A monument to the human soul – and an emperor’s love

The experienced, ever-slightly-so-jaded traveller might assume there’s no way the Taj Mahal can possibly live up to its reputation. Its domes and spires are so familiar, its renown as the world’s most beautiful building is so widespread, that the real sight must inevitably be a letdown, you might think.

Then you see it.

Love Captured in Marble

The world is thick with monuments to heroism, to war, to political ideals and religious belief. The Taj Mahal is a monument to love. When the Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth in 1631, her grief-stricken husband, the emperor Shah Jahan, commissioned a mausoleum complex in her honor.

Amid the gardens and pavilions stands the magnificent white marble mausoleum itself: the two-tiered arched base supporting the famous dome, framed by four minarets. Every exterior surface is covered in intricate decoration in the Muslim style. Floral and abstract elements are joined by Arabic calligraphy spelling out verses from the Qu’ran wishing peace to the soul of the departed Mumtaz Mahal.

The interior is, if anything, even more dazzling. Inlays of semi-precious gemstones form vines and fruits. Light plays across carved marble flowers in intricate patterns through cut-marble screens. Ornate Persian pishtaq archways soar as if to Heaven itself. The Shah’s love and grief are manifest in every detail. This raw emotion incarnate inspired perhaps the greatest modern Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, to call the Taj Mahal “a teardrop on the cheek of eternity.”

The Taj Mahal Experience

Keeping a few key tips in mind can help you keep the hassle of visiting the Taj to a minimum. The less you’re worried about crowds and weather, the more you can enjoy the sheer beauty of the world’s greatest architectural jewel.

The best time to visit is around midday, Monday through Thursday, during the months of April or May. Weekends are more crowded, and the Taj is closed on Fridays. Summers can be brutally hot, while during winter, fog often clouds the view. And if you wait until, say, 10 or 11 AM to arrive, you’ll avoid the early-morning crush.

A knowledgeable guide can really help you get the most out of your visit. Ask at your hotel to recommend a good one. Don’t bring any food or drinks (you’ll be given a bottle of water with your ticket), your camera tripod, or any tobacco products or lighters.The Taj Mahal

Finally, for that once-in-a-lifetime view of the Taj at sunrise or sunset (and the photos to remember it by), head across the Yamuna river. You’ll have the view almost to yourself, and there’s no admission charge.

Centuries after its completion, familiar through millions of snapshots, the Taj Mahal retains every bit of its power to move, to awe, to inspire. Shah Jahan may have built it to honor his late wife, but the gift belongs to all humanity.

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