[TRAVELS] Taj Mahal @ Agra, India

Posted by swisscheese on Mar 24, 2018 in agra, mausoleum, UNESCO World Heritage Site |

Just like how I was looking forward to go to Myanmar to catch the sunrise amidst the hot air balloons until I did during my birthday last year, I have been dying to go to India for AGES! Due to security reasons, I have been delaying my trip but I was so happy when Laurie asked me in November after we reunited at LA last October if I would like to go to India with her and of course, my answer is YES, YES & YES! India is not the place that a lot of Singaporeans would go to as there are a lot of news on rapes cases, people being followed and such. Whenever I brought up the conversation that I will be heading to India prior to my India trip, most of my Singaporean friends will go like “No, please don’t go!! It’s not safe!” but the traveler in me will never say no to such a beautiful country! Our plan was to go to the Rajasthan state but what’s going to India without visiting the Taj Mahal? So of course, we HAD to go from Delhi to Agra first before going to the Rajasthan regions.

The entrance fee for Taj Mahal is 1000 INR (USD$15.37 / CAD$20 / SGD$20.83) per pax. We thought we could catch the sunrise in Taj Mahal but although we woke up at 5ish am and arrived at Taj Mahal at 6:15am, we could only enter the attraction close to 7am due to the long lineup and tight security checks. Apparently, the line is segregated into male locals, female locals, male SAARCs, female SAARCs, foreign males and foreign females. It was a little chaotic because I have no idea why some foreign people ended up lining up with the locals and vice versa. Anyway, it was a very long wait and the sky was quite misty so we could barely see any sunrise as well. After the security and ticket check, we entered from the west gate and saw the North gate as depicted in the first two pictures. The last four pictures portrays Taj Mahal’s Main Gateway called the Darwaza-i-Rauza. This gate is made with clay bricks and covered with red sandstone, which explains the color on it. Quran verses in Arabic calligraphy are on the large pishtaq, which inlays are made with black marble. This can be seen clearer in the last picture. This symbolizes the invitation for believers into paradise. Floral and plant motif patterns are ornamented at the spandrel. In between the two gulastas lies eleven miniature cupolas. The cupolas are topped by twenty two chhatris, eleven on each side of the gate. The twenty two chhatris represents the time taken for the Taj Mahal to be constructed completely, which is twenty two years. As seen in the second last picture, the red ceiling of the iwan is vaulted and it looks like the sun at the top of the ceiling formed by the geometric patterns.

Once you enter the beautifully decorated main gate, you will be able to see the alluring Taj Mahal! As seen in the above panorama, there are gazillion people visiting Taj! Taking a picture with the Taj Mahal without these tourists seem impossible!

Although the Taj Mahal looks too dreamy due to the fog, just looking at what I have been anticipating for makes my heart skip a beat. As everyone might have known by now, Taj Mahal is a symbol of love since Shah Jahan from the Mughal Empire employed about 20,000 workers to build it in memory of his third wife, a Persian princess called Arjumand Bbanu Begum but currently known as Mumtaz Mahal, whom died during childbirth of her 14th child. If you take a look at the Taj Mahal from the main gate, you will be able to spot the symmetry of the architecture and garden in this complex. The central pool also reflects the Taj Mahal building. The gardens looks so pretty and is a representation of earthly paradise. It was such a pity that that day was quite foggy and we could not have a full glimpse of the sun rising as shown in the second picture.

The four 40 meters tall cylindrical minarets that frame the mausoleum are not vertically straight. They are at a beveled angle (around 92 degrees) to the right. This is because if an earthquake were to occur, the minarets will fall away from the Taj Mahal or into the river and not on the Taj Mahal itself. The foundation of Taj Mahal is built on a series of very deep wells that act as shock absorbent should there be an earthquake. Just look at the amount of effort put in to prevent natural disasters from happening to the Taj and mind you, the equipments used to construct this were from the 1631 era.

Shah Jahan wanted to build the black Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River behind the Taj Mahal you see above. The supposed black Taj Mahal will be connected to the existing Taj Mahal via a bridge and it was meant to put his own tomb but unfortunately, Shah’s third son imprisoned him during the last 8 years of his life at Agra Fort, where he would often gaze out the window to view the Taj Mahal. This explains why even though Shah was meticulous enough to instruct his workers to make the entire construction of the Taj Mahal symmetrical and its outlying buildings identical, the only thing that is not symmetrical in this entire project is Shah’s cenotaph beside Mumtaz’s cenotaph. Mumtaz’s cenotaph is centralized so with Shah’s cenotaph being at the side, that is the only factor deterring the Taj Mahal to be completely symmetrical. What a pity!

In order to enhance the grandeur of the Taj Mahal while still maintaining the symmetrical look, you will be able to see the mosque as shown in the first picture at the left of the mausoleum and the Jawab as shown in the second and third pictures on your right upon entering the main gate. Both buildings are built on a slightly raised platform for stability should a natural disaster strike. The purpose of the mosque is for believers to pray and worship when visiting the mausoleum since it is mandatory for a place of worship to be built near the mausoleum. How significant that the mosque faces the west direction of the Islamic holy city of Mecca! Just like the main gate, the front exterior of the mosque consists of one dominant iwan. However, instead of having two smaller arches at each side of the iwan, the mosque only comprises of one smaller arch at each side. There are four pinnacles between the three arches and the mosque is topped with three marble coated domes. As usual, there are four chhatris covered in white marble at the four corners of the mosque. The Jawab on the opposite side is a guesthouse used to create balance and symmetry to the Taj. The only difference between the mosque and Jawab is the absence of Mihrab and Minbar in the Jawab. Mihrab reveals the direction of Mecca, which Muslims have to face when praying. On the right of Mihrab consists of the Minbar, which is a raised platform for the priest to deliver his speech.

We managed to find a quieter area to snap some shots with the Taj. Please take note that there will be many photographers that will ask you if you want to take pictures with the Taj using their professional camera and will charge you XXX rupees per picture printed out or saved in soft copies. We initially thought it would be nice but after figuring out the amount, we decided that we could assist each other to take pictures instead.

The Taj Mahal is constructed with white marble, which was excavated at Makrana in the Rajasthan State. Things made of marble is not easily breakable and I witnessed it from a shop that sells items such as plates, coastal and such made of marble. This marble quality enables the Taj Mahal to be seen in different colors throughout the day. As the sun rises, the Taj Mahal is pale pink and pearly gray in color. When the sun shines on the Taj during noon, it is dazzling white! When the sun sets, it appears orange-bronze in color. At night, the Taj may appear translucent blue. Once again at the marble factory, I have witnessed how marble is translucent blue in color and how it glows in the dark. What a lovely material used to build this particular wonder of the world!

It is such a pity that the Taj Mahal is starting to decolourize to brownish yellow due to build up of dust particles and carbon from fossil fuels and biomass pollution. This indicates that the people are also breathing in these particles, which is also unhealthy for their bodies. Thus, the professors researching on this issue is encouraging the public to reduce traffic levels and burning of organic materials such as wood, rubbish and dung in order to rectify both the health of the public, as well as the materials of the Taj Mahal. Meanwhile, the workers will enclosed the exterior of the domes with a layer of clay every few years before peeling it off in order for the color to be restored.

There are four levels in the Taj Mahal and the ground floor, which is shown to tourists comprises  of the main chamber which houses the replica tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. However, the quiet room in the basement level is where the real tombs are located at. Due to respect issue, we did not snap a picture of the chamber consisting the replica tombs at all. Due to privacy and respect, the tomb chamber is not accessible to visitors.

Since the Taj Mahal was constructed based on love, it was decorated using precious gemstones from far-flung regions. Examples are jade from Kashgar in China, rubies from Sri Lanka, turquoise from Tibet, yellow amber from Burma, Lapis-lazuli from Afghanistan and malachite from Russia.

If you ask me whether I will go to Taj Mahal again to look at the details of the construction,  my answer is YES in a heartbeat! The workmanship of the entire structure and construction is impeccable! They even thought of how to reduce incidents in the Taj Mahal if natural disasters were to occur during the 1600 century. How thoughtful of Shah Jahan! If only the Black Taj Mahal was built, the already glorified wonder of the world will be even more outstanding!

ENTRANCE FEE:
1000 INR FOR FOREIGNERS
530 INR FOR CITIZENS OF SAARC & BIMSTEC COUNTRIES
40 INR FOR INDIAN LOCALS
OPENS DAILY EXCEPT FRIDAY: SUNRISE - SUNSET

Some people may think that Taj Mahal is too commercialized and the crowd kills off the excitement at times but I would like to reiterate that if you head to India, going to Taj Mahal is compulsory!

*swisscheese

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