Monday, 4 July 2011

Marathon - Day 8, Part 1

The day of our visit we woke at 4.30am in order to be ready in time to arrive at The Taj Mahal entrance for when it opened at 5.30am. The drive there was short through the tight cramped streets of Agra, which were, at that time of the morning, deserted.

We arrived at the visitor centre where we bought our tickets for 750 rupees each (£10.40) and we were each given a small paper bag that contained a bottle of water and shoe covers. The entrance to the Taj was a 4 minute journey on an electric float/bus that carried about 20 people at a time. It was a bit like being at Disney World in America where you get picked up from the car parks and taken to the theme parks in groups.

Once through the gates, after we were searched by security we headed down a long walkway with red sandstone buildings and walls flagging either side that were covered in groups of monkeys. At the end of the walkway, it opened up into a large courtyard, with grassy areas and a large sandstone and marble gate which was The Great Gate or Darwaza-i rauza and it was the main entrance to the gardens and the Taj Mahal.

Our guide Ghopal walking down the entrance walkway

The grass areas and surrounding walls.

The Great Gate (Darwaza-i rauza) 

The Taj Mahal mausoleum was commissioned by Shar Jahan and completed in 1648 who after being so distraught at the death of his third and favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal (during the birth of their 14th child) wanted to build her a beautiful resting place and show his everlasting love.

The main building is made of Makrana marble with calligraphy, floral and precious stone inlay work. It sits on a foundation of ebony wood that is essentially floating on a bed of water that is provided by a total of 68 wells that were drilled underneath it. This unique foundation acts as a shock resistant platform that can protect the building from earthquakes.

The four minarets that surround the building are all tilted slightly away from it, so if any of them fell, there would be no damage to the main building.

Five years after the Taj Mahal was completed in 1653, the rest of the surrounding buildings, gates, walls and gardens were completed. To the west of the Taj Mahal is a Mosque (Masjid) and opposite it on the east is another identical building the Mihman Khana that was mainly built for architectural balance and symmetry. It is not certain what this building was used for but it is rumoured to have been used as a guest house. There are also other mausoleums that were built for Shah Jahan’s other wives, and Mumtaz’s favourite servant. All these buildings are mainly constructed of red sandstone with details of white Makrana marble and black marble.

Everything that was built at the Taj Mahal site has a special relation to two very important numbers, 22 and 1653. The former being how many years it took to make and the latter, the year it was completed. For example, there are 22 steps that lead up to the Taj Mahal mausoleum, it took 22,000 workers to build it, the main gate has 22 domes on its roof, the whole construction cost 22 lakhs to build (2.2 million rupees) and it has 16 square garden’s (8 on each side) with 53 fountains. The planning of its construction must’ve been so precise in order to ensure that it took exactly 22 years to complete.

When we arrived at The Great Gate (Darwaza-i rauza), we were approached by some men who wanted to take our photographs as we explored the Taj Mahal and its gardens. I’m not too keen about getting my photo taken but I agreed that it was probably only a once in a life time experience, that I might as well enjoy it and get a nice memento of the occasion. We agreed a price with them and entered the gate into the gardens that led up to the Taj Mahal.

The Great Gate (Darwaza-i rauza) 

Close up.

My first view of the Taj Mahal brought a feeling of total awe. It really took my breath away and it appeared to be magically floating in the distance. The reflection of it in the water was spectacular. I couldn’t actually believe I was there, it didn’t seem real. The sky was turning a beautiful colour and the building seemed to glow a gorgeous orange shade as the sun was rising higher in the sky.
Inside the Gate.

The view to the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal and beautiful gardens.

The photographer took pictures of us all at various locations and luckily as it was so early, there weren’t that many people around so we were able to get some nice pictures of the us and the Taj with no one getting in the frame. There is a really famous picture of Diana the Princess of Wales sitting at the Taj Mahal on a particular bench and usually at peak times there is a queue to sit on it and recreate the picture but again as it was early, we didn’t have to wait at all.

Me and Tom on the 'Diana Bench'.

Mum and dad on the 'Diana Bench'.

After our photo shoot, we all walked down the garden towards the main mausoleum. You had to either take off your shoes or wear your shoe covers to go up onto the platform where it was. I chose, as it was early and the ground wasn’t too hot then to take off my shoes. I wanted to feel the marble floor underneath my feet.

There were about 6 steps that led up to the first level where the Mosque and Mihman Khana buildings were and the floor was mainly red sandstone. The Taj Mahal platform was then another 22 steps higher and everywhere you looked, there was beautiful white Makrana marble. The building was very large and the beauty and skill of its architecture and decoration was magnificent. Once again, it had carvings of Islamic scriptures on it that appeared to be the same size all the way up the building. This time they were made from white marble with black inlay.

The view up on the first level.

Under a minaret.

The entrance to the 22 steps.

The use of precious stones in the inlay work was absolutely stunning. I particularly liked the use of the ‘Firestone’ or Carnelian in the floral patterns. Some of the floral carving in the white marble were so detailed and they gave the illusion and felt like they were made from wax, it was a strange effect. There was also the use of geometric patterns such as zig zags that were used around the outside of the building.

Entrance to the mausoleum.

Floral marble carvings.

Zig zag inlay work

Floral inlay work.

The inside of the building was octagonal in shape with a high vaulted ceiling. In the middle of the room there was a really detailed marble carved screen that enclosed both the marble tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan. This particular piece of craftsmanship was so impressive because the marble was thick and appeared to be so delicately carved and large sections of it were all one piece. The floral inlay work and Islamic scriptures continued throughout the inside of the building also. Unfortunately though, you were not allowed to take pictures of the inside of the mausoleum.
Doorway to the mausoleum.

Once outside the mausoleum we walked all the way around it and took in the view of the River Yamuna to the rear of the building, which seemed quite eerie and misty at that time of the morning.
Minaret with the River Yamuna.

The River Yamuna

The edge of the Mihman Khana 

The Mosque. (The Mihman Khana is identical). 

Halfway up a minaret.

A minaret

We sat outside the building for some time and just took it all in. I could’ve spent hours there, I didn’t really want to leave but as we’d been there a while, the sun was getting higher in the sky, it was getting warmer and the crowds of people were getting bigger, we thought it was about time that we went.

I felt really sad when we were walking away from the Taj through the gardens and I made sure that I took one last long look before we walked out of the gate and round the corner.

A view from the gardens.

Mum and Ghopal.

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