India: My love the Taj Mahal

I cried.

The sight was too splendid for me to behold.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 11.11.31 AMI’ve imagined this moment for a long time. The Taj Mahal is exactly the place that a hopeless romantic individual feel like dying. Yep, I could die in a lot of places – on top of the Great Wall of China, on a floating boat next to a bamboo forest, on the look out at Tiger Nest Monastery, in Angkor Wat, on that hill in Mt Namsan overlooking Gyeongju, inside the Louvre, in Florence, at Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh etc…the list goes on.

Taj Mahal – can be my resting place too.

I could die here and lie with one of the greatest royal couples in Indian history. Yes, I really could.

I’ve always imagined myself having my wedding photo taken here. I’d be walking the grounds of the Taj Mahal with my husband. We would walk hand in hand …in silence. No words necessary just a smile which is sufficient enough to act as the archive of our love. Reality is different from a dream because it hurts. Things don’t always go according to plan. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time at the Taj since it is simply beautiful.

Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones. A celebration of woman built in marble.

– English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold on the Taj Mahal

The morning drive with the whole wedding gang was a long yet entertaining one. Things didn’t really go according to plan but then this is traveling. We headed off to have lunch at a guesthouse ran by a retired Colonel who was a peacekeeper sent to Sri Lanka to maintain peace during the intensive civil fighting ( Tamil Tigers). The couple being the gorgeous darlings that they are treated us like their children and made sure that we ate the best and most authentic of Indian cuisine.

A very full Indian lunch
A very full Indian lunch

After some chat and being told that the colonel is quite the advertisement celebrity (he starred in many Indian commercials), we headed off to see Taj Mahal in Agra.

Me + Agra+ Taj Mahal = ONE BIG EMOTIONAL MESS WAH!!!!!!!

200km away from Delhi, the city is unfortunately polluted and heavy in smog and litter. There are also so many tout and hawkers but then ignoring their presence, we made our way to the beautiful palace. I had a mini-panic attack since it was getting slightly late and I thought the ticket office was closed and I thought it was Friday which meant that the 171 m high Taj Mahal is closed to visitors. However, everything went well and I found myself walking through the gardens and fountains of this majestic Taj.  As soon as her beautiful dome appeared between the door frame, I teared up and cried.

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Those were the same emotional sobs that I had when I saw Tiger Monastery in Bhutan and the Terra-cotta Warriors/Great Wall in China. My trip is complete and my childhood dream – fulfilled!

The city of Agra was found a lot earlier than the Mughal Empire. Recorded history show that it began around the 11th Century. Over the next couple of centuries, the city was governed by different emperors and different religions: Hindu and Muslim. Speaking about the Mughals, apart from being a dynasty filled with notable rulers and great expansion, it was also a great period of art, architecture and buildings.  I’ve been stalking Akbar the Great and his wife Jodha for a long time and when a 2008 historical drama film of the same name starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai was made available for me to watch, I became obsessed with the history of the Mughal Empire and of course Agra.

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Ok, so Akbar named Agra after himself- Akbarabad and began to refurbish the Agra Fort and decided to build Fatehpur Siri. Yet, it was his grandson Shah Jehan who gave Agra that fame and India that iconic image- Taj Mahal. Built for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, the white marbled Taj Mahal took 20 years to construct. As an universal symbol of love, the couple was buried here after their deaths.

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A teardrop on the cheek of eternity

Rabindranath Tagore

After a very cool walk inside the Taj Mahal, I stared out into the surrounding marshland and imagined myself getting on a boat to make my way to the other Taj Mahal. So legend said that Shah Jahan planned to build an exact copy of the Taj Mahal out of black marble which will stand on the opposite side of the river. If his son didn’t overthrow him and end up putting money into the military then perhaps we will see another majestic structure- one white, one black like the Yin and Yang : a perfect harmonious balance and an even stronger symbol of eternal love. If only…..it does exist though – only in my imagination.

As I dug further into the history of the Taj Mahal and the Emperor, I realized that my romantic cheesy side is ignoring one other very important factor which prevented the construction of the second Taj Mahal – and that is: money. While the Emperor is known for being a romantic person and a loving husband, his determination to construct the Taj Mahal placed a strain on the resources of his Empire. It took some 22,000 workers/artists, over 1000 elephants, lots of money and some 20 years to finish the entire complex. As many as 28 different semi-precious stones were used to adorn the Taj (SHAME on the British for stealing many of these precious stones during their time in India in 1857) . Passages from Quran and 99 names of Allah in beautiful calligraphy inscriptions can also be found  which hints that the Taj Mahal is a Muslim Tomb.

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Sometimes I wonder about the Taj Mahal, maybe if Mumtaz Mahal didn’t become pregnant with the Emperor’s 14th child then maybe she wouldn’t have died giving birth and as a result, perhaps there will be no Taj Mahal. I can’t imagine the sorrow that the Emperor went through since finding true love is hard and to see one leave before you is one of the cruelest things in the world. I marveled at the marbles used to construct the Taj and I gently laid my hands on the exterior walls and imagined myself touching marbles brought over from China, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Arabia since they were brought over from these places for the construction. The identical mirrored image of the four sides of the Taj Mahal which employed the principles of geometry and symmetry so perfectly made me linger for longer. Darkness surrounded the Taj signaling that it is time to leave. I looked back at the gardens. I looked back at the pond which holds the reflection of the Taj Mahal and closed my eyes.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 11.14.10 AM” This is the moment, This is your moment. This is your Taj Mahal and this could be the last time that you are here. So remember the sound. Remember. Remember.