The Taj Mahal is more beautiful than I ever imagined. The stunning white marble mausoleum (inlaid with an intricately designed mosaic of jade, sandstone, ruby, etc.) is perfectly balanced. Every single aspect of the grounds, the buildings (which include the mausoleum, a guest house on one side, and a mosque on the other), inside and out, from front to back are mirrored and evenly aligned to the teeniest, tiniest detail. The sarcophagus of Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, (India’s ruler in the 1600,s) is, literally, at its very centre. But it’s not just the symmetry of it all that makes the Taj so special, it’s also the love story that goes with it.
She was 18 and he was 25. His first two marriages were arranged and bore no children. He married her, his third wife, for love. With his three wives and a multitude of concubines at his disposal, all he wanted was Mumtaz. She died giving birth to their 14th child when she was 36 years years old and he was heartbroken. He built the Mum Taj Mahal (direct translation–beautiful crown castle) in her honour and never married again. It took 25 years and 20,000 labourers working day and night to finish. When it was done he started building a black mausoleum beside it for himself but his son said it was too expensive and threw him in jail (kids). He spent the next twelve years confined to Agra Fort (not a shabby place to live) where his only stipulation was that he could look upon his beloved Mumtaz from his window every day. When he died he was entombed beside her. The Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world. Approximately between 40,000 and 50,000 people now visit it every day.
It’s hard to believe that this is only our third day in India. After arriving in Delhi we made our way into the city on the metro and then walked to the main bazar, through a dirty, narrow alleyway system to our guest house, only to find it closed. The one across the way was possibly even more of a rathole but it was a place to lay our head for the night. Unfortunately all I did was lay my head; sleep didn’t come.
We were at the train station by 5:30 am the next morning to catch our train for Agra, home of the Taj. Finding the right train was nerve racking as we have a paid a high premium for pre-purchased tickets for the next 3 weeks. But once we were finally settled on the train, the seats, the privacy and the big window were a pleasant surprise for the 4 hour ride. We were obviously not in the steerage but I’m sure that’s coming.
Last night we lucked into a great rest house with a courtyard garden restaurant and I slept well. The room cost 400 rupees (about $8.00) and my dinner of rice and tomato curry was 205 rupees (about $4.00). The taste was spectacular. We are now heading back to the train station for a four hour ride to Jaipur -The Pink City.