The Taj Mahal
Agra Travel Blog› entry 22 of 41 › view all entries
The walls and buildings surrounding three sides of the Taj complex were built of red sandstone and interspersed with immaculate green lawns. As we entered the east gate of the courtyard, the abundant and cheap labor force of such a populous country became evident. Two men were cutting the lawns with a mower drawn by a pair of oxen while teams of other laborers raked, piled, and collected the grass for recycling as feed or fuel; a small army to do a basic task.
Approaching the Taj Mahal incited as much awe and wonder as seeing it for the first time in 1976. The bulbous white dome and four tapered minarets mirrored perfectly symmetrical in the long, reflective pool. Chris and I slowly approached the dignified structure through the manicured gardens, multicolored with flowers, which lined the pool.
We removed our shoes and climbed stairs onto the white pedestal supporting the mausoleum and its four minarets. The marble was warm on our feet by the morning sun. As we neared, details of intricate stone- and trim-work became apparent; forty-three precious and semiprecious stones intricately inlaid in the shape of flowers. Passages from the Koran, in Arabic script, also adorned the outside and inside.
Five octagonal chambers allowed for up-close inspection of the delicate, inlaid stonework. It was no wonder that it took twenty thousand engineers, architects, craftsmen, and laborers twenty-two years to build the elegant shrine. Some of the colorful stones had been looted by desperate souvenir hunters. After Shah Jahan's death in 1658, his tomb was placed beside that of his wife, providing the only non-symmetrical offset to the entire Taj Mahal complex.
One day, we found a footpath to the bank of the Yamuna River. We followed the waterway for several miles to the west. Surprisingly, the only people we encountered on that peaceful walk were a pair of old women molding cow dung into round discs to dry in the sun, and small groups of men tending the occasional funeral pyre.
Unlike the colorful ceremonies in Varanasi, the cremations along the Yamuna seemed low-key and low-budget; but to the skulking, well-fed dogs, like a grand buffet at a fine hotel. The river dogs of Agra were noticably eating well and by this time, Chris and I were becoming accustomed to some of that gruesome side of India.
Chris and I followed the river all the way to the Agra Fort. That moated, red sand-stone fortress was completed in 1565 and remained one of the most well-preserved buildings of the Mogul years. Darkened, cold stone stairways led us to numerous levels and rooftops. Shah Jahan had been imprisoned there by his son, and spent his remaining years gazing up-river at his beloved Taj Mahal. If he were to see the majestic monument today, I am certain that he would be just as proud as the day it was completed.