The incomparable Taj Mahal

Last Thursday, I went to the Taj Mahal. In some ways, I’ve wanted to see the Taj most of my life. My mother occasionally mentioned it when I was growing up. We had a tiny model of it at home.

When I landed in Mumbai in November last year, my intention was to visit relatives in Gujarat then go to Rajasthan and Agra first, where the big attractions were. I felt that if I went South and, for whatever reason, my trip was cut short, I would miss out on the tastiest sights. I wanted to have the dessert first. However, I was advised to go first to the South because of the pollution in the North. The pollution would decrease by February. I followed this advice because it was sensible but I felt like a child who had had his sweets taken away.

Such was my engagement in the South and desire to enjoy every day that I didn’t think about Rajasthan and the Taj. However, when I got to Rajasthan, the Taj started to loom.

And so it came to be that, on the eve of my visit to the Taj, I was unbelievably excited. I didn’t sleep well that night.

On the day, I was up at dawn because I wanted to see the Taj during sunrise. I’d arranged with the hotel a time for the rickshaw driver to pick me up. He dropped me off away from the entrance because polluting vehicles must stay at least 1km away.

There are several ticket queues: one for Indians, another for foreigners and they may have been split into two, for men and women.

After I bought my ticket (foreigners pay 1000, Indians pay 40 rupees, about £11 and 45p), I walked a kilometre and entered the complex via the East Gate. After a short walk, you turn right to enter the large gate to the Taj. As you turn you catch a glimpse of the Taj. Walking on, you see the Taj beginning to grow. Then, when you’re through the second door of the gate, you see the Taj in its full glory.

I had heard so many people rave about the Taj that I thought I’d be disappointed. I tried to lower my expectations.

The Taj, as I saw, is so magnificent, beautiful, unique and a work of genius that nothing can diminish its appeal. I can’t remember any other construction that I’ve seen that has moved me so much.

After taking photos from the entrance where you see the classic photo of the Taj, I went closer. There is a viewing platform at the mid-way point where you can take more photos.

Finally, you reach the front of the Taj. There, “high status” visitors (foreigners) go left and “general” visitors (Indians) go right. You put on shoe covers then enter the Taj. There’s not much inside it. There’s a replica tomb but that’s about it. It’s also dark so you can’t see much except when a guide shines a torch at the translucent marble. You’re not allowed to take photos inside.

Before I went I asked (as others have subsequently asked me): how can you take good photos with all the people around? Once you’ve seen the Taj, you realise that it is unfathomably huge; it turns people into ants. Some of the photos you’ve seen of the Taj will almost certainly have had hundreds if not thousands of people in them.

You also realise that the Taj, inadvertently, had been designed for the modern photogenic age. It’s also possible that what mattered then had timeless appeal. It’s deliberately built on a platform so that, when you look at it, you can see only sky behind it. No other backdrop is there to tarnish the view. It sits there, stoical, commanding , glistening, daring you not to succumb to its majestic splendour.

I was so mesmerised by the Taj that I stayed for five hours admiring this work of art and geometry inspired by the love for a woman and her death.

After my visit, I felt a sense of euphoria, completeness, lightness and closure. Through a complex interaction of childhood, my mother, hearing stories and reading, the Taj had always been the essence of India for me. I could never say I’d been to India without seeing the Taj. Seeing the Taj was an unarticulated dream come true. This was the pinnacle of my India trip. No matter what else now happened on the trip, I was happy because I had seen the Taj Mahal.

I didn’t expect to feel the way I did but life surprises you. It had been a very special day.

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