We decided to go visit India’s monument of love, The Taj Mahal. Who can go to India without visiting the Taj? The Taj is in Agra, a half a day drive from Delhi. After an initial visit to Delhi’s train station, one that overwhelmed us with people and noise and the chaos of trying to find the foreigner window, which was apparently necessary for us to catch a train, we decided it would be better to go by car.
After several hours of cramped driving, we showed up in Agra. We made our way down a city street where suddenly our driver pulled over again. Another young, slender Indian man appeared by our window, opened the door, talked to our driver, and then, pushing one of our group into the middle of the front seat, hopped into the car. “Hello,” he turned around and introduced himself as our guide. I was suspicious. This seemed like some sort of scam to get more money out of us. No-one said anything about a guide,.
“Relax, I am your guide for the Taj Mahal. It’s part of your service.” We pulled into a parking lot. “Cars can’t drive any closer. “ Our new guide explained, “They are trying to cut down on the pollution, to keep the Taj White. You can take a rickshaw for ten rupees or auto rickshaw for twenty. I set it up for you?” The driver started to get out of the car and approach the mob of rickshaw drivers who had already set in, pointing to their vehicles and asking, “Rickshaw? Rickshaw?”
When we said we would walk and started in the direction of the crowd, there was suddenly a free bus. It was a short walk from the bus stop, across the street to the gates of the Taj. Beggars sat in every direction. Vendors came towards us from all sides. A man with no legs crawled down the street after Kevin, calling pitifully, “Look at me sir. Look at me.” We picked up the pace, quickly, guiltily, blocking everything out as we escaped behind the Taj’s metal gates.
Our guide explained to us, clearly and eagerly that, “The Taj is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture. It was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a testimony to the love of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth.”
We reached a white marble bench where people were lined up waiting for a turn to snap photos of themselves on the bench in front of the Taj. Somehow I got pushed into the front of the line, and onto the bench. A young man holding a pretty Indian baby by the hands as she took timid steps, steered her my way. “Photo?” “With the baby?” I asked. The man, and the girl’s mother, and from the looks of it grandmother and a few aunts and uncles too, nodded yes. This was obviously a big family trip. I felt honored, as I held the girl, dressed adorably in a white frilly dress.
After handing the girl back and exchanging goodbyes, we continued on.
“Everything about the Taj is perfectly symmetrical,” our guide said.
We walked up shiny marble steps to the main dome. I have seen many pictures of the Taj, but the building itself must be seen to be fully appreciated. The intricate detail of the marble defies description. Semiprecious stones like Carnelian, malachite, jasper, are inlaid into white marble to make floral patterns and calligraphy of passages from the Qur’an.
Our guide continued to fill us in, “The Taj was made by the finest craftsman of the time. When we leave here I take you to a place where the descendants of the original makers of the Taj Mahal still make marble the same way today. They can show you how it was made.” This was of course, a set up, but we said we would go anyway.
“Every night when the sun sets, it hits the gemstones and glows.” Our guide told us.
The Taj is a really special place. In this society where the choice is often between an arranged marriage or a love marriage, it is sweet to see all who come and celebrate a building devoted to love. There seemed to be a wave of love there, that we took with us in our being.
© Krista Keenan and 3 Months in India, . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.