The unsurpassed stillness and beauty of India's Taj Mahal
AGRA, INDIA - Talk about taking your breath away.
When you make a visit to this city in India, chances are you have one thing in mind - that magical, world-renowned tribute to love called the Taj Mahal. It's a place I've always wanted to see, so when I took in that first view on Tuesday I was, in a word, speechless. There are no words I can think of to describe that anticipation you get when you walk through a towering archway into the light and see that long fountain and the four minarets and that marble dome rising so magnificently over the Indian countryside.
For history buffs, let it be recorded it was finished in 1653, having taken 20,000 workers 22 years of their toil and sweat to get it built so the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan could pay tribute to his wife, Mumtax, who died giving birth to their 14th child (geez).
My tour guide, the lovely Islam, told me the emperor's first thought was to build a residential palace for his beloved, but that it turned into a mausoleum after she died. I had no idea there were so many intricacies to the design, including the vast acres of inlaid stone - all placed carefully into carved bits of Indian marble - and jewels. You can do full-moon tours, and I can only imagine how spectacular that would be.
The building looks perfect, but Islam told me the designers intentionally made one of the columns slightly different at the bottom so they couldn't be accused of trying to be as perfect as God. He also explained how the minarets were built leaning outwards a bit so, in case they ever toppled, they wouldn't crack the dome but would fall off to the side.
I also took in Agra Fort, an impressive, red sandstone affair that stretches some 2.4 kilometers around and is five storeys high. It's where the famous Peacock Throne was once located, and it's a majestic sight. The kids (hey, and me, too) likely will get a kick out of the monkeys, too.
On to Jaipur, so more on that and a bit about a killer hotel I stayed in for the night, the wonderfully traditional Samode Haveli.