The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, and in 1983 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit here can be done as part of luxury tours, it can be done on a family holiday, and it can be done while backpacking on a shoestring. Yet regardless of budget or style, the wondrous imagery of the Taj Mahal is there for all to see. It surely is a Wonder of the World!
After the long walk from my auto-rickshaw to the Western Gate, and after the purchase of my admission tickets, it was time to finally enter the wonder that is the Taj Mahal. Entry fees in 2014 were 750 Rupees for us “foreigners”, whereas locals can see the same thing for a mere 20 Rupees. I reflected on this infamously discriminatory Indian pricing system and wondered how the authorities can continue to get away with it. How to get to the Taj Mahal.
Although it was very early in the morning, during a very hazy springtime, there were crowds forming already. It reminded me of all the Angkor Wat sunrise palaver that every man and his dog must do when in Cambodia, yet which I decided against because of my dislike for early mornings. So why did I change my mind here in Agra? Well, I reflected on my friends’ persuasion to enjoy what they had enjoyed, and eventually I gave in under the peer pressure.
One thing you will notice, even more than the striking white marble, is the huge crowds of people that converge on the Taj Mahal at any time of the day. I did not encounter any touts or scams while I was there, but in such a confined space I am always wary of pickpockets. Luckily, nothing untoward happened to me and I was left alone to enjoy the views. Another thing I reflected on here was the symmetry of the place. Everything seems perfectly aligned so that whatever you see on the left side of the Taj, you will also notice a replica on the right side of the Taj. This fact even goes for the trees, and the way they are planted, as well as the two famous mosques.
From a distance, you can hardly see people walking atop of the Taj; they look like ants, in fact. But when you get closer, you can realise why this is! I reflected on the sheer scale of the building; it is just so overwhelming! You literally FEEL like an ant as you gaze up above at its hypnotic majesty.
There were writings from the Quran inscribed on the wall at the entrance of the Taj. This was a pleasant surprise to learn, even though the Taj is known as the jewel of Islamic art in India, I still reflected on the guys who must have added the finishing touches to the décor here. Everybody has seen the postcard view from afar, such as the cover photo in this blog post, but when you can smell the marble and the brutal humidity and the morning dew as you are walking up close and personal, then the magic of the experience rises tenfold.
I reflected on the 3.5 million people every year who descend on the Taj Mahal, which makes it by far and away the most popular tourist attraction in all of the Indian Sub-Continent. The long paths from the entrance to the palace itself are teeming with tourists (though not as bad as at the Great Wall of China), but luckily the crowds were not as bad as I had expected during my visit. I would really recommend staying overnight in Agra and getting up early to see the Taj like I did, rather than journeying from Delhi down the Yamuna Expressway for a mere day trip.
I reflected on the fact that pollution is a problem at the Taj. I learned that acid rain and simple Human pollution is causing the Taj to turn yellow, although I am happy to report that I did not notice any yellowness on the marble when I was there. In fact, I thought it looked whiter than I had imagined beforehand!
Undoubtedly, the Taj Mahal is one of the finest wonders of the world, and one of the best places I have been fortunate enough to visit. It is a great place to reflect on the triumphs of the Mughal Empire. For some insider tips on how to make the most of your time at the Taj, and help with planning an itinerary, check out this informative article from The Toronto Star!