Our last and possibly most anticipated stop is Agra, home of course to the famous Taj Mahal, one of the main reasons Tasha and I came to India in the first place.
It’s a long long journey on the coach and an early start to get to the Taj. So we are all a bit zombie-ish, but the weather gods have smiled on us and it is clear blue skies and bright sunshine…
As one of the most visited attractions in the world I worried that there would be a queuing for the rides at Disneyland type feel to it, but remarkably it’s not too busy at all. The guide takes us in through the outer gates but says once we are inside he won’t begin the tour for 10 minutes, because he’s found over the years that. no one listens straightaway – they’re all too spellbound
He is right. I feel a frisson of excitement as we walk in and then… mesmerising.
The story of how the Taj came to be:
Taj Mahal means ‘crown palace’. It was built by the fifth Murgal emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal, who he saw in a market place one day and fell instantly in love with. She was 19 and they were married for 19 years. They hated being away from each other, so much so that she accompanied him to war, even when heavily pregnant, which was ultimately her doom.
They had 14 children, and lived a life of love and luxury, almost forgetting about the outside world, so enraptured they were. Mumtaz fell ill during childbirth. When the news reached a Shah Jahan on the battlefield he dropped sword and raced to her bedside to find her dying.
She made three requests
1. That he was not to remarry after she died
2. That he was to take care of her family
3. That he build a monument to commemorate their love
Hence, the Taj Mahal.
After months of mourning Shah Jahan emerged, terribly aged, his hair turned white, and invited the most renowned architects in the world to submit plans for a spectacular monument. They were paid handsomely. In gold. Millions upon millions.
In 1601 the work began. 20,000 workers crafted and toiled for 22 years and then it was done.
Mumtaz Mahal could be ceremonially laid to rest in her extravagant tomb (her third burial site).
The marble is a special translucent kind. It glows in the light. The spires were made of shining gold.
The entrance is inlaid with beautiful patterns, it is even earthquake proof!!
There was a rumour that Shah Jahan amputated the hands of his 20,000 workers on completion, but this is a metaphor… he forbade them all to ever work again and paid them off with pensions, so that the taj and it’s architectural secrets could never be replicated.
Shah Jahan was eventually exiled to Agra fort by his youngest son, who killed his older brothers so that he could ascend to the throne. Nice guy.
Shah Jahan could see the Taj from his balcony, and would sit and stare at it all day.
Upon his death his favourite daughter transported his body up the river in great ceremony so that Shah Jahan could lie with his beloved Mumtaz in their monument of love and dedication for all eternity.
The monument is worthy of the story.