Ticking off the Taj Mahal

By Iain Manley Apr 1, 2011

The Taj Mahal is built on a platform, which raises it above the crowds and gives the sense that it is much larger that it really is

Claire and I visited the Taj Mahal on Monday morning. It was a departure for us: despite spending nine months in India four years ago, we decided to pass by the country’s most famous site. At the beginning of our journey to Cape Town, I wrote about our decision:

Pictures of the Taj were in every tourism office in India and on the walls of every hotel. Internet cafés used it as a desktop background on their PCs and we heard the story of its inspiration – Shah Jahan’s great love for Mumtaz Mahal, one of his nine wives – regularly. The Taj was, we were told, a tomb, a monument to love and a “teardrop upon the cheek of time”. Built on a platform, its walls, which foreign tourists paid almost 40 times as much as Indians to enter, were inlaid with precious and semi-precious gemstones. It was undeniably beautiful too: pure, feminine, but also intimidating – a building well suited to the memory of a queen. Still, I didn’t want to go to see it, to fight crowds and take photos imitating the hundreds I had already seen. I had made that mistake before in Cairo, where a dying horse and Russian girls in hot pants were a more immediate spectacle than the pyramids, and in Rome, where jostling crowds made the Sistine Chapel mundane.

There were crowds at the Taj Mahal on Monday, just after sunrise, but only where clichéd photos of the building’s reflection were taken, or inside the tomb, where men whooped past Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaphs, to hear their voices echo. There was spectacle too: a couple getting married amongst milling tourists and Japanese women in saris, dressed to match the Indian backdrop. But the Taj has large gardens. People thinned out soon after entering and it was possible to stroll quietly in the building’s shadow, through the mosque to its west and identical pavilion to its east, where audiences with the Great Moghul were held.

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3 Responses to “Ticking off the Taj Mahal”

  1. Nico says:

    I very close to skipped the Taj due to time constraints justifying it like you, because I thought I'd seen far too much of it on posters and Indian travel brochures. I made time for it at the last minute and I'm glad it did.

    Seeing the Taj in person is nothing like seeing it on a 2"x2" brochure cover. It's the one building in the world that can actually take your breath away. Witnessing its white walls with your own eyes is really like no other experience. I don't say this very often, but it is truly magical.

    Great photos by the way. Cheers!

    • Iain Manley says:

      I agree. It wasn't spoilt by the crowds and, of the buildings no longer used for their original purpose that I've visited, is probably the most impressive. I should probably have said more along those lines, so thanks for the comment Nico.

  2. Wow! Seeing the Taj Mahal is on my bucket list as well. And I'm waiting for the day to tick it off, just like what you did. Nice photos you took. Anyway, is there any entrance fee to go inside? And what is inside the building actually? Thank you :)

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