Agra – Up close and personal with the Taj Mahal

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The Taj Mahal, a token of love and devotion from Shah Jahan to his beloved wife Mumtaz, is high on the top of most travellers bucket lists. Expectations ran high as the rickshaw driver steered me towards the entrance. I had waited a long time to see this building up close and personal. My visit happened to be on the same day as a festival so the crowds were higher than on an average day, as people flocked to see one of the world’s most stunning pieces of Mughal architecture. I walked through the woman’s entrance, had my bag searched to make sure I wasn’t taking anything that could possibly cause harm to the structure, and finally entered the Eastern gate.

There it was, beaming white and bright amongst the smog, regal and majestic, towering over me, and also towering over the thousands and thousands of people that crammed into the gardens. I didn’t feel the magic I expected to feel, the noise, the pushing and shoving, it evaporated any sense of wonder and awe that one should feel when faced with such beauty. I wondered as I looked up at the building what Shah Jahan would think about all these people with their cameras trying to get the best shot, aiming to replicate the photo of Princess Diana on the bench in the centre of the gardens. Did they think about the love and heartbreak of the man who created the structure for the woman he loved? Or how it took 22 years of hard labour to build? Or how Shah Jahan, when imprisoned in Agra Fort for 8 years by his own son, Aurangzeb, spent every day staring out at the building that housed the remains of his beloved wife until the end of his life? It seems that the perfect photo opportunity is overshadowing why places, such as the Taj Mahal, are special in the first place.

Regardless of the throngs of people there is no denying how stunning this building is from the outside, and from a distance the crowds resembled an army of tiny multi-coloured ants as they queued to enter the building. The guards allowed people inside until the room resembled a cage full of battery hens and just as I was about to pass out through a lack of oxygen and heat exhaustion we were finally released into the open. After a visit to the Agra Fort, and to watch the sunset over the Taj Mahal from the Mehtab Bagh gardens, it was time to head back to the train station; the next part of the journey in India was the overnight sleeper train to Varanasi.

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