Getting to the Taj Mahal was an adventure in itself.
I’d been organised and booked myself on a train from Delhi to Agra, where the Taj is situated, and showed up bright and early at the station at 6am… only to find that due to the ridiculous pollution that sits on greater Delhi and its neighbouring provinces, my train was delayed until 1pm.
Repeat after me: life always throws a spanner in the works while travelling. Patience is your friend. Patience and snacks.
I trekked back to my hostel, napped for a while, then headed back to the station for noon. At 12:50pm, a notice bell went off. The train was delayed again. Until 7pm.
Patience. And. Snacks.
Fortunately, luck had it that other travellers found themselves stranded on the platform, and a group of us soon decided to get a cab down the four hours to Agra. At only 1,000 rupees each, it’s expensive for India, but a steal compared to an Uber trip across east London. We flew down the highway, not once driving within a lane; our driver braking creatively, stopping below flyovers to buy a single cigarette or a pack of nuts, and struggling through cattle jams.
We finally made it, and a well-deserved sleep later, I found myself walking through the gate to the Taj Mahal.
Built in the 1630s, the palace is actually a mausoleum for the favourite wife of then Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The entire site is entirely symmetrical, from the entrance gate through to the two buildings on the Taj’s sides – one is a mosque, while the other is nothing but an identical building that cannot be used as a mosque as it’s not facing Mecca. The only exception to the symmetry is within the mausoleum itself, where Shah Jahan’s own tombstone was added after his death just next to his wife’s. The real tombs are situated below ground, where no tourist can see them…
I think it’s the symmetry of the site especially that makes the Taj Mahal so breath-taking. The architecture is obviously stunning, in particular the intricate way that precious stones were inserted into the white marble of the building, but it’s when standing at the end of the garden, seeing the perfect reflection of the Taj in the pools, with even shadows symmetrical when the sun is at its highest, that the beauty of it all hit me the hardest.
You’ll have noticed the slight (understatement klaxon) fuzz in my photos: pollution is a huge problem in Agra, too, and measures have had to be taken to lower emissions in the area in order to preserve the Taj and its white colour. Not that they seem to be working so good…
Later that day I went to visit Agra Fort, the city’s other main destination. While the Taj is of classic later Mughal architectural style, Agra Fort is a masterpiece that combines the red sandstone of earlier style with white marble structures made popular by Shah Jahan.
This was my favourite out of all the forts and palaces I visited during my time in India for the absolute preciousness of its details. Everywhere there was a piece of lapis lazuli, a lotus-shaped arch, a carved pillar, a lace-like balustrade; floors were decorated with inlaid stones, the marble of the walls carved with flowers and the gardens planted to create motifs in the plants.
It was there that walking around at sunset, sights sparkling in my eyes, I proper fell for India. And I still had all of Rajasthan to discover…