Agra, once the capital for all of India under the Mughal dynasty- today it is still a bustling city. Situated at the apex of the tourist triangle, for obvious reasons it falls upon almost every foreign visitors itinerary. No trip to India is complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal. This sacred wonder of the world is more marvelous in person then any picture gives credit to. We contemplated lots of different options for visiting. Our driver talked us into an early morning visit, then a late night visit- explaining low angle light illuminates the marble in various shades and hues. Upon arrival to Agra we hooked up with Kumar, a local guide. Kumar is a recent college graduate that usually serves as a certified guide for Russian visitors since he speaks their language fluently. Lucky for us it was the off season in Moscow and we got Kumar all to our self (his English was also excellent). Excitedly we found out it was the 356th anniversary of the death of Shah Jahan. Jahan built the Taj as a tomb to enshrine the love of his life that died in 1631. Devastated by her death after giving birth to their 14th child, the monument was meant to be a reminder of her beauty and his love for her.
Drizzly monsoon rains gave the tomb a somewhat lackluster feeling at first. Quickly the vastness of its size along with an onslaught of thousands around us transformed it to the majestic appearance I expected. Everyone seemed to be moving towards this megalithic like shrine, as if we had all arrived to a party at exactly the same time. Who knows how many visitors came that day, it had to be in the tens of thousands. I was reminded in a country of 1.9 billion it's pretty easy to drum up 10,000+ people for almost any festival. Unlike some places, people didn't stop to take our picture- they were to busy taking pictures of this gorgeous structure.
The quintessential tourist picture.
Our guide Kumar.
Waiting in line provided a much better opportunity to gaze upon the amazing marble work. The Taj Mahal took 20,000 workers 21 years to complete. Shortly after completion Shah Jahan found his reign overthrown as his son seized control, partially in protest of the debt caused from construction of such a monument. Along with loosing power was the hopes of building an identical Taj for himself. Jahan wanted to begin construction of another Taj Mahal directly across the river, but in all black stone. A black Taj, can you imagine that?
As we got closer and closer to the entrance you could feel the energy building in the crowd. Quickly we removed our shoes at the entrance as dozens in front of and behind us flowed into the small opening. It felt like being shot through a narrow slot in a wave of motion. Kumar grabbed us from the current of hot sweaty people, pulling us off the side. I got my first chance to look around. Light was entering the first room through the marble lattice work above the small doorway we entered from. Most people were pushing down a set of stairs, going to the crypt below. Our guide explained that area is rarely open, saying "just bodies, lets go look at the center room instead". In the core of the Taj Mahal light entered on all sides from two levels of marble carved lattice work. Two coffin shaped slabs of marble lay in the middle of the room, directly above the lower tombs of this mahal's permanent residents. Using a flashlight Kumar showed us the impressive intricacies and translucent nature of the stones used in the etchings. Deep blues and purples laid along side bright fire reds, and gorgeous greens. After about 10 minutes roaming this chamber we exited out a side door.
A breath of fresh air and one more chance to gaze at the enormous monument. This is India.