The Taj Mahal, India
First thing in the morning, the Taj Mahal looks different. It’s not just that there are very few people here – although I appreciate that fact. It’s also the colour of the building.
Just as the sun is rising the Taj Mahal turns from grey to pink. During the day it becomes the white colour that most people expect. And at sunset the building is a bright orange.
You have to assume that these shifting hues are intentional. There’s so much thought that’s gone into the details of the Taj Mahal that this aspect can’t be a coincidence.
I get to see the Taj Mahal in all of these colours, visiting in both the early morning and also in the afternoon leading into sunset. As well as the colours, I see the other details. Well, some of the other details – because I’m sure there are many that I miss. There are so many, after all.
Coming into the site and walking through the first main gate, I appreciate an optical illusion where the main building appears bigger at first and then reduces in size you walk forward through the portal, the opposite of what you might expect.
I go through to where I can see reflections of the central tomb in the long pools stretching out in front, creating even more striking images of this stunning building.
The symmetry that is created in these reflections is beautiful but it’s only just one part of the layout in the entire complex, where angles and shapes are designed to accentuate this symmetry for effect.
One of the reasons that the Taj Mahal and its surrounding site have captivated people for so long is because of the way the entire area seems to know where you are standing and then incorporate your position into the vista.
Everyone knows the Taj Mahal, everyone has heard of it. This is not one of those sites that you visit because it’s in the region where you are travelling. It’s one of the sites that you travel to a region to see.
For years, I have heard people say that when they visited the Taj Mahal it was smaller than expected. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t feel that way myself.
I had expected it to be small because of all these comments, so it actually seemed impressively large to me.
Not just the size of the building itself, which perhaps looks a bit larger than it actually is because of the four tall minarets that rise up from each corner. But also because of the vast garden that reaches out from the central Taj Mahal building up to the gate where you come in.
With its pools, its trees, its elegantly-straight pathways, it creates a sense of size that you can’t help but be impressed by.
So it’s the detail that amazes. It’s the size that amazes. But ultimately it’s the story that is the most amazing.
The Taj Mahal is symbol of love, commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 to honour his favourite wife who died while giving birth to their 14th child.
Her name was Mumtaz Mahal, which in English translates to something like “Chosen One of the Palace”. It’s why this building is called the Taj Mahal, reflecting her name and in English translating as “Crown of the Palace”.
How can you not see love in this tomb, the ultimate symbol of devotion?
It’s estimated that if you were to build it today, it would cost about US$800 million. Although it’s not just the price tag that demonstrates the love of the emperor – it’s the fact that he wanted this to be a building without parallel.
The rumours say that he killed the architects and designers who worked on the Taj Mahal so they could never build something else as great. There’s actually no evidence that this is true, though. But anyway, it probably wouldn’t have been necessary. How could this be replicated without the passion of a ruler who is motivated by passion itself?
To say that the Taj Mahal is a symbol of love is certainly correct, everyone will see it, and they’re not wrong. But there’s more to it than that.
The Taj Mahal is also a symbol of power.
To put this magnificent building into context, we need to look at the time when it was built. Shah Jahan had become emperor in 1628 after a war of succession and he did a lot to assert his position.
As well as killing his rivals, he set out on an ambitious period of construction, commissioning many monuments across his kingdom.
The Taj Mahal – with its striking symmetry, its dazzling white marble, its impressive scale, and its glistening jewels – was the grandest of the monuments Shah Jahan built, but it wasn’t the only one. It was about love, no doubt, but it was also part of projecting his power to his people.
For me, this visit to the Taj Mahal is relatively short. In fact I don’t stay in Agra nearly as long as I would like. For instance, on the other side of the river is Agra Fort, another World Heritage Site, but I don’t have time to see it.
But the reason I’m here, the reason the visit is quite short, is still worthwhile. I’m here with a group from G Adventures to see some of the social enterprise projects that it is supporting in India. I’ve written previously about the idea of social enterprise and how G Adventures works with them.
However, I do just once again want to mention that after we visited the Taj Mahal in the afternoon, as the sun was setting, we then made our way to a small cafe called Sheroes Hangout where a group of women are working.
These women are all survivors of acid attacks, one of the most vile forms of violence because it’s intended to scar for life, not just hurt for a moment. But to meet them here at the cafe, with their welcoming embrace and big smiles, it reminded me that love comes in many forms – and power comes in many forms too.
The Taj Mahal is one of the most impressive buildings in the world and it is rightfully famous. There is a reason that everyone has heard of it and everyone should visit it.
But it’s not the only thing that has details to admire, or the only thing that is looked at differently throughout its life.
It may be a symbol of love. It may be a symbol of power. But let’s not forget that symbols are not the same as the real thing.
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here. You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by G Adventures in his role as a G Wanderer but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.