July 22, 2013  •  1 Comment

The Taj Mahal rose elegantly from the low horizon, silhouetted behind a veil of suspended dust. Even from a distance, the gracefully-domed structures sat noticeably apart from their surroundings. It bespoke calm in the midst of hot, dirty, noisy chaos. 

We parked a distance from the monument, walked crowded streets, then entered a courtyard craftsmen called home during 22 years of construction, beginning 1632 A.D. A grand, ornate entryway beckoned us forward, hinting at the stunning structure we had yet to glimpse. I couldn't help playing the gaping tourist, rubbernecking the crowd while mesmerized by skyward structures.

After moving to our guide's recommended "spot" within the darkened entryway, the Taj—"crown of palaces"—appeared, filling the arched frame perfectly; its white marble facade gleamed in the sun, like a radiant bride. Our guide led us toward the Taj, stopping at strategic points to fully appreciate the experience. "Notice the symmetry," he'd say. "Notice the two flanking buildings. One is an active mosque. The other is just for looks." The second building perfectly mirrored the mosque, a counterweight in this grand picture. But just for looks, really? "Notice the slight lean of the minarets. Earthquakes are rare in this region, but just in case, the towers will fall away from the main building." Quite a measure to take, for just in case.

We removed our shoes before finally ascending to the Taj's terrace. Inlaid semiprecious stones formed elegant organic and lettered patterns along the building's exterior. I was that gaping tourist again—touching, outlining—standing stunned by the magnitude of this artistic undertaking. The fine skill and intense labor it required defied imagination. "Notice the script does not appear to change size from bottom to top. The lettering at the top is actually larger than down below. It's an illusion to create the feeling of balance." We would never have known.

We finally walked inside to view two tombs, replicas of the actual tombs on a lower level. One for Shah Jahan, instigator of this magnificent project, and one for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. This cool, dark, round room boasted perfect acoustics. We were told that on moonlit nights one of the translucent, semiprecious gems sprinkled throughout the graceful design glows.

As we later regaled our trip highlights to a hotel employee, he suddenly interjected: "Did they tell you the Taj was a love story? That the Shah was love-stricken? You know he built it upon his wife's request? Did they mention she died giving birth to their 14th child??" His eyebrows raised, his head shook side to side, and then he exclaimed, "THAT'S NOT LOVE!" We howled with laughter. He was right, in retrospect, it did seem a little far-fetched for a love story.

However, it is hard not to be smitten by this beautiful architectural feat. Maybe the story and the details of its structural peculiarities—illusions, an empty building just because, leaning minarets just in case, beauty revealed during darkest hours—mars the romanticism. Or maybe its stunning, graceful beauty flourishes because of these juxtaposing elements.

Funny. During this week I discussed my parents' upcoming 50th wedding celebration with my brother, I pondered the 25 years Kevin and I will commemorate in a few weeks, I played for a wedding where the bride and groom promised to love and cherish each other forever, I spoke with a friend whose 18-year-old brother and girlfriend announced they would soon be parents—silence greeted her when she asked if they loved each other, and while writing this post, a friend I hadn't seen in almost 10 years since her marriage, told me she and her husband just divorced.  

To me, the Taj Mahal will symbolize love. It is like a pearl amidst an intensely gritty existence. 


Zack Sylvan(non-registered)
Unbelievable, Julia! I think I can cross off "Visit the Taj Mahal" off my bucket list now. From start to finish, I felt like I was right there with you and Kevin exploring every intricacy of the grounds. Phenomenal writing and the pictures are just as breathtaking.

The b&w shot of the Taj throught the arches... so stunning. So classic. Be very proud, these are gorgeous images and hopefully you now have these prominently displayed in your home. Thank you so much for sharing this experience!
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