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Agra/ Taj Mahal : Love Letters

Agra Travel Blog

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"NAMASTE!!!" :)))

'Come to me.'  She speaks to me.  I think I love her.

It's the first week in February 2008.  I'm experimenting, pretty much for the first time in travelling alone.  Keeping my own company on The Road.  Preparation?  I'm lying on a bed in a shoe-box room of a hotel in Keswick, in England's Lake District and tears are flowing onto my pillow.  Why?  I've just seen the Taj Mahal you see.  From the window onto the world that is the rooms television set.  The mere momentary contemplation - provoked by Monty Don's Around the World in 80 Gardens (India Episode) - of the possibility that I could one day actually behold such an awe inspiring sight with my own two eyes has set the waterworks in motion.

Stevie & the Taj.
  India.  The Taj Mahal.  Dreams only.  There's only one way to see them.  To travel.  A big decision to be made.  One of a series of moments in this pivotal week where the germ of the idea of a possible around the world odyssey finally takes root in my mind.  Inspiration.  Preparation.

So here I am 20 months later.  I'm looking at her again now.  The Taj Mahal.  And frankly, if I'm honest, I'm not all that impressed.  Seriously.  It's tacky. Poorly constructed.  A lot smaller in reality than one's been led to believe.  Just another mass produced piece of plain old Mughal architecture.  'Made in India'.  And what's with all that phoney glittery sparkle tat anyways?!

Oooooh!  C'mon, I'm sh*ttin' you!  The Taj currently under scrutiny measures about  3 centimetres cubed, is made of plastic and is being dandled in front of me by an Agra street urchin who's pattered along beside me for 10 minutes and more trying to sell me his tiny little plastic snow-dome replica of Shah Jahan's masterpiece.

Agra goat :)
  It jiggles and shakes as he tries to keep pace with me setting the glittery little snow flakes inside it a flurry.  Of course I don't want it.  But by unconsciously applying the Zen of Non-negotiating Negotiation (remember Nemrut Dagi in Turkey?) the kid haggles himself down step by anguished step from 60 Rupees to 3 Rupees with little but teasing input from me ( 'Zero Rupee?' ).  The Taj Mahal is mine for 5 Rupees!  6 of your British pennies.  Bargain! 

[ I would like to note here that I am not in the habit of haggling the worlds most downtrodden down to the lowest financial rung obtainable.  I didn't want it.  I don't buy souvenirs on this trip.  For any reason.  Period.  But he was so desperate for something, anything, that the gesture of final acceptance alone seemed to be what he most wanted and made him happy ]

Okay.

Restoration work on Agra's Fort
  No more larking about.  Straight to the point.  The Taj Mahal; the real Taj Mahal is unquestionably the most beautiful man made object I have ever set my eyes upon.  And I suspect ever will.  In fact, it is something in appearance so perfect that you can barely credit its construction to the minds and hands of men.  An architectural feat of such simple, sublime conception that it is immune to over consideration.  Over observation, iteration or enthusiasm.  Again, it is perfection.  And genuine perfection is unassailable.  Impervious to cliche.  Beyond the far reaching claws of hyperbole and hysteria.  Unable - I hope - to be tarnished by the dusty, uninspired rose petal words of tired travel journals such as this being cast so endlessly, hopelessly at its feet in stale admiration.
Some sort of river ceremony as I cross the Yamuna

And I'm just about the first ever to set eyes upon it.  Today that is.  Yep, meeting the Taj Mahal is a once in a lifetime date so no messing around.  Up at 5.03am and in the queue at the West Gate by 5.30.  I'm number 2 in line.  Oh yes my friends, there is always someone - always just that one! - who's thankfully even more desperately crazed than you are.  Unless you're him of course.  Man Number 1 :) 

But there is delay.  Bureaucracy.  Tension.  India.  The sky has already painted its eyes with seductive pre-dawn pinks, purples and mauves... we're champing at the bit to get in.  Souls twitching.  Cameras itching.  But no.  The man behind the 'Foreigner' ticket counter just placidly keeps date stamping tickets.

Inside the mosque complex.
  'AAAAAGGH!'  What freakish turn of tourist torture is this?!  Eventually he decides to start selling tickets and we all do the fast-walk-fast-I'm-NOT-running-no-not-me-fast-fast walk over to the gate.  But there is delay.  Why?  Tension.  India.  6.10 we're told and at 6.15am - the sky already leeched of colour to a uniform pre-dawn blue-grey - a little man scurries over and tells the bigger men with guns they can let us in.  Time for another stretch of stiff limbed and taught buttocked fast-walk-fast-I'm-NOT-running-no-not-me-fast-fast walk...

... and there she is!  At last.  The Taj Mahal.  She sits.  Subtle in the soft dawn distance.  'I have been waiting for you all of your life'.

Sikhs and Taj
  She speaks to me.  A tear climbs a duct, but memory of the comic-farce distraction of getting in here is enough to check its progress.  'I have been waiting for you all of my life'.  I think.  Have I?  A triangular silence grows between me, the Taj and Man Number 1 as we stare, paralysed, cameras forgotten.  'Come to me'.  She speaks to us.  'But I... I... I?'  I'm choking up a bit.  I can't believe it's her.  'There will be others soon.'  She reminds me.  'I am not alone in my love for you?'  She smiles a 'foolish, sweet boy' smirk.  'People come from the four corners of the world to declare their love to me.
(Taj) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
  Not just shoe-box hotel rooms in Keswick you foolish, sweet boy.'
 
Oh, I see.

Arriving here this early is the only way of getting that classic 'virgin' glimpse of the Taj, sat in all her crisp elegant symmetry and solemnity, without a single speck of a human fly in the compositional ointment.  Ahead of the cattle stampede.  It's a strange and beautiful moment of calm.  There lies her reflection in the watercourse - the classic Taj image - as yet undisturbed for the morning breeze still sleeps.  More people gather from the rear.  But I have to say human traffic, even 5 hours later when all the Delhi day trippers have arrived, is not too disfiguring or distracting to my visions of happiness today.  The Taj absorbs you so entirely you just don't really care to notice.

Photo happy snappy.
  Again, she transcends.

You know the story I guess?  The Taj Mahal, is in name an abbreviation of Mumtaz ( 'Taj' ) Mahal, the second and most favoured wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and in form the building constructed to be her mausoleum.  An act of creation, a posthumous love letter written in stone following her death in child labour for their 14th child in 1631.  Heartbreak at her death is said to have turned the Emperor's hair white over night.  Construction started immediately and was not completed until 1653, some 20,000 labourers seconded to work upon it in its initial stages and later over 1,000 artisans .  Hard upon its conclusion the Shah was overthrown and imprisoned by his ambitious son Aurangzeb.  Incarcerated in Agra Fort, the Shah was forever more only able to glimpse his final, magnificent expression of his love for his wife through the tiny window of his cell.

'Jawab' roof (detail)
  He died in 1666 and now lies with Mumtaz Mahal in a second marble-inlaid sarcophagus set beside hers.  United in beauty for all time.

It is on this profound expression of love that the Taj has its foundation.  Great passion.  And great power too of course.  It is the essence of the Taj's success I feel that, possibly uniquely in all of man's architectural efforts the world over it represents such a perfect unity of form and intent.  Its delicately curved arches,  its smoothly arcing domes, its restrained repetition of marble-inlay decor and carved floral reliefs and faultless aesthetic and geometric symmetries speak deeply of respectful ardour and so continues to provoke this feeling in the millions upon millions of visitors who must set their eyes upon it year on year.

Possibly the most cliched photo on planet earth? ;D
  Seven hours in the company of this one building (and its barely less impressive red-sandstone flanking satellites of the mosque and the 'jawab') is an act of reverence.  Of worship.  Eventually of love perhaps.

A large part of the majesty; the genius of the Taj's appearance lies in the use of locally quarried (Jaipur) semi-translucent, grey-veined white marble.  The temptation for pure, sun-blinding white resisted, this softly variegated marble lends to the structure a shimmering, pearlescent ethereality that brings the whole shining edifice, this house of spirits to life.  In death.  And again, as the Taj is seamless itself,  another seamless unity of form and intent has been achieved.  A perfect symbiosis of structure and symbolism.  Life and death.

Taj in her eyes : my recurrent travel chat companion Shirley sees the Taj in her shades :)
  Softly shifting colour with the play of day-changing light it has oft been remarked how she seems, whilst sitting firm, to appear to float slightly above the ground.  So many thousand tonnes of stone transmuted to a white silk veil drifting on the breezes that pass over the Yamuna River.  A delicately tethered ghost of an architectural form.  Spectral.  Caught between two worlds.  A mausoleum built with love to house the earthly, mortal remains of one who’s soul - the Shah presumes - has lifted; flown to higher Heavens.  A building of both the earth and the stars.  The latter glitter on her flanks at dawn.  

It’s magnificent and you will have to forgive all my doting.  Whilst I did other things.  Saw other things.

'The Jawab' one of two identical structures that flank the Taj.
  Met good people.  Made other observations in Agra.  There’s no time (or inclination) here to tell of them.  Sorry.  You know the score.  Love stories conquer all.  And, in some ways - but not all - they all must come to an end.

I look towards her once more.  Time to go I suppose.  'But will I ever see you again?'  'That is for your heart to decide.'  She speaks to me.  'Oh I see.  Yes.  I suppose you're right.'  I turn my back to leave.  I can't tell you - faux artistry set aside - how hard; emotionally hard it was for me to turn my back on the Taj.  I fear almost to look back one last time, in case as with Orpheus's wife, she should vanish from me forever as a punishment for this final guilty glimpse of her beauty.

  'I will be waiting for you all of your life.'  A tear drops from my eye now thinking about it.  And lands in her mirror pool.  Disturbing her image reflection in my minds eye.  But it will resettle.  I will resettle.   

'Come to me'.  She speaks to me still.  I know now I love her.       

Andi03 says:
SERIOUSLY love your writing ...more like im reading a love story here so overwhelmed :)
Posted on: Aug 04, 2014
Stevie_Wes says:
Only a matter of days now hey Yanti! :))) Please give my regards to the beautiful Taj - I hope you and Sim enjoy her company as much as I did!
Posted on: Oct 12, 2010
YantiSoeparno says:
I am going to Agra soon, Stevie ;-)
Posted on: Oct 06, 2010
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NAMASTE!!! :)))
"NAMASTE!!!" :)))
Stevie & the Taj.
Stevie & the Taj.
Agra goat :)
Agra goat :)
Restoration work on Agras Fort
Restoration work on Agra's Fort
Some sort of river ceremony as I c…
Some sort of river ceremony as I …
Inside the mosque complex.
Inside the mosque complex.
Sikhs and Taj
Sikhs and Taj
(Taj) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
(Taj) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
Photo happy snappy.
Photo happy snappy.
Jawab roof (detail)
'Jawab' roof (detail)
Possibly the most cliched photo on…
Possibly the most cliched photo o…
Taj in her eyes : my recurrent tra…
Taj in her eyes : my recurrent tr…
The Jawab one of two identical s…
'The Jawab' one of two identical …
Girl on Train
Girl on Train
Train sleepers
Train sleepers
Train to Agra (abstract)
Train to Agra (abstract)
Agra street
Agra street
Bright coloured Agra backstreet ar…
Bright coloured Agra backstreet a…
All vehicles emitting fumes are ba…
All vehicles emitting fumes are b…
In front of the Fort.
In front of the Fort.
Railway bridge across the Yamuna
Railway bridge across the Yamuna
Family bath time in the Yamuna
Family bath time in the Yamuna
Yhe unseasonably hot, dry weather …
Yhe unseasonably hot, dry weather…
First in, first glimpse of the maj…
First in, first glimpse of the ma…
Kingfisher and reflection.
Kingfisher and reflection.
Light and shadow play upon her for…
Light and shadow play upon her fo…
...oh you wondered what happened t…
...oh you wondered what happened …
Symmetry.
Symmetry.
Jawab (detail)
'Jawab' (detail)
Little Bottle Boy
Little Bottle Boy
Beautiful marble refliefs.
Beautiful marble refliefs.
Moo!
'Moo!'
Chillin in the shade of the Taj.
Chillin' in the shade of the Taj.
Agra
photo by: rotorhead85