The Taj Mahal is the most famous monument to a man’s love for a woman. It was built as a mausoleum for Mumtuz Mahal, the wife of the Emperor, and stands as a symbol of her husband’s grief at her passing.
The Taj Mahal combines Persian, Indian and Turkish architecture. The exterior is elaborately decorated, but in keeping with Muslim law, none of the art represents people. Instead ornate patterns decorate the walls. Herringbone inlays and geometric designs predominate, and floor tiles are laid in tessellating patterns. At each corner of the Taj Mahal’s grounds, a minaret rises towards the heavens.
The interior of the Taj Mahal is even more elaborate; here jewels and semi-precious stones are often used to create designs. Light filters into the chamber through intricately-carved screens, making temporary patterns of brightness and shade.
The main chamber holds two cenotaphs—empty tombs—beautifully decorated. Mumtuz Mahal’s cenotaph is enthroned in the center of the chamber; it’s festooned with jewels and bears verses praising her beauty and virtue. The cenotaph of her husband, the Shah, sits to the side and is inscribed with the words, “He traveled from this world to the banquet-hall of Eternity on the night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year 1076 Hijri.”
The real tombs of the Shah and his wife lie downstairs, immediately below their cenotaphs. Muslim law dictates that tombs should be plain and undecorated, and the bodies lie in simpler state and face Mecca.
Several buildings surround the Taj Mahal. Some of them contain the remains of Shah Jahan’s other wives, and one is the tomb of Mumtuz Mahal’s favorite servant. In addition, two identical buildings sit centered on the western and eastern sides of the grounds. The eastern building is a mosque, still used for religious services. Its western twin was probably used as a guest house.
The entire complex is set in the midst of a beautiful garden, graced by fountains and broad pathways of trees. The centerpiece is a long pool which reflects the image of the Taj Mahal.
Between 2 and 4 million people visit the Taj Mahal each year. The monument is open on weekdays, except for Fridays, the Muslim holy day.
Shah Jahan was the powerful Mughal Emperor. He loved his third wife, and he was stricken with grief when she died delivering their 14th child in 1631. He immediately began plans to build a memorial in her honor, and construction on the Taj Mahal began the following year.
The main structure—the mausoleum—was completed in 1648, and it took another five years to finish the gardens and the buildings that surrounded the mausoleum.
Shah Jahan was eventually overthrown by his son, and was incarcerated until his death. His son had his body interred in the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal wasn’t well-maintained after his death, and was damaged during British colonial rule. British soldiers defaced it, scrawling graffiti on its gates and prying jewels from the walls. Eventually the British government began restoration work, which was completed in 1908.
How To Get There:
The most direct route is to fly to New Delhi and then take another flight into Agra. The Taj Mahal lies about five miles outside town, and buses and trains go to the site regularly. You can rent a car if you want the freedom to sight-see on a wider scale. Cycle-rickshaws are a romantic option, but they’ll take a little longer.
Where to Stay:
The Oberoi Amavilas Hotel is an oasis of beauty and charm. The décor is elegant, and the view of the Taj Mahal will take your breath away. At $400-500 per night, you pay a premium price—but in return you receive quality service and amenities. Reviews of the hotel are almost unanimous: It’s well worth the price.
The Lauries Hotel was built at the height of British colonial rule, and an atmosphere of the past fills the place. The hotel offers huge rooms and plenty of colonial ambience, but you won’t find a television in your room. You won’t find many other guests, either; tourists haven’t yet discovered this gem, where a room costs under $50 a night!