Touring the Taj Mahal
I’ve seen a lot of superlatives in my travels. You don’t visit 75-plus countries without seeing the world’s tallest, oldest, biggest, weirdest, deepest, most this and least that. You name it, I’ve probably been there. So before we arrived in Agra, I was a bit weary of the Taj Mahal, the same way I was about Uluru. Add to that the fact that this is my third visit to India and, as expected, the last few days of the trip are the hardest. I was doing my best to suppress my dubiousness.
But the Taj Mahal is more than another lavish Indian palace. When the white, moonlike curve comes into your periphery, you know. There it is, intricate, elaborate, full of shadow and light—in stark contrast to the Persian blue sky.
The Taj Mahal is a monument to love. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan erected it in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after she died giving birth to their 14th child. The construction of this marble mega-Mughal mausoleum began in 1631 and was not completed until 1653, during which time Shah Jahan had two other wives. During the final eight years of his life, he was imprisoned by his son in the adjacent Agra Fort, where according to rumour he fixed his eyes on the Taj Mahal until his death in 1666.
Today there remains a palpable energy surrounding the Taj Mahal that is downright intoxicating. On the day of my visit, there was a crowd, but not nearly as bad as I expected. The interior inlay work is a must-see, and semi-precious stones positioned centuries ago pop in 3-D as if they were set yesterday.
“There are other destinations I’ve been to multiple times that I grow a bit tired of, like Easter Island, for instance,” says on-board lecturer and former ambassador to Guinea James Rosenthal. “But I’ve been to the Taj Mahal eight or nine times and it never gets old. It’s like going back to the opera; every time I get something new out of it.”