Day one of our tour saw us catch a train out of Dehli at 4 am to reach Agra just after sunrise, the warmth of the sun and the bustle of the locals morning routine hit me as soon as I stepped on to the platform. It was not what I thought the birthplace of one of the seven wonders of the world would look like. Greeted by children begging for money and men taking photos of us. Monkey’s jumped from wall to wall, and tuk tuk’s lined the streets. The smell was indescribable; rubbish and cows had a big presence in Agra- it was an overload for all five of the senses, to say the least.
We were whisked to our hotel in a convoy of tuk tuk’s before making our way to Agra Fort, just a couple of miles northwest of the Taj Mahal. JD, our guide, told us that the view from the fort was the perfect way to see the Taj Mahal in all its glory, and to better understand the story, before stepping behind the walls later at sundown.
With the Taj Mahal overshadowing, it’s often forgotten that Agra is home to one of the largest Mughal forts in India. A place that has been witness to war, romance and power, here, the history of the place is heavy.
Once home to Jahan, the fifth Mughal Emperor of India (1592-1666), the man behind the construction of the Taj in 1632 as a memorial to his first wife Mumtaz Mahal, who tragically died while giving birth to their 14th child.
Jahan was, later, due to ill health deemed incompetent to rule, by his son Aurangzeb. Which resulted in him spending his final years in a room overlooking the tomb of his greatest love. This very room was where I caught my first glimpse of the Taj. Standing proudly in the Indian sun, it was breathtaking yet there was a loneliness to it as it stood tall on the dried out riverbed.
Before entering through the guarded gates, we had to endure a walk through market stalls, cafes thrusting menu’s in our faces, people asking for selfies before being frisked of all food items (chewing gum included). Only then were we allowed to enter.
Seeing the Taj Mahal was a bit of a surreal moment for me, it was one of those pinch-me moments- Never did I envisage myself ever standing in front of the Taj Mahal. It was impressive and breathtakingly gorgeous in the golden hour. The marble walls bathed in the sun, making them appear golden and the enormity of it was impalpable. It’s hard to believe that this took only 22 years to build, commissioned by the best architects the Emperor could find- which is evident from the intricately painted detailing to the beautifully curved dome, it has a definite feeling of femininity and opulence.
The symmetry of the place was so satisfying it was hard not to take a million photos. The central pool reflects the main building, the earthy landscaping representing paradise are divided into quadrants and either side stand twin red sandstone buildings giving the mausoleum complex a balanced harmony.
For a country boasting a population of more than 1.3 billion, I thought I would find it hard to feel safe and at ease, and I certainly didn’t think India would be a peaceful place to visit, but somehow in the grounds of the Taj the chaos of outside felt so far away, it was completely serene. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the noise was limited to a mixture of different languages being spoken and the clicking of cameras going off. The grounds were so open and vast, it was the first time I felt like I had room and my own personal space back since landing in India.
This peacefulness and serenity felt in the grounds were completely diminished when I actually entered the Taj. It was crowded, as people poured into the claustrophobic space where the replica tomb stood. The air was heavy and filled with the smell of sweat. There were a group of Indian men taking photos (which is prohibited) and a security man whistling and ranting in Indian at them. The experience I had inside the tomb did not match up to the story surrounding it, yet, I feel going inside is not what you visit the Taj for.
It really is hard not to be charmed by the Taj Mahal, the story behind it is mesmerising. It’s a monument to love and one that can never be replicated. It’s one of a kind and something I feel everyone should put on the top of their bucket lists to visit.
Hello, I’m Samantha. A twenty-two-year-old fashion communication and promotion graduate. An avid shopper, lover of interiors and good coffee addict.