Fog greeted us this Taj day, so a sunrise visit was not to be. Clouds parted only briefly, the day giving a less than stellar royal show. Even with the fog and gray skies the monument is wondrous, though truth be told not my favourite site in India.
In the days of the Mughals, the way to show your devotion was to build an edifice to your beloved. It is said that Mumtaz’s last wish was that Shah Jahan make something to honour her time on this earth for all eternity. Hindu poet Tagore called the Taj Mahal a “teardrop on the cheek of time.” It took 22 years to complete. So money meets romance in this fairy story of true love. I wonder if Bill would build a monument of this stature to his beloved Melinda?
The mastery of these kinds of artisans is lost today in our immediate gratification and disposable thing-filled world. And maybe as a cry for help we see the once-pristine Taj Mahal graying these days. Ironically, electric vehicles and horse-drawn carriages vie side-by-side to provide tourist transport. And new mandates aim to curb coal fires and other carbon emissions within 10km of this precious landmark. The question that comes to mind, of course, is whether there’s time (or true willingness) to save it.
I leave the Taj Mahal feeling something like longing for the romance and gallantry surrounding the forts and palaces of Rajasthan, though I would not have missed seeing this Wonder for anything. Its smooth precision and imposing grace make you forget that you are in a mausoleum and not a palace. One might envision a concert with pitch-perfect acoustics in the main chamber or perhaps a grand ball, though Maharanis did not dance with men other than their husbands, and jewel-bedecked grand saris aside, this might have been a rather dull affair. Mughal or Rajput, these dynasties were steeped in princely tradition and familial honour. And as visions of these luxurious lifestyles dance in my head, I follow the teeming crowds to the exit and on to the next destination.
An aside: This is as good a place as any to add my thoughts on being a Westerner and using public toilets in India. As expected, these come in a wide range of, erm, conditions. I give the pay toilets at Agra Fort 5 stars for being cleaner than most. For a mere 10 rupees, a woman shows you to the stall, demonstrates how to use the high/low flush buttons and (once business is finished) turns on the sink. In contrast, though not the worst I encountered, the Taj loo gets maybe 1-1/2 stars. Under the best of circumstances, queues in India are a joke, and he (she) who pushes hardest (or perhaps speaks the best Hindi), usually gets to the head of the line before foreigners. This is where the orderliness of the western world does not work in our favour. Relegated to the queue for “first available Western toilet” was not how I had hoped to spend my last hour at the Taj Mahal. Suffice to say, I see the value in both Indian squat toilets and the accompanying squirt nozzles, though I have yet to figure out proper operation of the latter. The trainer in me thinks there should be a discreet how-to video at immigration.