Agra Stories and Tips

The Taj Mahal - the most beautiful building in the world?

The most beautiful building in the world.... Photo, Agra, India

How can you describe the Taj Mahal? You can't--it's impossible. You just have to experience it. To gaze in wonder at that magnificent dome and elegant gardens will be a moment that you remember for the rest of your life. It is one of the greatest sights in the world, some say the greatest, and like Victoria Falls, The Grand Canyon, and Macchu Picchu, it simply is one of those things you have to see in your life. The architectural grace and symmetry of the Taj Mahal just takes your breath away.

Like all great buildings, there is a story behind it. And it cannot get any more romantic than the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan was the most charismatic and cultured of the Moghuls. He spent vast revenues on building projects all over northern India. And when his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died, he was so devastated that his beard turned white overnight. He set out to create an unsurpassed eternal monument to her memory, and construction commenced in 1632. It took 20,000 men, until 1652, to create what you see before you. Shah Jahan did not have long to enjoy his wife's mausoleum, as he was deposed by his austere son Aurangzeb and locked away in the Agra Fort. There he stood at the pavilions, gazing sadly at the Taj in the distance.

All tourists make their way to the Taj sooner or later, and there are plenty of ways to get there, including walking from Taj Ganj. The best way I feel is by cycle-rickshaws, which are often pedalled by some of the poor in Agra, and your fare is very welcome. From ground level you cannot see the Taj, as it is surrounded by high red walls, but after you have paid your admittance you can enter the first courtyard, the Chowk-I-Kilo Kham. These courtyards are full of green lawns and towering archways. You almost unobtrusively pass through the last archway, and then you see the Taj Mahal...

What is immediately striking is its graceful symmetry--geometric lines run through formal gardens, ending in a white marble platform. Atop this platform is a great white bulbous dome complemented by four towering minarets in each corner. The whole image shimmers in a reflecting pool flanked by beautiful gardens--the whole effect is magical. The first stretch by the reflecting pool is where most people pose for their photos. But we were impressed by the fresh green gardens and how Muslim the Taj looked. Doesn't the Koran say that paradise is a verdant garden? As you approach through the gardens, two mosques come into view flanking the Taj, both exqusitely carved and built of red sandstone. But everybody wants to find the famous spot where the east-west pool crosses the the north-south watercourse in a small pool surrounded by benches. This was the spot Princess Diana famously posed to show the sham of her marriage in front of the world's greatest monument to love...

We strolled up to the plinth and joined the tourists climbing the stairs to the platform. Shoes have to be removed upon entrance to the mausoleom and your bare feet bake when touching the hot white marble. We had chosen our visit carefully--the sun was setting and the light that washed over the Taj was golden in colour. The minarets were now stark against the setting sun (see photo). The actual dome was a surprise; it is not yellow-white but blue-white and covered in inscriptions and detail. From below it looked like something out of "Arabian Nights." But inside were the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. The central tomb is a lofty chamber with light streaming through fine latticework, and hanging above was an elaborate Cairene lamp.

We came back the next day and spent more time at the Taj; we ended up spending 4 hours there altogether. And we know that when we return to India, we will go back again. Words cannot describe its beauty when you stand on that marble platform overlooking the Yamuna, with the setting sun turning it into a golden ribbon. You may also agree that this is the most beautiful building in the world.

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