The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan between in the 17th century (There seems to be dispute as to exactly when)
for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal at the height of the Mughal Empire. Its name means "crown palace". Shah Jahan was then deposed by his son, Aurangzeb and imprisoned in the Red Fort at Agra. He is now buried in the Taj Mahal alongside his wife. Several myths exist about the Taj, including:
- As well as the white Taj, Shah Jahan planned to build a black Taj for himself on the other side of the river, joined by a silver or interlaced black and white marble bridge (depending on which version you hear). This may be true, and is certainly made more believable by the presence of the start of some constructions on the other side of the river.
- When the Taj was complete, the workmen refused to take the scaffolding away, so Jahan announced that the scaffolding was free to take to the citizens of Agra. The scaffolding went within a day.
- When the Taj was complete, Shah Jahan cut of the hands of the architect to prevent him outdoing his masterpiece. In retaliation the architect drilled a hole in the dome so that it was flawed.
Architecture of the Taj
The Taj itself is possibly the most perfect building on the planet, built out of the translucent white marble
from Agra. Technically it has a number of interesting features: it was built on several water
-filled wells, which are designed to serve as "shock absorbers
" in the case of an earthquake, and the four corner towers are actually tilted slightly outwards, so that if they did fall down, they wouldn't damage the main Taj. The white marble is decorated with thousands of semiprecious stones inlaid using techniques unique to Agra. The dome of the Taj is itself two domes, a large outer one and a smaller, inner one which prevents the inside of the mausoleum
feeling out of proportion. The entire complex is symmetrical, which the notable exception of Shah Jahan
's tomb. Other things to note are the extracts from the Koran
which decorate the main doorways: they are engraved so that their boldness increases as though go up, reducing dramatically the effect of perspective on them. Aesthetically the Taj is fantastic, as well as the beautiful inlaid designs, perfectly proportioned architecture and cunning design, Agra marble is a beautiful, translucent substance that dramatically alters its appearance depending on the light
: apparently the Taj at sunrise and sunset looks completely different. Photos do not do it justice.
Seeing the Taj
The Taj Mahal is located close to Agra, and can be reached from Delhi
, though travel will be slow and may take several hours. As the Taj Mahal is India
's premier tourist attraction, it is now continually crowded, even by Indian standards. It is best to go as early in the morning as possible, both as there will be fewer people and as a sunrise on the Taj is said to be magnificent. However you arrive in Agra, it is relatively cheap to get an auto rickshaw to drive you there, although you will initially be asked for a ridiculous price. For entry you will have to pay the comparatively expensive non-Indians price: about $5 which is exorbitant compared to the Indians price of about 50 rupees. By this point you will have been assaulted by the two main species of Taj parasite
: tour guides
and picture takers. Both can be useful, but remember that they are used to fleecing tourists, so haggling
is essential. Be careful with both, and remember that you only have to pay to enter at the gate, whatever they may claim. If you visit during the day, the crowds round the actual Taj are incredible, particularly the people lining up to be photographed on the famous Taj bench (almost every set of holiday photos of the Taj has a picture from here). After visiting the Taj be careful of the auto-rickshaw drivers: they are almost certain to take you to their "uncle's" marble
shop to try and get you to buy something.