I have come to India mainly because I wanted to see the Taj Mahal, the most photogenic architecture in the world. However, it’s not easy visiting Agra where the Taj Mahal is situated. Never mind the long flight to India, but the trip to Agra had been one of the most uncomfortable trips I had ever experienced. The city simply lacked the infrastructure to receive tourists or visitors. But the beauty of the Taj Mahal was worth all that discomfort from the trip.
Our guide warned us about the do's and dont's inside the complex. For example, video cameras are not allowed, but phone and still cameras are okay. He also told us that the Taj Mahal is the most protected monument in India. No polluting vehicles are allowed within the 500-meter radius of the Taj Mahal. So it was a long walk from the main gate to reach the security check and ticket entrance. Then from the ticket entrance, it was a short walk to a very large courtyard, bounded by four gates (yes, it sounds ridiculously complex, I guess for dramatic effect). As we entered the main-main gate, it felt as if a shroud had been lifted to reveal a white and elegant temple, framed by the fountain and gardens; we walked into a fiction book. I heard a collective wow in different languages, and camera clicks. Everybody gushed with admiration and rushed to the middle spot to take that iconic picture.
Facing the temple, we started on the right side of the fountain where we took a group photo. The view got more captivating as we stepped closer to the temple. I took a photo of a rose from the garden showing the temple in the background. We had to wear shoe-coverings before stepping into the platform where the marble temple and two mosques sit, to protect the marble floors. We first headed to the mosque on the right side. Our guide told us that it was a great spot for taking pictures for the lighting was perfect from that side. The four minarets in perfect proportion and the temple’s arches stretched to the sky. We then walked the backside, over-looking the river, to admire the carved marble with carefully cut abstracts and flowers, and Koranic verses in black upon white, very simple yet marvelous design.
We went through the towering doors to go inside. Photography was not allowed from that point. I was expecting to see a spectacular site, but when I entered the dark room and saw the crowd in hushed silence, going in a circular motion to see the tomb, I realized that I was at a mausoleum after all: it had an eerie feeling. I saw two sarcophagi - a small white sarcophagus of Mumtaz Mahal and one of Shah Jahan, the designer of the greatest monument to love, sitting in a cage of carved marble and marble inlay of flowers. I was about to go outside to take more pictures when I saw a beam of light coming from the east windows, illuminating the meticulous marble inlay flowers. It was subtle, but the effect was stunning. I then realized that the whole place was designed to perfection.
In my blog about New Delhi, I touched on the subject of India as a country of contrast. The contrast, however, was more apparent in Agra not only in terms of great wealth versus great poverty, but also in terms of Agra’s stunning architecture: the elegant white Taj Mahal and the red sandstone walls of Agra Fort. The Taj Mahal, a temple of love built by Shah Jahan in honor of his wife is open and inviting while the Agra Fort, a fortress of war that encloses a maze of courtyards and emperors lavish rooms and a mosque.
|The Taj Mahal from Agra Fort|