A Day at the Taj Mahal is the lowest common denominator of all trips to India. (In a good way). No matter how many weeks or months travelers spend in this sprawling country, all roads (rails, and flight paths) lead to the Crown of Palaces.
An Evening in Waiting
Our 24-hour day at the Taj Mahal started in the evening. As the afternoon sun began to soften, we—like everyone in Agra with a Lonely Planet—climbed the rickety stairs to the Saniya Palace Cafe rooftop to secure a Taj facing seat for magic hour.
The Kingfisher was cold and the food unremarkable. But the Taj, was perfect: lit by the dipping sun and framed by its ramshackle neighbours. Rabindranath Tagore’s “teardrop on the cheek of eternity” literally glistens on the Agra skyline.
A Day at the Taj Mahal
We were up at the crack of predawn and inline before the gates opened. People claim to have snagged a few moments of one-on-one time with the Taj using this strategy. We didn’t get a private viewing, but we did catch some gorgeous morning light.
Interestingly, the lighting got better as we got closer and closer. It’s possible that the Taj out shines the sun.
The world’s most photographed mausoleum is definitely more than the sum of its parts. It’s a perfect study in balance and intent. Shah Jahan drew from the most beautiful elements of the empire’s four grandest mausoleums for the design. Every architectural element is there because it should be (pictures of the tomb without its minarets look off).
Another design element that lead to the Taj’s most beautiful building in the world superlative is that its facades is identical on all four sides.
This means four-times the photo ops, and one-fourth the crowds.
As you get closer, you realize that this incredible glowing white structure is actually awash with colour.
Being a islamic building, animal and human designs are off-limits. But the walls are covered in artfully scripted koran passages Mughal pietra dura—semi-translucent white marble inlayed with semi-precious gems.
And then you get to go inside. The scale and light change drastically, but the Taj-ness of it all only intensifies.
This is Mumataz’s (paying) public tomb (she and Shah Jahan are actually buried in an underground chamber). The tomb is surrounded by an uncanny slab of filigree marble. Under a full moon (or a tout’s LED light) the pietra dura gemstones glow like offerings from another galaxy.
Back outside, the sun had burnt off much of the morning mist. In the spirit of our bucket list day at the Taj Mahal, we threw off our “jump shots are for suckers” mantra, so that we could leave you with this: