STORY By Michelle KARAMAN-JONES
PHOTOS By Sebastian SERGI
The Taj Mahal, “Not a piece of architecture, as other building are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.” This was how English poet Sir Edwin Arnold described the mausoleum that so often grabs the world’s imagination when thinking about India. It usually translates to “Crown of the Palace” or “Monument of Love” symbolising the eternal love of a Mughal emperor Shah Jahan towards his wife Mumtaz. It is an ivory-white marble mausoleum perfectly located on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra.
According to legend, with her dying breath, she secured a promise from her husband on the strength of their love: to build for her a mausoleum more beautiful than any the world had ever seen before.
It is said that Shah was heartbroken after her death that he ordered the court into mourning for two years.
It took him 22 years and 22,000 workers to construct all from precious marble. The tomb is the centrepiece of a 42-acre complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall. When you finally see the Taj Mahal, it gives you a different perspective on what love means.
But Shah Jahan’s tranquillity was suddenly shattered when his son Aurangzeb assailed the throne. Just as Shah Jahan had conspired against his brothers for Jahangir’s empire, so did his own son plot against him. In 1658, Aurangzeb declared himself emperor and imprisoned his father in a tower of the Red Fort in Agra. For Shah Jahan, King of the World, who once commanded the unbounded wealth of an empire, his only consolation would be a view across the Jamuna River to his vision of Paradise. When Shah Jahan died in 1666, his body was placed in a tomb next to the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. Described by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore as “the tear-drop on the cheek of time”, it is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history.
The Taj Mahal attracts 7–8 million visitors a year. In 2007, it was declared a winner of the New7Wonders of the World (2000–2007) initiative and still till today it is treasured as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
I felt a deep privilege to have the opportunity to visit this amazing man-made monument of Mughal architecture, and more importantly, love. The same can’t be said about the town of Agra. If it wasn’t for Taj Mahal and Agra Forte, I don’t think Agra will be one of the most visited towns in India.It’s a crowded big city filled with lots of people and litter.
Agra is less than 200 km from Delhi and Jaipur. You can hire a driver or tour guide from Delhi to plan a daylong tour. You can also take a train in or fly!
If you have the budget and time to do so, I recommend staying at the Four Points by Sheraton, Agra and you can the view of the Taj from your hotel rooftop while sipping your favourite cocktail by the poolside. Unfortunately I didn’t get to stay in the famous luxury Taj Hotel located right next to the Taj Mahal, but I was lucky enough to be staying not far from this beautiful monument.
It’s best to get to the Taj Mahal very early when it opens at 6 am. We didn’t make it at that time and it was quite crowded while we were there.
Be prepared to be hassled, and I don’t mean by vendors. I mean by the nicest families ever, but there are just a few too many of them. If someone wants a photo with you (and they will), just know that once you agree, a line will form. I must have taken at least 20 photos with people and finally had to say no which always makes me feel bad when it’s such a wonderful people.
There are a few different entry gates. They all charge the same. With the entry fee you get a free bottle of water and a shoe covers, you must wear inside. You cannot bring snacks in with you. They will search your purse. Lockers are located outside the gate. Audio guides are available but we didn’t need one. We had our own tour guide who had the best knowledge to share with us.
To get to Taj Mahal I highly recommend to do the “Golden triangle” tour – Delhi, Japur, Agra and back to Delhi for your connecting flight.
For package tours, contact Ian Norris from India Travel Specialists on 1300 039 041 or email firstname.lastname@example.org visit indiatravelspecialists.com.au
For more information visit India Tourism located at Shop 35, Level 1, 133 Castlereagh Street (also accessible from 210 Pitt Street) Sydney, NSW or contact by phone +61,292672466 or incredibleindia.org
Air India flies direct from Sydney to New Delhi. For more visit airindia.in