The Taj Mahal is the famous symbol of eternal love. It is stunning, even more so in real life than in the countless photos I’d seen beforehand. A jewel of Mughal architecture and the image of one of the most famous love stories in the world – once described by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore as the “teardrop on the cheek of eternity” – it deserves a spot on top of your India bucket list.
Mughal Romance and Mumtaz’s Memory
The Taj Mahal is a tomb, built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his favourite wife, Mumtaz. She died in 1631 giving birth to their fourteenth child (FOURTEEN?! Ouch) and Shah Jahan, heartbroken, spared no expense to immortalise her memory. Apparently, more than 1000 elephants carried materials originating from as far as China, Sri Lanka, Rajasthan and Afghanistan to the Taj, which took around 20,000 labourers 22 years to construct. After Shah Jahan’s death in 1666, he was buried alongside his Mumtaz. Awww.
Arriving there at 6.30am – much earlier than I can usually function – the queues were already long, and I spent a happy half-hour queueing to get in. On the bright side, you get a free bottle of water with your ticket, which cost me Rs. 750. Once inside, I soon decided that the Taj Mahal definitely deserved its reputation. It is both simple (in its colour and arches) and incredibly ornate (in its exquisite marble inlay work made with semiprecious stones), the combination of which is just stunning. The morning sunlight illuminated the dome and the waterways in the gardens beneath it, and I felt that I could easily spend hours sitting on one of the benches just enjoying the view. Despite the flurry of tourists trying to take selfies, it felt surprisingly peaceful and serene in those gardens (though perhaps I was just used to Indian roads).
The tomb itself is at the end of the gardens. You have to wear coverings on your shoes while you enter the building, and you can’t take photos inside. The interior isn’t as impressive as the exterior – the bar is set pretty high – but the gemstones inlaid into the marble create beautiful flowered designs and black inscriptions from the Qur’an. SThe tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz are there, but their actual graves are below the structure and cannot be viewed.
A few practical tips…
- Go early. Really early – between 6am or 7am if you can. I went around 7am in March, towards the end of peak season, and the queue already snaked around the corner. It is closed on Fridays.
- There are several ticket counters and several entrance options through the west, south and east gates. We entered through the east gate; beware that the ticket counter is 1km walk away from the queue. Men and women queue separately.
- For a different view of the Taj Mahal, head across the Yamuna River to the Mehtab Bagh gardens; it’s popular to go at sunset. The gardens are a lovely place to just relax and enjoy the view, which is the opposite side from the main tourist entrance.