Taj Mahal – a symbol of eternal love
I was embarking on a trip to Incredible India alone, which was not quite the usual destination for the solo female traveler, that the gentleman who happened to be seated next to me in the flight from KLIA could not hide his astonishment, “Your company is sending you to India alone?” While I appreciated his understanding of the possible challenges lying ahead, I could only muster a simple “Yes” topping it up with my most infectious grin to calm his nerves, probably not as much as to calm mine. Anyway, my then Swedish MNC employer was known for gender equality, that the crown will be inherited by the firstborn regardless of gender, therefore we have Crown Princess Victoria as the heir apparent, despite her having a younger brother.
After completing my week-long work assignment in Gurgaon where most of the high tech companies are based, equivalent to the Cyberjaya of Malaysia, I had a day off before flying back on a night flight at the weekend. As soon as I touched down, I had started hunting down a guided tour to take me to Agra, where Taj Mahal is located. There were the big buses with really affordable tour fees costing probably RM50 or less, on second thoughts I dismissed those options because lunch is not provided, and the target clients sounded more for locals, I might have trouble trying to feed myself. In the end, I settled for a luxurious tour meant for foreigners and paying about RM500 for the tour inclusive of a drive with a Toyota Innova, a dedicated English-speaking tour guide, and buffet lunch at a 4-star hotel, for a group of 5 tourists only.
On the day of my tour, I woke up before dawn to travel from my hotel in Gurgaon to Delhi, where Marriott hotel was the meeting point. I had a French and 3 Americans as my tour mates. The journey from Delhi to Agra was more than 200km, which took a 3-hour drive. That would be a distance farther than driving from KL to Melaka.
Although everyone’s ultimate goal was Taj Mahal which is ranked as one of the seven wonders in the modern world, the Agra tour consisted of 3 worthy destinations, firstly the Akbar’s Tomb, secondly Agra Fort where we could already catch a glimpse of Taj Mahal from afar, and then finally the obvious destination, Taj Mahal.
Akbar’s Tomb was built between 1605 and 1613 while the Mughal Emporer Akbar was still alive, located in a place called Sikandara. Akbar is the grandfather of Emporer Shah Jahan who built Taj Mahal. He designed the gardens himself, while his son Emporer Jahingir (then Prince Salim) laid the foundation and oversaw the constructions, which is said to be a Tartary tradition.
The construction of Agra Fort started in 1565 by Emporer Akbar, and lasted a few generations, and Emporer Shah Jahan was still working on it until 1573. It used to be the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty until 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi. Despite being named a fort, we would better understand it as a palace I suppose.
After the tomb and Agra Fort, we stopped over for buffet lunch in a Hilton hotel. But everyone was getting impatient by this point, so we hurried on.
Finally we found ourselves at the gate and ticket booth, and our hearts started pounding.
This is the part where you would want to move in slow motion, both in your legs and your heart, because it consists of the most breathtaking moments and most unforgettable memories in your life, ie: moving from the gate of Taj Mahal across the landscape and heading towards Taj Mahal. Just savior every step and every snap you take while you hear yourself ooh-ing and aah-ing along with everyone else.
The four pillars surrounding the main building of Taj Mahal are said to be installed slightly slanted, and tilting away from the main building so that in the event of natural calamities such as an earthquake, they will topple away from the main building and minimize the risk of damaging the mausoleum. This is truly a magnificent architecture with meticulous design.
The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (reign 1628-1658) grandson of Akbar, The Great, in the memory of his queen Arjumand Bano Begum, entitled ‘Mumtaz Mahal’. She was born in 1593 and was married to Prince Khurram (Shah Jahan) in 1612. She died in 1631 on the birth of her 14th child, at Burhanpur where she was temporarily buried. Six months later, her body was transferred to Agra, and finally enshrined in the crypt of the main tomb. Shah Jahan who died in 1666 was also buried here.
The Taj Mosque (1631-48) is built on a raised platform on the western side of the main, white marble tomb, and its exact replicat is there on its easter side, in perfect symmetry. The eastern building is called ‘Jamat-Khanah’ or ‘Mehman-Khanah’. It is noteworthy that, more than fulfilling the need of a house of prayer and a house of assembly, these identical buildings flank the main tomb effectively and help to present the white marble monument in an aesthetic setting, and thus do they form an integral part of the Taj design.
This was back in 2006 when I accomplished a solo tour to Taj Mahal, at a time when 3G mobile networks were still being built. 14 years later, with the easy access of mobile internet and smart phones, travelling would be made much easier. You can do it too.