Monday, June 27, 2011

The Love Monument: Taj Mahal

I copied this article from the postcard book I bought at Indira Gandhi Airport. It's about the most famous building in India, Taj Mahal. One of those places which takes your breath away when you see it. So, mind your if the words might be a little too weird, it wasn't me.  So, here it goes...

Taj Mahal is not just beautiful art and fine architecture, but a memorial to love and faith. It's a sublime experience of the greatest love story ever told. The Taj has been visual delight for viewers over the ages. The serene beauty and pristine purity of this famed splendor leaves an abiding impression on the beholder's mind. The Taj is a joy forever and for any imaginative visitor a rare experience.

For the foreign travelers, Taj symbolizes India. Designed like a palace and finished like a jewel, it is pure, gloriously perfect and superbly lovely and set amidst landscaped gardens which are positioned by a turquoise sky.

Like a jewel, the Taj sparkles in moonlight when the semi-precious stones inlaid into the white marble on the main mausoleum catch the glow of the moon. Becomes soft pinkish during the dawn and as the day fades it reflects the fiery tints of the setting sun. These changes, they say, depict the different moods of a woman.

Set againts the backdrop of Yamuna River, this eulogy of love was built by the 3rd Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan in the memory of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal who died during childbirth. It took 22 years of hard labor and 20,000 laborers to built the mausoleum. Design by the Persian architect Ustad Isa, the Taj has been constructed on a high red sandstone base topped by a 313 sqfeet white marble platform on which rest of the famous dome flanked by 4 tapering minarets. The entire portion is enclosed whithin a high boundary wall with broad octagonal pavilions at corners. The most elegant dome of the monument has diameter of 60 ft that rises 80 ft over the building with verses of Holy Quran inscribed on it, Al Fajt and Yasiin. The gate is crowned by 22 small domes. Semi-precious stones are inlaid into the marble in beautiful patterns and with superb craftmanship in a process known as pietra duara. A fascinating feature is the garden with its water channels, lotus pools, and colorful flower, beds and trees.

As a tribute to a beautiful woman and as a monument for enduring love, the Taj reveals its subtleis when one visit without being in a hurry. The rectangular base of Taj is in itself symbolic of the different sides from which to view a beautiful woman. The main gate is like a veil to woman's face, which should be lifted delicately, gently and without haste on the wedding night. In Indian tradition the veil is lifted gently to reveal the beauty of the bride. As one stands inside the main gate of Taj, his eyes are directed to an arch, which frames the Taj.

Within the dome lies the jewel-inlaid cenotaph of the queen as well as the Emperor. So exquisite is the workmanship that the Taj has been described as "having been designed by giants and finished by jewelers". The cenotaphs resemble a pair of jeweled caskets with the fine quality inlay work. The main archway leads into the tomb chamber at the ground level where the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan live 5 inches apart.

The walls, borders, ceilings, both inside and outside the Taj Mahal are profusely decorated with gems, precious stones, inlay work and panels of calligraphy making it look like a "Materialised vision of Loveliness". It is believed that Shah Jahan was extremely pleased with the finished product and used to gaze it longingly from across the Yamuna River when he was held captive in Agra Fort by his own son, Aurangzeb.

The Taj Mahal is indeed a flawless gem, a timeless wonder, the last and the greatest architectural flowering of the Mughal period in Agra.

Some insider tips:
- Stay at the Taj Resort Hotel, USD 80 for 3 persons, breakfast included, great location to ticket office and east gate of the Taj Mahal --> check at trip advisor --> 
- Buy ticket of Taj Mahal in the ticket office --> USD 17 per person include shoe cover and 1 bottle of mineral water.
- Shoe cover is essential as you either bare-footed or must cover your shoes to enter inside the Taj Mahal. In summer, the marble can be seriously HOT and dangerous.

The shoe cover

- Hire a guide wouldn't be such a waste to get to know the story behind the Taj Mahal. It's nice to know the story behind such a magnificent masterpiece. The guide usually for Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, we paid USD 10 because we're pleased with our guide.
- If possible visit the Taj during one or three of these time: sunrise, sunset, full moon. We were there during full moon but we missed it as we realised the full moon the day after. Also consider in summer (May-Jun) the sunrise is earlier (around 5 am) and the sunset is later (7.30 pm)
- When the guide offer you to come to the shop, it's okay to just take a look a bit and hear some story, if you don't want to buy anything just make it clear, anyway, you don't have any obligation to buy anything. Use your instinct to decide when to say "no".
- Visit Agra fort which located just across a bend in the river from the Taj Mahal (about 10 mins by car). Agra fort was built by Akbar, the 3rd Mughal Emperor.

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