saw the taj yesterday.
Mariel mentioned that Agra is a funny place to go at the end of our trip. We’re so used to India now, so in love with its culture and its quirks, that seeing a big surreal touristy landmark is a strange way to end two months of exploration.
truth be told, I was worried that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. five hours there, five hours back. fifteen dollars on a ticket. after how blown away I was by Dharamsala just a few days prior, with its mountains and monks and intangible beauty, I thought the taj might let me down.
at the end of our visit, we sat on a bench overlooking peaceful gardens and the biggest damn hunk of marble I’d ever seen, and Mariel asked me if I felt I’d gotten my money’s worth. yeah, I said, I think so.
it was all very surreal. I felt like I was in a crappy commercial, walking around superimposed in front of stock footage of one of the world’s most recognized monuments. we sat at a rooftop restaurant on tuesday night, watching the sunset reflect on the flawless marble. I felt like i was staring at a postcard. the next day, as we walked around, I was more excited than I had expected to me. the following three impressions stick out in my mind as I look back on our time at one of India’s most famous sites.
first: seeing the taj is sort of like seeing a celebrity. maybe not philip seymour hofman or meryl streep; more like ryan gosling. it makes you all giddy, like that time in middle school that I went to dinner on a family vacation to Florida and I couldn’t stop giggling every time our waiter stopped by the table. (Mike N. from the Sarasota Carrabbas circa 2001, where are you now??)
second: after thoroughly researching the taj (AKA reading Lonely Planet’s three-page spread), I realized one of the reasons that looking at it is so awe-inspiring. Since the building is set atop a platform of marble, the backdrop behind it is 100% blue sky. No skyline in the background, no trees. Just heavens. It’s truly magnificent.
lastly, and most importantly: I’m not a huge history nerd, but I found the following story fascinating.
the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj as a mausoleum for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after she died giving birth to their 14th (!!) child. It is said that he was so heartbroken by her death that his hair turned grey overnight. Soon after the Taj’s completion, Shah Jahan’s son overthrew him, imprisoning his father in nearby Agra Fort. Until his death, the emperor could only sit in his cell and look out at the beautiful monument that he had constructed for his beloved. Tragic.
The Taj is a study in symmetry. Everything is symmetrical and aesthetics were clearly at the forefront of each decision made regarding its construction. There is a huge, gorgeous building to the right of the Taj that exists only to perfectly mirror the mosque on the opposite side. When you walk into the mausoleum, Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph (empty tomb) sits in the precise center of the room. When the emperor died, his son buried him next to Mumtaz, and erected a second, larger cenotaph that sits to the left of hers. This creates the only visible asymmetry in the entire monument. Shows you how little his son knew about his father’s adoration for his wife or the reason for the Taj’s existence.
So, after all of that, I’m sitting in a fluffy white bed after eating complimentary hotel breakfast. We’ve splurged on a fancy hotel in Delhi for our last three nights in India, and are basking in luxury: a shower with a curtain, miniature toiletries, and men in pressed white shirts who bring Nescafe packets to our room by the half dozen. Mumtaz Mahal may have some pretty sweet digs these days, but I think this bed currently comes in at a close second.