Sunday, January 5, 2014

Taj Mahal: Check!

Let the splendor of the diamond, pearl and ruby vanish like the magic shimmer of the rainbow.  Only let this one teardrop, the Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time...
- Rabindranath Tagore

I was excited when I discovered that the cheapest way for me to get to India this fall was to fly into Delhi.  I figured that I could fly to Hyderabad, where my family is, after a day or two and try to cram in a trip to see the Taj Mahal, one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

The Taj Mahal had always seemed like such an exotic place to me. It is touted as the greatest monument to love, built by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife Arjumand Banu Begum, known also as Mumtaz Mahal.  The less romantic part about it is that Shahjahan cut off the hands of the workers who built this marvelous structure so that they could never build another one like it.  It is a beautiful work of art though.

For most people, it seems that the Taj Mahal is India.  But though I've been to India several times, I had never been to North India, which is where the Taj Mahal is.  On this trip, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in New Delhi and Agra and visit the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is not visible from outside the entrance, and the first glimpse of it came as I entered the gate.  As I walked through the gate, it seemed as if the Taj Mahal was rising up out of the ground to meet me.

Note the hordes

Once inside, I had to take a few minutes to marvel at actually seeing the Taj Mahal in person.  I've seen many pictures, but seeing the real thing was surreal.

Inside, the best view is directly in front of the entrance.  From there, you can see the Taj Mahal reflected in the pool.

Packed with people

On either side of the Taj Mahal are two other buildings, a mosque and a guesthouse.

Mosque at sunset

Across the Yamuna River, it is said that there exists the foundation for a black mausoleum in which the Mughal emperor Shahjahan wished to be interred.  However, his son Aurangzeb, displeased with the amount of money it would take to construct the "black Taj Mahal", imprisoned his father, so it was never constructed.

Supposed foundation of the black Taj Mahal
It's not particularly easy to get to the Taj Mahal, despite how popular it is.  It requires flying into Delhi and taking a car/bus/train to Agra, situated some 200 km away.  There are lots of options for transportation, of course, but it takes some planning.

I, of course, did not plan at all, but fortunately, the wonderful family friend who had offered to host me in Delhi figured out all of the practical details of getting to and from Agra.  Taking a private taxi from Delhi to Agra and back costs around Rs. 9000.  Train tickets are cheaper, under Rs. 1000, but the schedule is obviously more limited and it can be very difficult to get reservations unless you are planning far in advance.

It is ideal to start the trip from Delhi either the night before or during the night in order to be able to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise.  For me, that didn't happen, due to jet-lag and a multitude of other factors.  We started off from Delhi around 7 and took the new Yamuna Expressway highway to Agra.  By highway, the trip is around 2.5 hours, whereas by the older route that passes near Mathura (the supposed birthplace of the Hindu deity Lord Krishna), the trip is closer to 4 or 5 hours.

After spending the morning at an abandoned Mughal city, I made my way to the Taj Mahal in the afternoon.  It was immensely crowded, way beyond what I had expected.  I didn't realize when I was planning that my visit to the Taj Mahal would be during a national holiday and two days before the full moon, when the Taj Mahal can be viewed by moonlight.  After understanding these facts, the crowds were no longer surprising.

I had a little more than an hour to look around at the Taj Mahal, and I wish I had gone at a less crowded time so I could have explored in peace.  However, I still enjoyed seeing the Taj Mahal, and if I have the opportunity to go again, I will definitely watch the sunrise.

No comments:

Post a Comment