Is this the most extravagant monument to love? Built by the heartbroken Emperor Shan Jahan when his favourite wife (Mumtaz) died bearing her fourteenth child, this white marble Moslem mausoleum is one of the most iconic and reknown travel wonders in the world. Built by an estimated 20,000 workers over 20 years (400, 000 man hours of construction), this is a masterpiece in architectural symmetry.
Ironically, the only non-symmetric aspect of the Taj Mahal is the tomb of Shah Jahan himself – buried next to his wife, whose tomb is exactly centered. The story goes that Shah Jahan planned to be buried in an identical monument in black marble on the opposite side of the river, a space which still lays vacant in this seething crowded city of over a million people. It makes for a great afternoon viewing area for the Taj itself as the sun sinks over the river, and the taxi ride alone through the center of town and over the river bridge gives a new meaning to peak hour. And the competition is not just the cars and rickshaws but also cows and elephants clog up the narrow thoroughfares.
To me, the most remarkable characteristic of the Taj Mahal is that it changes hues, the huge onion dome, Taj walls and minarets moving from pinks to yellows to the most glistening whites as the day changes. These subtle changes in color are reflected in the long narrow central pool and in the river below.
The Taj Mahal is inlayed with a wide variety of exquisite semi-precious stones in the form of flowers, plants and vines. This is complemented with verses from the Qu’ran in exotic stylised Arabic script made from inlayed jasper. The writing actually is larger the higher up the Taj Mahal that you get to try to help defeat the issue of perspective.
Around the Taj itself is a mosque to the west and a “false mosque” to the east, both in birght red sandstone, to preserve the perfect symmetry. The false mosque cannot be a mosque as it points in the wrong direction.
The saddest tale is that Shah Jahan had spent so much he was sending his treasury broke. The cruelest son of four won the day, killing his three brothers and any other potential hiers and locking his father away in nearby Agra Fort. He spent his last seven years with a distant view of his most beloved wife’s mausoleum from his restricted quarters in Agra Fort.