Journey through India – Day 19 Taj Mahal
Up at 5.30 am to see the Taj at dawn. There was a big queue at the Taj ticket office (we later found out that you can pre-buy the tickets and the guides will bring them to you at the entry gate to the Taj). Once inside, we spent a wonderful couple of hours photographing in and around the entire complex. Our guide ditched us at the entrance and thankfully so because we saw much more on our own. On the whole our guides were fantastic but this one just didn’t fit the brief.
Having seen the Taj Mahal the previous day from Agra Fort across the river, I feel that we didn’t get that “wow” moment others get when walking through the entrance gate. Nevertheless it was still breathtakingly beautiful.
The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble Islamic mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna River in the Indian city of Agra. It was commissioned in 1631 (and completed in 1653) by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to their 14th child.
The construction project employed over 20,000 artisans (painters, artists and stonecutters) under the guidance of a board of architects. Around 1,000 elephants were also used to carry marble and stone for the construction.
The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art” in India and one of the most admired masterpieces of the world. It is regarded as a symbol of India’s rich history.
We just made it into the complex at first light and were lucky to get some photos with the sun behind the buildings.
Even though the Taj is white, the morning sun gave it a warm glow. It was also nice as there were very few people around at this time.
We didn’t have a guide, but other guides were quick to show us some of the vantage spots for great photos.
I thought this photo was quite different, showing a different perspective of the Taj taken from a side garden.
While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble. Twenty-eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the marble.
The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. It is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth. The finial was placed on the top of the dome to signify the end of the project.
The decorative elements can be grouped into either calligraphy, abstract forms or vegetative motifs. Throughout the complex, passages from the Qu’ran comprise some of the decorative elements. Higher panels are written in slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below.
On the lower walls of the tomb, white marble dados are sculpted with realistic depictions of flowers and vines. The dado frames and archway spandrels (triangular space between the top of the arch and the frame) have been decorated with inlays of highly stylised, almost geometric vines, flowers and fruits. This method used throughout the Taj is called pietra dura and can be seen in practice at the marble shops around Agra.
The marble has been polished to emphasise the exquisite detailing of the carvings. The inlay stones are of yellow marble, jasper and jade, polished and levelled to the surface of the walls.
The bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan are interred in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber. This is not accessible to the public. Their highly decorated cenotaphs can be viewed in the inner chamber. The lighting here was very difficult to work with for a good photo.
Marble screens called jali, meaning net, are built into the outside of the Taj to help with airflow. Beautiful on the outside but when you enter the building, you will get a different perspective, especially in the morning light.
There are four minarets surrounding the Taj Mahal. Apparently they tilt slightly outwards to prevent them from crashing onto the tomb in the event of an earthquake.
I guess most photos are taken of the Taj Mahal with the pool in the foreground. Trying to get to the spot that will have the reflection perfectly centred is almost impossible especially with everyone wanting “that photo” of the Taj, and then a selfie or two. So I tried my best from the side to get some reflections.
The Taj Mahal complex is bordered on three sides by red sandstone walls and three main buildings; the side facing the river is open.
The main gateway is a monumental structure built of sandstone and marble. It is reminiscent of the Mughal architecture of earlier emperors. Its archways mirror the shape of the tomb’s archways, and its arches incorporate the same calligraphy that decorates the tomb. The vaulted ceilings and walls have elaborate geometric designs like those found in the other sandstone buildings in the complex.
At the far end of the complex are two grand red sandstone buildings that mirror each other, and face the sides of the Taj Mahal. The western building is a mosque and the other is thought to have been constructed for architectural balance but may have been used as a guesthouse. These buildings were completed in 1643.
We only went inside one of the buildings and what we saw was just amazing. Beautiful sandstone carvings, more marble, arches and decorative walls and ceilings.
Of course, more photo opportunities looking through arches and seeing the resident green parrots.
As we were leaving, it was time for one more photo looking back. By this time, the crowds were starting to swarm in. I took this photo from behind an archway.
In the late afternoon, we visited the Mehtab Bagh, a garden belonging to the complex but on the opposite side of the river. We saw ladies collecting grass and a little boy with his mother. One couldn’t help but wonder if they have ever visited the Taj themselves.
This was a great vantage point for sunset photos.
As if we didn’t see enough of this amazing place, we organised tickets to see the Taj at moonlight as we were visiting on the day of the full moon. Only 30 people were allowed in any one time. Cameras only, no tripods, flashes, bags, etc. Not even a torch. So we basically got to stand along the entrance and look at the “deserted” building with just one light. So eerily beautiful. Of course my photos couldn’t capture what we saw, so we just enjoyed the experience. I obviously didn’t get to stand at that centre point here either!
I converted a few of my photos to black and white for a more dramatic effect.
This one was taken from across the river. We have this on a huge canvas in our home.
Another one from across the river incorporating the many domes of all three buildings. I think it looks quite dramatic.
Another perspective with the wide-angle shot.
So would I recommend the Taj Mahal? Most definitely. I am sure it is on most travellers’ bucket lists. However, don’t just go to India for this alone. There are so many other truly amazing places to visit in Agra alone, including Agra Fort, Sikandra and Fatehpur Sikri . Check these out as well as the remainder of our month-long journey in India.