Monday, September 19, 2016

[AGRA] The Taj Mahal

You already know the story of the Taj Mahal, but fine. For those who have been living under the proverbial rock, let’s have a refresher. Long story short: one of Shah Jahan’s wives died. Yup, Mumtaz was one of the many but she was THE favorite. What happens when hubby is filthy rich and you are the favorite wifey? You get a mausoleum when you die. White. Marble. Huge. Overlooking the river. Wifey supposedly died after giving birth to the couple’s 14th child. Jesus, did I just type “14th child”? Wow. Quota?

Wiki says that Mughal architecture used to favor red sandstone back then but Shah Jahan be, like, “Nah, let’s go for white.” Whoever said that marble white is boring has obviously never been to the Taj Mahal. You have to see it to believe it and there’s a reason why it’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. It’s easy to fall in love with its magnificence, on top of the romantic story behind it that most people wish they’d experience in this lifetime. Dream high, folks. Many can’t even afford rent nowadays.

You can always go to Agra to imagine how it feels to have such a great monument built in your memory. Yes, many clueless idiots have concluded that the Taj Mahal is located in Delhi. You will surely lose if you join the Amazing Race and insist on finding it there. Agra has an airport but many just opt to travel by train or by bus. Both will usually take a little over three hours, and then there is this fast train that takes less than two and drops you off close to Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi if you want to go tomb-hopping.

The south gate is the main entrance and does not open until 8 AM. As Wikitravel will tell you, this is where the hordes of tourists are dropped off, which means you have serious competition if you choose that gate. The better options are the west and east gates which open as early as 6 AM. Going early to catch the sunrise is a popular option for many. I doubt you’d be alone, but chances are higher that there wouldn’t be a big crowd to out-camwhore you. And yeah, sunrise there should be amazing.

As for me, I arrived at half past seven, which is too early for me. Like, doh, I usually get up at 12 in the afternoon. Even so, I think it was a good decision to wake up early. The auto rickshaw driver dropped me off at an office nearby to buy tickets. I thought it was a tourist trap but it was indeed the place where you have to pay the admission fee. You have to shell out INR 1000 (~PHP 750) for this but it’s all worth it. They then give you the ticket, two shoe covers, and two bottles of mineral water.

Auto-rickshaws are not allowed to go near the gate. I chose the east gate and there was a construction going on. It appeared to be a beautification project for the footpath leading to the gate. This should also be your gate of choice if you intend to go through the Taj Nature Walk. The poster outside promised birds of different kinds so I guess it’s some sort of eco park featuring various flora and fauna. It seems like a worthwhile activity if you do it in the morning when the sun is not yet up.

If not, you can just go straight into the compound. After the ticket check, a security screening follows, metal detectors and all. Tripods are not allowed inside, by the way. All three gates lead to a central area where you can take a selfie in front of the main gate, a mix of white and pale brick red in color with four mini minarets. You can see the Taj Mahal framed by the keyhole entrance once you pass through this gate. You’ll then see a canal complete with fountains, as if connecting the gate and the mausoleum itself.

This is where you go crazy with photography. My phone’s camera sucks but I can assure you that these are among the best photos it has ever taken in its lifetime. The canal creates the perfect mirror image of both the gate and the mausoleum. I guess this is what Humayun’s Tomb lacks, because the mini pond in front of it is not enough to mirror such a striking image. The canal is flanked by short trees on both sides, on green grass that goes well with the blue water in the middle. It’s plain awesome.

The white mausoleum has four minarets standing on every corner, surrounding it. Two brick red mosques are found on both sides while the river serves as its border to the north. Once you are done camwhoring, it’s time to appreciate the design of the façade, mostly floral in motif, preventing the predominantly marble white creation from being miserably monotonous. The intricate flower designs are lovely and best captured if you have a very good camera. They still look amazing even if you don’t.

Photography is not allowed inside as a form of respect. It’s a tomb after all. Two epitaphs share the imaginary spotlight under the big dome: that of Mumtaz Mahal right in the middle; and the bigger tomb of Shah Jahan to the left, which sort of ruined the symmetry but not the overall splendor of the place. The real tombs are said to be in a chamber found one level lower, which is of course inaccessible to the ordinary tourist. If you are constrained to visit just one monument in the Indian subcontinent, it should definitely be this one. Overrated or not, it’s totally worth it.

[AGRA] The Taj Mahal

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