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March 25, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 10. THE TAJ MAHAL

They say you haven’t seen India until you’ve seen the Taj Mahal. I took that with a large grain of salt.

“Seen the pictures.” I thought. “Seen the documentary. Seen the photos of Diana sitting outside looking lonely. Tourist trap.”

How wrong can you be?

We drove from Delhi in a comfortable car provided by Nobel Tours. Agra is 400 km away. We were looking forward to seeing a bit of the Indian countryside. A smog-laden fog veiled Delhi in grey. Never-ending grey suburbs morphed into miles and miles of grey factories. It’s not a picturesque journey.

Our hotel in Agra was the modern, multi-story Hotel Crystal Sarovar*, very swish, lots of bowing and Namaste-ing. A young man showed us up to our room and announced that we had a view of the Taj Mahal from our window. He swooshed back the curtains to reveal a panoramic view of smog-laden fog.

Then we were swooped off to the Agra Fort. Like the Red Fort in Delhi, this is another city within a city. Red sandstone fortifications surround gardens, fountains and white marble pavillions. Also the Hauz-i-Jehangir, a fine, sandstone bath where the Moghul Shahs could bathe.

Hauz-i-Jehangir – a bath tub.

Then it was off to the Taj Mahal. Us and several hundred other tourists, most of them Indian.

Our first glimpse was through the a red sandstone arch. It looked tiny but, that’s an optical illusion, once you go through the arch it looks big. And with that first glimpse of the real thing you forget about the other tourists milling about. It looks ethereal. Like it’s floating on air. It brought tears to my eyes.

No photograph does it justice

And the closer you get to more lovely it becomes. Up close you see the pietra dura, the marble latticework, the minarets, the Arabic calligraphy, all exquisite… trying to describe it can never do it justice. It’s one of those things that you have to see for yourself .

Pietra dura

interior decoration

It’s also a place that made me feel wistful and sad. It was, after all, built as a tomb by Shah Jahan for his favourite wife. The guides make jokes to the women about their husbands doing something equally fabulous for them. And they joke that the husbands would need to be fabulously wealthy to live up to the standard set by the Shah.

Shah Jahan
https://www.pinterest.ie/awaisaq/

There’s something about it that puts me in mind of Bollywood movie romances where dashingly handsome young men declare love to stunningly beautiful women. They sing in fields studded with flowers, they dance in splendid palaces, they flirt against backgrounds of beautiful scenery. But that’s not how it is for women in India. The lives of Indian women are very restricted. At best they are seen as second-class citizens.

Mumtaz was Shah Jahan’s favourite wife. That means there were more. In death she inspired him to build the Taj Mahal. I hope he treated her well when she was alive.

* AGRA  HOTEL CRYSTAL SAROVAR 
https://www.sarovarhotels.com/crystal-sar
ovar-premiere-agra/

I’d recommend this hotel. The rooms would have great views on a clear day. service excellent if a hint formal for my taste. Food was excellent.

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