Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Taj Mahal

Bigger than a dream and more accessible than eternity, the Taj Mahal was one of the few magical experiences that I wish to see again in the hopefully distant day my entire life will go by before my eyes.

View from Great Gate (Darwaza-i Rauza)

The Taj Mahal was a unique and extra-ordinary experience, certainly the most astonishing construction built by human beings I was given to contemplate in my entire life. Described as "One tear-drop...upon the cheek of time" by Rabindranath Tagore, or "the embodiment of all things pure" by Rudyard Kipling, everyone recognizes the giant white marble structure, nearby the Yumina River, surrounded by gardens and with enough space around to grasp the complete shape despite the thousands of people around you. But only when on-site, can people finally embrace the sheer size of the mausoleum and the constant changes that occur before their eyes, which are what make Taj Mahal unique and magical, and could never be captured by photos.


The day before, from the Agra Fort surroundings, in the middle of the river bed next to a camel carcass, we had distinguished the white monument surrounded by its red walls from far away, and it already gave us a sense of superlative. We were very excited about seeing the well renowned iconic beauty from a close distance, and the early wake-up call was not as hard as I thought it would be. After all, one has only one chance to see the Taj Mahal for the first time. The line-up at the West Gate was already long at 6:40am when we arrived, but that did not discourage the scammers floating around the tourist line with by-pass cards, back door entrances and other special treatments. Cold morning, line-up growing and time ticking, everything was in place for a great morning.

Boy Dreaming

Split up for the long security check in a lady line and a gent line, we finally reunited to arrive at the Great Gate (Darwaza-i rauza) together at around 7:30am, past the sunrise, and with hundreds of people already marching everywhere to have a clear photo shoot. Nevertheless, the magic was still in front of us. The construction was emerging few hundred meters away from the dark gate in the early mist of the morning, and the first sign is as joyful as unwrapping the biggest present on Christmas day. The surprise comes only later, when we enter the gate and for a few minutes watched the mausoleum from the gate. Across from us were the vast garden, the water pools, the white marble platform in the middle and finally the construction above the rest.

Minaret of the Great Gate (Darwaza-i rauza)

The walk towards the white marble edifice took us many hours, peacefully and quietly like if we didn't want to break the magnificent lucky charm spell casted on us. We looked at the Taj Mahal, then walked a few meters, took a picture, then moved aside, took another picture, then moved forward again, took another shot, and so on. Finally we reached the middle platform from where all pictures are taken from and we indulged ourselves, filling as much as we could our memory (cards).

The Iconic View

We later explored the Mosque in the West, the Jawab in the East, and the Mausoleum (Rauza-i Munauwara) taking pictures now and then, smiling at each other in this now warm winter morning. Around 11 am and after some lengthy contemplation, it was time to give back the monument to tour operators and large families for their own discoveries but on the way out, looking again at the beast one last time, we decided that was not enough and we should do something about it. At the exit sign we decided to come back the next morning to have it, even for few seconds, only for ourselves one more time.

2nd Morning, Awakening from the Mist

The next morning we arrived at the East Gate foreigners' ticket booth at 6:10 am that time, and were among the front liners of the expedition, armed with cameras and fully equipped for a morning of discovery. At 6:30 am the ticket booths opened and we luckily snapped our two entry tickets at the foreigner line (the Indian lines were blocked by an Englishmen who claimed to be Indian since he was paying taxes in India). The East Gate has this peculiarity to be in a warm closed office but at a far distance from the actual entrance (over one kilometer). The fight was on for securing seats in the electric transfer bus, but a young lady stepped out just before us and we instantly jumped on it: Indian style.

Clear Shot for a Second Only

At 7:00 am sharp the three gates finally opened, we passed through security, and were among the first to discover in front of us, nothing but a large cloud of mist. Taj Mahal had disappeared under a warm white blanket of mist for the night and nothing could be seen. Experienced from the day before, we ran to the spots we preferred, without stopping. The closer we moved, the clearer it became. The structure once hidden, finally made its shape from the top to the bottom.

J. Warming Up

We were positioned at the Mosque in the West of the Riverfront Terrace (Chameli Farsh) for a well deserved sunrise. And for the next 30 minutes we watched the sun rising between the minarets and the domes, with waves of mist coming and going from the river nearby. Every second was different from the previous and the white marble edifice offered us a fantastic entertainment sometimes revealing itself, sometimes not, offering shape and colors never seen before. Only a few people were around us, mostly foreigners ecstatic of the show in which a grandiose monument built by humans was floating above ground on a cloud of mist.


For many minutes, the only sound that could be heard was the camera clicks and the monolithic noise of the early sweeper man in front of us. For once, noisy India became silent, colored India became black & white, and filled India became empty. The sun ultimately rose above the river mist, liberating the path for thousands of tourists to cross over the secluded zone we selfishly had for ourselves for a few hours.

Mist Around the Taj Mahal

Filled by happiness we reached over the sunny side of the mausoleum to discover that during all that time, the Taj Mahal was presenting to us its sleepy misty side, but on the sunny side, the white marble walls turned pink. Monkeys were flying off the surrounding walls and people were marching on the mausoleum by waves of thousands, and time was up again to give back the Taj Mahal to the others.

The fact is the Taj Mahal does live up to expectations, and one must see it in one's lifetime. I just hope to never forget this sunrise in my life.