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India: Taj Mahal

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Taj Mahal | India | Asia

[Visited: May 1967, March 1994, February 2016]

The massive gate is impressive in itself, and would be a sight in any other context, but my eyes are looking ahead, and lock on the white building ahead of me that looks so familiar: the Taj Mahal. I feel like running ahead, but instead walk with speed, to take my first of many pictures, inevitably a couple with the image of the tomb reflected in the pool which was made just for this purpose. Behind me, the sun just appeared through the fog, and it plays its tricks on the marble of the mausoleum. The closer I get, the less white it seems, until it looks an apricot colour. The building is so enormous, and so imposing, it overwhelms me: where to start? This is my third visit, and I am thrilled as if it were the first time. I walk around the high base of the mausoleum, which is made in such a way that it supports the marble giant and prevents it from sinking into the ground below. The Taj now rises high above me, and since it has no front or back side, the only difference in the views from different sides is the light. I walk through a crowd of monkeys completely unaware of where they are playing, after which it is time to don the plastic covers over my shoes and walk up the stairs for a closer look at the star.

Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Looking up the mausoleum

The marble still radiates a warm colour when I walk around the wide platform around the mausoleum. There are pietra dura, inlays with precious and semi-precious stones, everywhere around the marble structure. From afar, the building looks perfect in its symmetry and shapes; closer up, you discover that you are looking at art in its purest form. Flowers and calligraphy embellish the outer walls of the Taj Mahal, and you realize that whoever thought about building this, must have had a very creative mind. That creative mind did not foresee the pollution of present-day India, and during my vist, two and a half towers are being cleaned, by hand, by an army of Indians. No chemicals can be used, lest they damage the fragile building and its delicate materials. Another threat to the Taj Mahal is the rapid decrease of water levels in the Yamuna river: cracks have already appeared in the tomb. After it took more than 20 years to complete this iconic building, and we can only hope that it will continue to exist for a long time to come. The efforts to build it have just been too massive: more than 1,000 elephants to carry the materials, more than 20,000 workers for its construction. Materials from many parts of Asia were used: Afghanistan, Tibet, China, Sri Lanka, Arabia and various parts of India itself. Not just a mausoleum, the Taj Mahal is the most prominent monument to love ever made. After his wife Mumtaz Mahal died giving birth to their 14th child, emperor Shah Jahan was so in grief that he ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal, called "the tear-drop on the cheek of time" by Rabindranath Tagore, Indian Nobel laureate, and might well be one of the best known buildings in the world.

Picture of Taj Mahal (India): The Taj Mahal seen from below

When I enter the mausoleum and make my way to the tombs under the enormous dome, I know these are the false graves of Mumtaz Mahal and her husband: the real ones can be found at the lower lever, but are inaccessible. Like the outside, the inside is decorated with precious and semi-precious stones in the marble walls, and seem translucent when you shine a light on them, making for fantastic effects. The outer chambers get light through jalis, fine marble screens, shining subtle lights on the decorative panels with engraved flowers inside. When I leave the mausoleum, I walk around the platform once again - I just cannot get enough. The crowds are now coming to the Taj Mahal, and it is time to explore the mosque and the guesthouse on the side of the Taj. They look very much alike, but the guesthouse does not have a mihrab, which suggests that it was used to house guests. The mosque has a reflective pool for itself, and its huge red sandstone construction is impressive, even though dwarfed by the Taj Mahal. I now explore the extensive gardens of the Taj Mahal, with views from all sides, through the trees and across the pool, until it gets too crowded and I decide to leave. At the Darwaza-i rauza, or Great Gate, I turn around for a last view, and wonder when my fourth visit will be.

Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Sunrise over a kiosk of the guesthouse next to the Taj Mahal
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Reflection of the Taj Mahal in the reflective pool
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Marble everywhere: the Taj Mahal seen from one corner
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Looking at the Taj Mahal from the mosque at sunrise
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Looking up one of the four towers with the Taj Mahal in the background
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): One of the marble screens, or jali, through which light can enter the main building
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): The mosque seen from below
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Marble flowers with daylight filtered through a jali, or marble screen
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Looking down over the gardens and the reflective pool from the upper level of the Taj Mahal
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Mosque reflected in the pool
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Close-up of the fine decorations at the upper part of the main structure
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Lower side of the balcony of one of the four towers of the Taj Mahal
Picture of Taj Mahal (India): Interior of the mosque on the west side of the Taj Mahal

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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