When people think of India, an image of its most famous iconic monument certainly comes to mind: The Taj Mahal. It’s been photographed hundreds of thousands of times being featured on magazine covers, uploaded on social media feeds and headlined in travel guides.
When planning our trip to India, like many, visiting the Taj Mahal was at the top of my list. I couldn’t not go – I mean, it’s the Taj Mahal! Its story, the utmost romantic ode to love, certainly adds to its phenomenal popularity in every corner of the world.
The story goes like this:
When Mughal Emporer Shah Jahan lost his beloved (and favorite) wife, Mumtaz, to a sudden death giving birth to their 14th child, he was so heartbroken and was in so much grief that he ordered the construction of the most elaborate and beautiful tomb ever built as an ode to his eternal love.
Located in the city of Agra, the Taj Mahal consists of a main centerpiece mausoleum which houses Mumtaz’s tomb (Emporer Shah Jahan’s tomb is next to hers), a red sandstone mosque and an elaborately designed guest house. Four minarets strategically placed at each corner stand tall seemingly guarding the tomb (they were actually built to facilitate the call to prayer). The expansive complex is set on verdant gardens with a pristine water channel in the middle. With the main mausoleum made of white marble and decorated throughout with intricate lattice work, detailed floral inlays, finely-executed carvings, delicate bas-reliefs and elegant Arabic calligraphy, no one can argue that the Taj Mahal is a work of architectural genius and wonder.
I was overwhelmed and rightly impressed by the magnificent design, the exquisitely rich materials, the endless details on every wall and the history attached to this beautiful complex. The sheer beauty of it all was incredible. It was breath-taking. It was extravagant. It was grandiose.
It was shallow.
As mentioned earlier, the Taj Mahal is India’s most prominent site with millions of people from all over the world (including India) visiting every year. Fortunately, the grounds are expansive enough to accommodate lots of people every day without feeling crowded. Well, except for when you enter the main mausoleum complex (where you’re not allowed to speak or take pictures). And when you’re ready to take that picture of yourself in front of the Taj Mahal that you so perfectly imagined in your head. You most likely won’t be alone.
I kept thinking that this was essentially a tomb, a place of rest (you know, R.I.P.). I felt like I was trespassing. I was getting annoyed at so many people trying to get that perfect picture. I also wanted mine but my patience was wearing thin.
I didn’t get a sense of serenity or calmness I (foolishly) thought I would. Quite the opposite, I felt uneasy at the overt opulence of the Taj Mahal (and the crazy amount of water used) whilst just outside its gates was a city filled with poverty, desperation and pollution. It looked totally out of place. The whole place felt very commercialized (spoiler alert: it is). This was a tourist attraction with a hefty entrance fee (see here for updated info), plain and simple.
Don’t get me wrong, the beauty of the Taj Mahal is unequivocally mesmerizing and stunning; I’m grateful I had the opportunity to visit one of the most iconic monuments in the world but it wasn’t my favorite. I was disappointed. Without hesitation I much preferred the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from going but I would say to try to keep your expectations low; maybe then you’ll fall in love with the utmost romantic ode to love.
I was fascinated by the fact that the Taj Mahal is of Muslim (about 14%) origin while India is mostly Hindu (80% of its population) and yet it’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions India. Just another odd realization that’s part of the wonderful complexity and history of Mother India.
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Have you been to the Taj Mahal? Is it on your bucket list? What are your thoughts? Yay or nay?