On Not Falling In Love With The Taj Mahal

with 31 Comments

 

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.

 

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Source: Hindustanews

 

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.

 

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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?

 

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  • I visited the Taj Mahal several times. Last time was during Diwali and oit was crazy. Later I even read in the local newspaper it was the busiest day in the year. Not my best visit.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I can only imagine how many people there were during Diwali! :

  • Simon – SiDash Travels

    Great post ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for sharing. Were off to India in 2 weeks and of course the Taj Mahal is top of our list. Im glad you posted this because I was thinking that I might need to lower my expectations, as is usually the case when travelling to big tourist hot spots.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Unfortunately many tourist attractions lose much of their charm but let me know what you think of the Taj Mahal! And have a great time in India!

  • Frank Thomae

    The problem with travel today is coming to all these famous sites and dealing with all the tourists posing for their selfies and group photos. They don’t bother reading the history, they don’t bother even looking at it properly – it’s all about them posing next to a famous building. Sorry, but just had an overload of that stuff in our recent 7 weeks in Japan.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I agree – it’s all about getting that perfect shot without any consideration for anyone else or for the place itself. I admit I also want to have photos of all these iconic places but I lose interest when others start pushing and shoving. I was very turned off at the Taj Mahal because of that. And I can’t stand all these selfies and poses! One girl at another monument in India was taking her sweet time posing like she was a super model – grrrr!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    It can be disappointing sometimes but I was still grateful to have seen the Taj Mahal – it is quite a beautiful monument!

  • We got there just after they opened early in the morning and were pretty alone when we took that must-have shot, but I imagine later in the day or even on just a popular touristy day it’d be hard to get a shot without people in the background. It is a must see for sure though. Stunning.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I’m sure it’s quite a different experience without all the people killing the vibe (for me anyways). I agree though it is a must-see. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Natasha Welch

    This is really interesting. I had no idea the Taj was Muslim and I’ve been really battling with whether to take time out to see the Taj when I could be spending more time elsewhere in India (I can only be there for a month) This is making me lean towards maybe skipping it… gah i don’t know

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I really don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting the Taj Mahal. Honestly, I would’ve regretted not going. Everyone has their own personal experience. If you’re in New Delhi then going to the Taj Mahal is easy (well, nothing is easy in India but it’s close enough to go on a day trip). ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    It was also on my list and I’m glad I went – I mean it IS the Taj Mahal after all! But like I mentioned I didn’t have the reaction I expected and I was mostly disappointed (notwithstanding its beauty). Enjoy India – it’s an amazing, crazy and wonderful country! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    I think sometimes some places get blown out of proportion but the Taj Mahal is without a doubt a stunning architectural feat with a very romantic history. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a very positive effect on me.

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting the Taj Mahal. It’s a beautiful iconic monument and as an Interior Designer I can certainly be inspired by its architecture (hence the close-ups I took). I just didn’t like how it seemed to have lost its soul. ๐Ÿ™

  • Janine Good

    I feel the same about the Taj Mahal in some ways. I say to myself that if I knew then what I know now, I would have invested more time in the South of India and skipped Agra completely. I went and it was very foggy so I didn’t nearly as wonderful photographs as you have and I too was underwhelmed that it was a giant demanded tomb. I did connect with your piece as my thoughts were definitely on par with yours.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Janine! Thanks for your honest opinion. You’re the first person to reiterate my feelings about the Taj Mahal though I’m sure others feel the same way. I’m glad I went but it certainly didn’t hold that special place I thought it would.

  • Cori Carl

    I’ve felt similarly at other grand memorials. It feels wrong for throngs of shrieking, selfie-ing tour groups to be traipsing through sacred sites. I’m also a little turned off by opulence. I’m glad you could see both sides of this, even if it’s less fun than just falling in love with a site.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Cori! Unfortunately most popular sites around the world have lost a lot of their luster in terms of authenticity. But it’s a vicious circle, everybody (including us) wants to go but that’s what makes them so underwhelming also. :

  • Brooke

    Every single place that people want to see most on the planet, it touristy. You will never get pictures alone or feel at peace at any major touristic monument or building or town unless you go in the absolute worst season of the year. Or… unless you stay away from the Top 100 sites in the world. I’m pretty sure this is on the Top 10… so it’s one of the absolute worst for trying to have an actual meaningful experience. That is extremely normal and everyone expects that when going to a destinatino like this.

    My suggestion if you don’t like crowds is don’t go to places like the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower or the Pyramids, or Rome Coliseum. Or go in the dead of winter when you won’t see crowds. It takes effort to avoid crowds at beautiful places everyone wants to see. The world will not become less populated anytime soon!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Yes you’re right about all the touristy places being over-crowded but for me it was more the overall atmosphere at the Taj Mahal that disappointed me. I don’t care if there are people in (some of) my pics but often peoples’ attitudes just gets on my nerves. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    Hi Kassie! The Taj Mahal is beautiful, I just felt like it was way too commercialized. I hope you get to visit one day – it still remains one of the most iconic monuments in the world. We arrived on a day trip from New Delhi so we got to the Taj Mahal at around mid-morning. It must be a totally different experience if you get there very early and there’s hardly anyone.

  • Natalie Tanner

    It is definitely on my bucket list and it has moved up higher with the news it will be closing to visitors within 5 years. Thanks for your honest opinion. Did you stay the night in the town there or was it a day trip?

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I didn’t know it might be closing for visitors?? We only had 2 days left before our departure so we did an (awful) day trip from New Delhi.

  • Sasha

    What time of day did you visit? I got there at sunrise and so it wasn’t too busy until around midday or so. I do love the romantic story behind it and the stunning architecture but understand your frustration with the richness of it all. I felt the same visiting the vatican, too much opulence going to waste.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      We went on a day trip from New Delhi (which took forever) so we got there at mid-morning. It wasn’t crowded just walking around but as soon as we crossed the main gate and saw the first view of the Taj Mahal, people were pushing to get a picture (it was just too much for me….lol).

  • Abby Grajewski

    Thank you for your honest opinion. I can definitely see why you would feel that way. I also loved learning about the history from your post. I really appreciate your sharing!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Thanks for your comment – it’s nice to know my post was helpful in some way. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I love that you were so candid about your thoughts – truly from an honest and personal point of view and that is so fresh from travel blogs! It is undeniable that the architecture is awe-inspiring,but sadly the fact that these attractions are being cashed in on their tourist appeal is the very same thing that make it lose its novelty.

    Abby of Life in the Fash Lane

    • Lydia

      Hi Abby! It’s definitely an architectural wonder but, unfortunately for me, it lacked a lot of soul. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – much appreciated! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Really interesting alternative view. Personally I was incredible moved when I went to the Taj Mahal, I think probably because I had zero expectations and it wasn’t on my bucketlist so on arrival and entering the complex I was totally overwhelmed by its beauty. Great article – thanks for sharing

    • Lydia

      Hi Becky! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I guess my suggestion on not having any expectations can be useful…lol.