My experience in India was a love-hate relationship: while I’m glad I went and saw amazing sites in person, the extreme poverty (and corresponding beggars), traffic congestion (and corresponding pollution), and garbage piled everywhere (and corresponding stench) was an assault on my senses. I felt the cloud of spiritual warfare hovering over me; oppressing me throughout my visit. That being said, I always try to find the redeeming qualities, and certainly, the Taj Mahal qualifies!
Built from 1631 – 1653 by over 20,000 artisans and craftsmen (and 1000 elephants!), the Taj Mahal is considered the pinnacle of Mughal architecture (a style that incorporates Persian, Indian, Turkish and Italian elements). It is entirely clad in white marble, which changes in appearance from dawn to dusk to the night sky.
Commissioned by Mughul Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his 3rd wife, who died birthing their 13th child, it is located in the city of Agra, with it’s back to the Yamuna River.
The car ride with my guide from my hotel in Agra was as much of the experience as the Taj itself. The river is where the people wash their clothes and dishes, bathe themselves and throw their trash, as well as where they go to the bathroom and where herds of water buffalo do the same. The lack of sanitation was horrifying, but it is their way of life and I kept my mouth shut (which was really hard to do!). The area surrounding the Taj is poor and primitive, and in stark contrast to opulence right next door.
But once inside the complex, there is nary a leaf allowed to linger on the pristine grounds. Workers are everywhere, making sure every surface gleams in the sunlight; a continual challenge with thousands of tourists daily.
Impressive is too small a word for the grandeur of the mausoleum. Varying shades of red sandstone, precious and semi-precious stones (diamonds, jasper, turquoise, lapis lazuli, jade, sapphires), and intricate inlay lend themselves to geometric designs on the floors, floral patterns on the ceiling, and everything in between. On every inch there is something to be admired! And while I was suitably impressed by the level of detail and the artistry it took to create something so incredible, as a whole it left me hollow (with no warmth in my soul). I’m not sure why.
My guide was a local young man with extensive knowledge and a pride in the Taj that bordered on arrogance, but I suppose rightly so in light of it’s magnificence. As one of the 8 Wonders of the Modern World, it should be on your Must-See List.