You always think you’re prepared for something but then it turns out, when you’re face to face with it, you’re really not. That’s how it was with the Taj Mahal. I’ve seen it in postcards and on National Geographic specials. I’ve done my fair share of research but the sheer size of this palace just didn’t come through in any of the images I saw.
I visited last fall, on a week-long tour through India. The country itself was stunning but this excursion, set near the end of the week, would turn out to be the highlight of the experience for many of us in the group.
As we entered the grounds, we started to comprehend the scale and regality of this place. An extensive garden, complete with a enormous water pools streteched the distance between us and the Taj Mahal. Before we headed any further, our guide encouraged us to take our time and enjoy the view. Of course, we all took this opportunity to pose for photos with the palace in the background.
As we walked toward the building, our guide told us some of its history. The entire building was erected over 17 years and it took 20,000 craftsmen to create it. The Mughal emporer, Shah Jahan built it as a monument to his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
From afar, the base of the building looked quite small but as we neared, we could see that it actually stood about 30 feet high! At the front entrance, our guide paid a small sum to an attendant to watch our shoes, as they’re not permitted inside the building. There were large crowds everywhere, inside and out in the grounds of the Taj Mahal. I was glad to see that we weren’t the only ones who were entirely awe-struck by all of the gorgeous white marble and delicate caligraphy that spanned the surface of the exterior.
It’s hard to say which is more impressive and beautiful – the inside or the outside of the Taj Mahal! As we made our way inside through the crowds, we could see that, surprisingly, while the exterior is smooth and round, the interior is octagonal and has extremely high walls. I couldn’t help but notice that no one there spoke in a regular voice; we all felt very hushed by this awing experience.
The marble screens over the exterior windows let in plenty of light, but kept the inside nice and cool and shady. There was an ornate marble screen that bordered the monuments, and our guide had us look closely at the intricate detail work. An inner chanber contained the bodies of the emporer and his wife. We stayed there for a few moments, contemplating their lives and this place, and then headed back outside, gathered our shoes, and walked around the grounds some more.
Our group took its time walking around the grounds, circling around the building. On either side of the Taj Mahal, framing it, were red sandstone buildings, and behind the palace was a river. I wished that we could have spent more time there and as we passed through the courtyard to leave, I knew that I’d have to return to India again one day, if only just to spend more time contemplating on the grounds of the Taj Mahal.