I’m pretty sure I can’t say anything about this place that hasn’t been said before….except that this is my second visit, the first occurring more than 50 years ago.
It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It is summer. It is hot. Yet the crowds are large and ever-renewing. They are even bigger in the cooler months. 7-8 million per year.
The gate alone is impressive. Around are written in Arabic, in black marble and jasper embedded in the white marble, mourning verses of the Qu’ran:
O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.
A second gate, across the exterior grounds from the main gate, was dedicated to the workers who built the Taj. They were imported, 20,000 of them from Persia, and took 20 years to complete the main building and all the surrounding structures. The white marble, having a pinkish tint and a unique translucent quality, comes from Jaipur.
The entire structure soars 240 feet from the garden level. The height of the dome itself is 35 meters. The chief architect was probably Ustad Ahmad Lahouri, an Indian of Persian descent who would later be credited with designing the Red Fort at Delhi.
The workers and their families stayed in Agra afterwards, assimilating and continually renewing their status as master craftsman for 40 generations, in marble cutting and inlaying shops, homes and studios throughout the area.
I don’t mean to diminish the experience of the Taj itself. It’s just as thrilling as it ever was. But the crowd control is also more evident now than ever.
The tombs of Mumtaz and Shahjahan are in a small space inside. They are actually faux sarcophagi. The real ones lie below floor level.
Groups of visitors are allowed in about 100 at a time. The tombs themselves cannot now be touched, photos are prohibited (a universally ignored rule) and continuous movement is encouraged. We are herded in and out. This rule was no doubt instituted because visitors became ever more inclined to attempt to remove the precious stones inlaid in the walls and especially the sarcophagi.
An identical mosque and guest house border the main building.
The day after the Taj, I had hired a driver to take me to Fatehpur-Sikri and the tomb of Akbar the Great, the third Mughal Emperor and the grandfather of Shah Jahan. By mid-afternoon, I was tired and ready to return to my hotel. But he insisted on taking me to a marble shop. I decided to go more to humor him than out of authentic interest.
But I had no idea what I was about to see: the masterwork handed down over 400 years. The technique is the same now as it was then: grind the stones to make the desired design. Trace the design on the marble, cut the marble to exact specifications to seat the design. Embed the stones. Polish to perfection. All done by hand with hand driven grinding tools. My personal piece of the Taj Mahal.