The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is without doubt the most popular and recognised building in India. It is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. It was built by the great Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for the favourite of his three wives; Mumtaz Mahal when she died giving birth to their 14th child. Shah Jahan himself also lies to rest here alongside his beloved wife. The Taj Mahal stands in the heart of Agra, surrounded by busy and congested streets full of tourists, beggars and traders alike. Motor vehicles arenâ€™t allowed within a certain distance of the Taj Mahal. This is to reduce pollution and preserve the fragile white marble and inlays of the building from corroding.
I was very excited to be here in Agra and about to see the amazing Taj Mahal, but I was also ready for a big let-down. The Taj Mahal has a lot of hype behind it and you canâ€™t help but expect something spectacular.Â Anna and I aimed to see the Taj Mahal as soon as the huge doors opened early in the morning. We were informed that it shouldnâ€™t be missed in the light of the sunrise and also that it wouldnâ€™t be as busy at this time because the coach tours donâ€™t often show up until later in the day. Conveniently for us we were staying in a guesthouse within walking distance. It was very basic accommodation but also very cheap. I would have expected even the really bad hotels in this area of Agra to be quite pricey as almost all of them have a rooftop restaurant with a great view of the Taj Mahal.
Entering the Taj Mahal
The entry tickets were â‚¹750 each, which is by far the most expensive ticket I have bought for anything in India. As you enter, there is the usual security check; this time the guards seemed to be paying more attention unlike most other security checks i’ve experienced in India, and then there is a short walk to a large entrance gate, which is a magnificent piece of architecture in its own right. At this gate I had to hand in my video camera. I paid extra on the security gate to use my video camera but apparently this only gives you permission to use it between the security gate and the main gate, which is completely pointless. The guards here were really on form, catching anyone that tried to walk through with a video camera. Some people manage to get through but they were soon captured when seen using it inside the main grounds. Itâ€™s best in this situation to have a normal camera that can also shoot video, which most do these days, and lucky for me, My compact camera has half decent video capabilities and would go unnoticed as â€˜normalâ€™ cameras are permitted within the main grounds that surround the Taj Mahal
From the main gate I caught my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. Its white marble construction gave the illusion that it was appearing out of the clouds like a mythical castle in the heavens. It was everything I was expecting, and more. It really is a masterpiece and an absolute pleasure to see. From every angle is it just a beautiful. The gardens in which it stands are perfectly maintained and compliment the Taj Mahals symmetry. Fountains and pools are scattered around in between flower beds laid in geometric patterns. Itâ€™s hard to take a bad photo. The most popular photo spot here is the bench where Lady Diana famously had her portrait taken. It is aligned perfectly in the centre. There was always a disorganised group of people scuffling and trying to jump onto the bench as soon as I had been vacated to capture that icon photograph.
Inside the Taj Mahal
The inside of the Taj Mahal isnâ€™t nearly as impressive as the outside. It is very spacious and has several rooms that surround a central cavern which displays the sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahah, well, not really. These are merely replicas. The real sarcophagi are here in the Taj Mahal, but in an underground chamber directly underneath which is kept locked and off limits. Photography of any kind is prohibited inside the mausoleum, but that didnâ€™t stop everyone from snapping away and the guards didnâ€™t seem to be doing anything about it; I guess they must be sick to death of telling people to put their cameras away and have just given up.
The experience was definitely worth it and by no means the anti-climax I feared it might be. Overall, Agra is quite a nice place with a good atmosphere and the Taj Mahal is not to be missed.