Visiting the Taj Mahal has always been part of my bucket list, not only because it is considered one of the Seven World Wonders, but also because it has the most romantic origin story of any widely known landmark.
I think we’ve all heard the story at some point in our lives, but I really rediscovered its beauty, when I was there.
In 1607 Prince Khurram, later known as Shah Jahan saw the Persian Princess Arjumand Banu Begum for the first time and fell in love with her immediately. Five years later they got married and he gave her the title Mumtaz Mahal, which means “Jewel of the Palace”. In 1631 she died while giving birth to their 14th child, but made him promise to never marry again and build the richest palace as a sign of their infinite love. He honoured both wishes (although he did have other wives alongside her, which he had married before) and started the construction of the Taj Mahal in the city of Agra, which is where they met.
The whole property is about more than ‘just’ the Taj Mahal actually. Shah Jahan was part of the Mughal Empire who were Muslims, which is why the first thing that was being built was a mosque for all the workers to have a place to pray. On the opposite site of the Taj, there is an exact replica of the mosque for symmetry purposes.
After the mosque was completed, construction of the Taj Mahal could begin. It took an estimated 20000 workers 22 years to complete the masterpiece. The marble had been brought in from Rajasthan in India and the precious and semi-precious stones that are set had been brought from different places all over of the world.
To be able to place these stones inside the marble, they had to use tools made from diamond and the work was so tedious that over the years workers would lose fingers over it. Which is probably how the rumour that Shah Jahan had their hands cut off after completion of the Taj “so that they could never build anything like it again” started.
Behind the big white palace you can also see the foundations of another building, which was meant to be the black Taj Mahal, the mausoleum meant for Shah Jahan himself, but he never got to finish it, which is why he is buried next to Mumtaz Mahal. His grave, next to her centerpiece is the only asymmetrical entity on the entire property.
Islamic tradition forbids the decoration of graves, which is why the two colourful graves you find inside the Taj are actually replica! The real ones are in a plain crypt right underneath.
The mosque is still working today, which is why you can’t visit the Taj Mahal on a Friday. As it is a religious site, modest clothing should be worn all year long.
We left Delhi at 4am in the morning to reach Agra at about 8am. That early in the morning you won’t see as many tourists and the weather is not too hot yet either.
When we got off the taxi, we got greeted by one of the many guides that are standing around the area, who took it upon himself to guide us for the day. Even though we were a little bit apprehensive initially, we were glad we had him in the end, as he not only shared his knowledge about the history of the place, but also knew where to take the best pictures and did not shun away from shouting at people to move out of the background or frames of the ones he took of us!
We paid him 500 Indian Rupees (INR) each and 1300 INR entry to the Taj Mahal. Our transport from Delhi to Agra and back cost us 12000 INR in total.
If you ever find yourself in Delhi or North India, definitely try and make time for Agra and the Taj Mahal.