It was a hot summer day in August when I boarded a Pakistan International Airlines direct flight from the city of Lahore in Pakistan to New Delhi, India, to quench my thirst to see one of the most beautiful architectural masterpieces in the world, the magnificent “Taj Mahal”.
My three-day Indian visit by staying at New Delhi YMCA Tourist Hostel gave me sufficient time to explore the capital city, both the Old and New Delhi and its top sights – the Red Fort, the Parliament, Qutab Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, the Mahatma Gandhi shrine, Connaught Place, and the Jantar Mantar Observatory.
From Delhi I took a train at the New Delhi railway station and traveled about two hours to reach the walled city of Agra that lies approximately 204 kms. to the south of Delhi. Upon exiting the train station I used the horse-driven tonga rickshaw (no diesel or petrol vehicle is allowed to ply in the Taj Mahal area to conserve the beauty of the great monument) and finally found myself in front of the Taj Mahal.
“Taj Mahal” means “Crown of Buildings”. Rising above the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra Cantonment district, Taj Mahal is a monumental tomb, an ivory white marble mausoleum, built in the 1600s by an Indian Mughal emperor named Shah Jahan in honour of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess, to commemorate their eighteen years of marriage and her death in childbirth with their fourteenth child. It was to her memory that the Taj Mahal was built.
Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1630 and completed in 1653 under the guidance of a board of architects led by the Court architect of the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahori, an Indian architect of Persian descent. Aside from the best masons, craftsmen, sculptors and calligraphers from other areas of the continent like Persia, Europe and the Ottoman Empire, more than 20,000 artisans worked about 23 years to complete the exquisite monument. About 1,000 elephants were employed that transferred the heavy construction materials from one place to another, materials that were brought from different corners of the world such as the Punjab, Rajasthan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, China, Tibet, and Arabia.
How much did it cost to build the Taj Mahal? It was estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, approximately 52.8 billion rupees today (US$827 million).
The Taj Mahal site has five main structures – the Darwaza (main gateway), the Bageecha (garden), the Masjid (mosque), the Naqqar Khana (rest house), and the Rauza (mausoleum) where the tomb is located. Mumtaz Mahal white marble casket sits dead centre inside the tomb and Shah Jahan’s lies to the side. The landmark is topped by five rounded marble domes and at each corner stands a slender tower, or minaret. The walls of the building are white marble adorned with precious stones and with carvings like lace. Different verses of the Quran are written everywhere as you can see while exploring the Taj Mahal complex.
A great work of art, the Taj Mahal has been listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet best known for being the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 with his book Gitanjali Song Offering, called the Taj Mahal “a drop of tear on the cheek of history”. And Mark Twain said, “The world is split into two parts, those that have seen Taj Mahal and those who have not”. And I had!
Taj Mahal has been called “a poem in stone” and a moon-white dream.