Everyone has seen the canonical photos of the Taj Mahal, all beautiful, but none of them really prepare you for the experience of visiting the place yourself. The Taj is, quite simply, stunningly beautiful, exquisitely crafted, and a marvel of engineering and art, nearly 400 years old. It is made entirely of white marble, exquisitely carved and inlaid with semi-precious stones. All of the colors and design work you can see (up close) are inlay, not paint. Even the arabic letters conveying quotes from the Koran are inlaid stone. Read on!
The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who also built the Red Fort and Jama Masjid in Delhi, among other things, built the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died in childbirth, delivering their 14th child (!) in 18 years of marriage.
Construction lasted 22 years, ending in 1653, including the famous centerpiece – the white marble tomb with four minarets – and numerous outbuildings and extensive gardens. To the left (west) is a mosque, and to the right (east) is a symmetric building, which serves no purpose other than to visually balance the presence of the mosque. Behind you (south) is a vast entry courtyard, itself with four gates. Its grand north gate brings you into the presence of the white Taj and its gardens; the other three gates are where visitors arrive. Each of these structures is beautiful in their own right, made of red sandstone, marble, and inlaid semi-precious stones.
We visited at 7am, hoping to catch some early-morning sunlight, but the day was cloudy and we only caught occasional glimpses of the sun. The fountains had been emptied for cleaning, so no opportunities for nice reflection-pool shots today.
It’s an impressive feat of architecture, engineering, and art. For example, the minarets each lean slightly outward, purposefully, so that in an earthquake they would fall outward rather than crashing in upon the main building.
Wikipedia notes that “The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials during the construction. The translucent white marble was brought from Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.” It further estimates that the cost of construction, extrapolated to today’s currency, to be in the trillions of dollars.
See more photos. In some photos you might notice a little scaffolding to the left of the main dome; it is an ongoing challenge to scrub the marble to remove the darkening effects of pollution.
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