Undoubtedly, the Taj Mahal in Agra can be rightly described as the monument which defines India in many ways, particularly in the Western hemisphere. For me, an additional dose of Hindi songs glorifying the Taj Mahal have booked a special place in my heart. One only needs to visit it to realise as to why it has earned a place as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
How to go?
You will have to embark from New Delhi, which lies at a distance of 208 km north-west via Noida if you by pass Mathura. With the city never running short of hotels and Delhi just two hours and forty minutes away, you can arrive here at any time. The best option to suggest is by road as you will be able to see the countryside that medieval folks lived in. You can opt for a short one-day tour with private bus operators. It is worth noting that much of the surrounding countryside has not changed for centuries. Once in Agra, you can visit the Taj Mahal anytime till sunset. Yes, there is something called as an entry fee, which differs for Indians and foreigners. If you want a free visit, worry not, as there is scope for that too. Show up on a Friday and no one will stop you. In fact, a Friday visit is much more interesting as you can see a wide variety of people from around the world that day.
Lifting the curtain
Now, let us examine the most important part, without which the monument will just be a massive marble replica for dummies. The Taj Mahal was ordered to be built by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Those who consider Emperor Shah Jahan to be a filmy Romeo must think twice. May be he found his true love the second time. She mothered fourteen children, including the next Emperor, Aurangazeb.
The mausoleum’s construction started in 1632 and was completed in 1653, with Ustad Ahmad Lahauri as the main designer. Though primarily following the Mughal architecture, Taj Mahal is an example of a wonderful blend of Ottoman, Persian and Indian styles. One will have to pass through two gates and medieval quarters before getting into the actual compound. Surrounded by gardens and mosques with the Yamuna river in the background, the white marble structure is the main site housing the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan’s beloved. Shah Jahan himself is buried here. The actual tomb is located at the basement of the structure. What the public and visitors see are mere replicas of the actual tomb.
Make sure you hire a guide in order to understand things better. The guide whom we hired explained to us that the four minarets around the core structure have been built in a slightly outwardly slanted way to pave way for their falls outside the main perimeter in case an earthquake was to strike. He also told us that the Arabic inscriptions on the massive four doors are passages from the Holy Qur’an used as a means of keeping away the malignant effects of evil eyes or nazar, as it is popularly known in Urdu. He also elaborated that the passages’ width kept increasing with increasing height, so that the people standing below will see them as uniform. This was the lesson I imparted to my friends, when I visited it the second time with them.
After being awe-struck for a couple of minutes, it was time for all of us to relax on the railings overlooking the Yamuna, click snaps, pose for innumerable pictures and then chat over in the adjoining gardens. It is said that the actual Taj Mahal manifests itself on a clear moonlit night with its aura of dominant white.
Be sure you do this
Legend has it that if you turn back on your shoulders and look at the Taj Mahal as you approach the main gate, you are sure to visit it the next time. I did it as a child and thus surprisingly visited it again after a span of 10 years. I and my friends did it again and are awaiting our next visits. Make sure that you try looking back on your shoulders.
What to get?
If you are an artifact shopaholic, the areas surrounding the Taj Mahal will give you everything from hunters to miniature Taj Mahal replicas made of marble. They light up brilliantly if a bulb is lit within. Many food stalls are also available nearby.
Last, but not the least, avoid cheats and products being sold at exorbitant rates. The best time to visit would be from October to December; though this monument of love sees a huge footfall throughout the year.