laying eyes upon the Taj Mahal because chances are that you flew in to Delhi and maybe even stayed there for a day or two and saw a lot of this....
But amidst the grandeur of the Taj Mahal, that all seems a world away.
The Taj Mahal was built to symbolize eternal love.
Let that marinate for a minute. One time my husband brought me pancakes and coffee in bed and that alone earned him major brownie points so can you even imagine an act so grand to profess your love to someone?! Don't worry fellas, you have the rest of your lives to build a Taj for your lady, just as Shah Jahan did for Mumtaz Mahal.
Mumtaz Mahal was a Persian Princess, and said by poets to be so lovely that even the moon hid from her beauty in shame. She was Shah Jahan's favorite wife (yes you read that right, not his only wife) so it is safe to assume that if there was Instagram back then, she would def be granted #WCW status. Mumtaz Mahal died giving birth to their 14th child, and six months later, Shah Jahan goes to work on creating his symbol of undying love, though he continues to mourn for years. Accounts were given that he wore no jewels or perfumes, and listened to no music for two years following her death.
Many years later, Shah Jahan is toppled from the throne by his own son, in hopes to save the empire from his father's frivolity and extravagance, because like I mentioned the Taj was not cheap- and Jahan liked to live LARGE. Jahan is imprisoned in the Red Fort of Agra for his remaining days, where he has a view of the splendid Taj Mahal from his cell. When he passes away, he is finally reunited with his love, allowing them to rest together for eternity.
A first time guide for visiting the Taj Mahal
Make it rain with rupees: The cost to visit is dependent on the type of visitor you are, 40 rupees for locals and 1,000 rupees for tourists. The conversion rate at the time of this posting is $15.50 USD for 1,000 rupees.
What NOT to wear: If you are not a local, chances are that you're already going to get some extra attention when mingling with a large sampling of the population and that's totally normal! Don't be surprised when people are just as intrigued by YOUR appearance as they are by the Taj Mahal. Your best bet is to wear something with a loose fit and more conservative in terms of square footage of your body being covered. Be yourself and be comfortable, but also be respectful of the local culture. For me, that balance came in the form of a maxi dress with a lightweight cardigan or shawl. You'll also want to stick to smaller bags, as backpacks are not allowed in many of the monuments.
Read the signs: Yes, they're in English as well. Some areas require silence, some don't allow shoes, and there are areas inside the complex in which photography/videography is prohibited, so follow the rules to avoid getting kicked out. Also, this is a no drone zone. Just don't be oblivious and respect the rules- this isn't only a place for tourism, it's a place of worship for many.
Visit the official website: https://tajmahal.gov.in/
More on visiting India as a foreigner: We already talked about how the Taj is located in the most populous state in India, but what we didn't mention is that this state has a significantly higher poverty level than even the national average for India- which is classified as a developing country, so their poverty line is obviously different than that of... Switzerland. Because of this, it's likely that many of the fellow visitors you will encounter here have never seen someone who looks like you in "real life" before, unless you're a local.
I would be lying if I said it didn't feel strange that people were following our group to record videos, take photos, and even facetime their mom at home. Thankfully I had done my research before, removing some of the "shock value" of this practice. It's part of experiencing India as a foreigner, and while you can be polite, don't be afraid to be firm and decline taking photos and videos with people. It may feel rude to those of us who are considerate to others on the regular, but you only have a limited amount of time here and don't want to spend all day taking selfies with strangers, right?! I mention this because if you allow the curiosity of the locals to overwhelm you, you won't be living your best life Taj Mahal style.
As they say in India, when you leave, you take the Taj with you in your heart.
Hopefully you will take a little with you after reading this post!
Namaste, babes! xoxo