Taj Mahal to me, is the motherload of all tombs! A magnificent tribute to love lost. The emperor, Shah Jahan built this tomb in honor of his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died while giving birth to their 14th child. She was only 35 years old. Her dying wishes were that he not marry again, and that he build something in her memory. Bet she had no idea he was going to come up with this doozy! Construction began in 1632 and finished roughly sixteen years later. Visiting this jaw dropping UNESCO world heritage site was one of the highlights of our visit to India. This is definitely a must see in India.
We hired a private taxi for our journey to Agra, which is where the Taj Mahal is located. It was about a three and half hour journey from New Delhi. We left pretty early, about 5.30AM so as to avoid the traffic. Our cab driver, Pratheel, was a lovely young man who had been recommended by the owner of the guest house my brother is staying at. To say it was a nerve wrecking journey would be putting it mildly . Reason being that big trucks and trailers are on the road at night as they are not allowed on them during daylight. Navigating through the narrow roads, avoiding both pot holes and wide loads while barreling down makes for two very nervous passengers! I became an instant back seat driver and must have been a pain in the rear end to him. He just smiled through it all, unlike my dear husband who freaks out every time l do that ;-) .
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About an hour into our trip to Taj Mahal from New Delhi, we came upon this huge stature of an Indian prince whose name was Hamayun l believe the driver said, but l might be spelling it wrong. He was nice enough to pull over so we could take some pictures. It was almost scary for me as this stature was humongous and the streets still dark, l felt like l was in the land of the giants and this thing was going to reach down and squash me! He told us the story of how she had been sent off to earth by her father for disobeying him. He even showed us a YouTube cartoon video telling the tale, which he insisted on watching along with us..while driving!!! The longest 5 minutes of my life. If you end up doing this drive and have a bad back, be ready for some discomfort. The cab driver was prepared, and had one of those back support things on the driver’s seat. He offered it to Federico as his back was doing him in, but Federico figured the driver needed it more. :-) .
Parts of the highway were nice, and it was pleasant to speed down it for long stretches. Upon hitting Agra though, we slowed down quite a bit. Bad roads and traffic. It allowed you to see how poverty-stricken the area was. It is quite the contrast to the Taj Mahal. One would think that Agra being one of the most visited places in the world would get the same love as dear old Taj Mahal. Sadly, it is not so. It is dirty, smelly and the neglect quite obvious. It highlights how truly far apart the rich and the poor are. It was also the capital before it got moved to New Delhi, so l thought it would look nicer. We had a private guide for our tour of the Taj Mahal, and we picked him up once we got to Agra. I highly recommend a guide if you go visit. There was a really long line to get tickets, and l was crushed for a moment. Luckily, as a guide, he knew where to go, and was back with tickets for us within five minutes. Taj Mahal Entry fee is $11 for foreigners and just 30 cents for Indians. Try and imagine how long the line was for the locals. Luckily, there is a separate line for foreigners. Entry is free for children under 15, foreign and local. It is about a 15-20 minute walk to the entrance from the road. There are people with camels, horse drawn carriages and golf carts offering rides for about a dollar. Totally worth it on a hot day, we took one on the way back. I was tired!
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The entrance to the Taj Mahal is already very nice, but when you look across to the dome itself, you are just gobsmacked by how beautiful it truly is. The grounds are so lush and the fountains are just lovely. Halfway between the entrance and dome is the Princess Diana bench. This is the bench that she sat on when she visited the Taj Mahal, and there is a line to take pictures on and with it. Here is Taj Mahal information in English, thanks to our guide. It made us understand better the history of the Taj Mahal.
Our guide told us some Taj Mahal facts: (Why was the Taj Mahal built?)
Mumtaz, the wife for whom the tomb was built, bore a total of 14 children for the emperor, only six of them survived.
The other two wives, who bore him no children are buried in smaller tombs to the front, forming a triangle basically.
Taj Mahal is considered the best example of Mughal architecture (similar to Humayun tomb), and is often referred to as the Jewel of Muslim art in India.
Taj Mahal was declared one of the seven winners of the New seven wonders of the world (2000-2007) initiative in Lisbon.
The tombs that the public sees are replicas. The real tombs are directly under the fake ones, in the lower level. For security purposes, no one is allowed in the basement.
The dome of the tomb is often referred to as an onion dome, thanks to its shape. It is 115 feet in height. The minarets are 130 feet tall and still function to call for prayer.
Passages from the Koran are inscribed in the decorative elements.
In today’s currency, it cost approximately 830 million dollars to build.
The artisans who did the work were from Iran. Today, their direct descendants carry on the restoration work on the Taj Mahal. A lot of them live in town and sell some of their works to tourists. We visited one such artist afterwards, but did not buy anything. Heck..we were already over our weight allotment, not sure how we would have carried heavy marble to boot ;-).
White marble is mostly used to build the tomb. There are lots of calligraphy and floral design all over the dome.
Taj Mahal Inside: There are no pictures allowed inside the dome. It is built a circle inside. We entered one way and went around to come out the other side. It was so crowded, and there were guides to make sure the line kept moving. Our guide had an old man use a lighter on the marble to show us it was not only fireproof, but threw off pretty colors as well. There was also an echo in the chamber and made sounds that reverberated. That was pretty cool.
If you’re visiting the Taj Mahal with children, Jenny Lynn has a great post on accomplishing this with the least fuss. It was a really nice visit to the Taj Mahal. We were there about three hours, and had a great time. Our guide was awesome, and made it more pleasurable for me as l like learning things about places l visit. Federico barely listened, he just wanted to take pictures :-) and ditched us often. It’s one of those places that we never thought we would get to see in our lifetime. Is it worth seeing? You betcha! That is of course assuming you are in India already. Is it worth going to India just to see it? Not in my opinion. I am still undecided when it comes to my feelings about India and will write about it on another blog post once l have come to a conclusion.
Related Reading: Honest thoughts on New Delhi.
What do you think of the Taj Mahal story? Have you been to see it? If yes, did you enjoy it? If not, does it sound like someplace you would like to visit? Do you believe in such grand gestures of love?