Ah, the Taj. It’s one of the most recognizable structures in the world, and one that lures millions of tourists every year. You can’t not visit it if you go to India (unless, of course, you end up there on a Friday when it’s closed). This monument to love is sure to impress with its white marble, imposing onions and the builders’ painstaking attention to detail.
Our visit started after we slept late at our Delhi hotel and had to rush to the railway station. The cabbie took this opportunity to train for a NASCAR race, and sped through the early morning mist going the wrong way down streets, sideswiping sleepy cows and driving alarmingly close to pedestrians. This was one of our more terrifying experiences in India, and the lucky Miss Caroline was there to share it with us. By some miracle we arrived in one piece just in time to catch the Taj Express to Agra.
Hiring a driver for the day only cost us Rs.400 ($7), so we decided to save ourselves some haggling and go with it. This also allowed us to stop by the Agra Fort – a significant landmark in its own right, but often overlooked owing to the proximity of her ostentatious sister.
Upon arriving at the Taj, we paid the comically inflated fee for foreign tourists (Rs.750/$14 instead of Rs.20/$0.40) and followed the queues for high-value ticket holders onto the pristinely manicured grounds. The security to get in is pretty intense. Make sure to leave laptops, food, and anything that might be deemed dangerous at home or in the cloakroom at the train station. They wouldn’t even let me take my safety whistle inside. If I had a $4m business and one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, I suppose I’d be strict too. But laptops? Honestly? If you do take blacklisted items, there’s a locker room five minutes down from the main entrance. Insist on keeping your locker key (which seems like the whole point of locking things up) and they’ll let you take it with you.
Pretty as it may be, the Taj is a mausoleum that reflects the deep grief of its builder, Emperor Shah Jahan. The Emperor’s wife Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth of their 14th child, and in 1648 the Taj was completed in her honor. It’s now considered one of the best examples of Muslim art, although it combines elements from Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Indian architectural styles.
Ending with a Fun Fact: the Taj Mahal isn’t completely symmetrical. The minarets are said to lean slightly outwards, so that in the event of an earthquake they would fall out instead of in and crushing the mausoleum.