Starring the Eternal Splendor and Love Story of Taj Mahal | Agra, India

Breathing fog out of my mouth, we stride the streets embraced by the darkness of the winter tail-end dawn. I feel my body shivering not because of the cold weather, but of my overflowing enthusiasm knowing only the thick walls separate me before I finally lay eyes on the Taj Mahal. It has been a long journey for me to get here – both literally and figuratively.

a man walks in front of Taj Mahal

Ever since we hopped inside an airport cab at Kolkata and seen with my own eyes the wild street activities of our first destination in India, my mind was set in gleeful anticipation of seeing this famous landmark, which the late great Rabindranath Tagore refers to as “a teardrop on the cheek of time”.

the iconic image of Taj Mahal

Agra, where the Taj is located is penciled on the first leaf of our 25-day journey across India and our third stop after Kolkata and Varanasi – two cities that has gifted me with loads of wonderful experience and a wealth of knowledge, aside from slowly familiarizing me with the local life in India. Despite the sensory overload brought upon by a myriad of religious activities we witnessed at the Ghats along the holy Ganges River at Varanasi, I am still betting on Taj Mahal to top that experience.

A 12-hour sleeper train journey later, we arrived at Agra the previous day under mask of the afternoon dust and the normal chaos of train stations dotting the length of India’s inner belly. Figuratively, my journey to Taj Mahal began when I first read a book about famous landmarks in my school's library way back in grade school. Since then, I became consumed by the idea that I should visit it someday.

view of the taj mahal

As the sun slowly rises from the horizon and sunlight began to sweep our surroundings, we're introduced to a flood of humanity all waiting in line at the gates. Slowly, as the queue starts to move I feel my heart beating faster. In a matter of seconds later, I catch my first glimpse of the grand structure and in one synchronized motion I pump my fist and drop my jaw in sheer awe.

Long gone are the camel trains that transported the glistening marbles used to construct the Taj Mahal. It is now replaced by mechanical trains that run surprisingly efficient. The men and women in bright sari clothing have remained along with the long lasting aura of love still enveloping the magical journey through time of Taj Mahal. Playing the integral part behind the story of this 17th century mausoleum was Emperor Shah Jahan, of the Mughal Dynasty. Disconsolate at the death of his favorite wife; Mumtaz Mahal after giving birth to their 14th child in 1631, the Shah envisioned the monument he ordered built in the same year, to be his posthumous gift and never-ending symbol of love for his departed wife.

It took more than 20 years before the Taj Mahal rose with unmatched splendor the world had ever seen on the banks of the Yamuna River in 1654. Artists, marble sculptures and cutters from all over India were summoned along with more than 20,000 workers and toiled for the whole duration to decorate the interiors of the Taj Mahal with impressive carvings and calligraphy that matches its combination of Indian, Mughal, Islamic and Persian architecture to perfection.  

As the crowd made its way to the Taj, I and my friend Aileen stood behind dozens of visitors parallel to the reflecting pool giving us a full view of the Taj with the four towering minarets impeccably framing the main tomb. We took our sweet time slowly pacing our steps towards the grand building housing the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

Like dining on an expensive slab of steak, I was chewing the experience little by little. Taking photographs from afar and gazing to appreciate every detail of the Taj’s exterior. As I crept closer, the main marble dome and the ornamental spires spreading from the limits of the base walls appear more spectacular – instantly I feel my architecture-junky-self experiencing optical orgasm. Despite the hordes of us tourists crawling all over the massive compound, the sheer size of the Taj Mahal dwarfs my existence and I imagined myself being just one of the thousands of workers who labored to build this extraordinary landmark.

Inside, visitors can only see the replica tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal in a plain interior consisting of marble walls and nary of unnecessary aesthetics, as their actual sarcophagi are housed in the basement where it is locked from view of anyone.

Aileen Siroy in Taj Mahal

The bare interiors appear anti-climactic in stark contrast from the visceral feast adorning the exterior, where one can appreciate the several decorative elements believed to be the finest representation of Mughal architecture. Scanning the exterior walls, one can see a variety of abstract forms of vegetation motifs, calligraphy of Persian poems and other intricately designed marble tiles.

Marky Ramone Go in Taj Mahal

As the cool wind descends from the Yamuna River and gleams of sunlight illuminates the Taj Mahal, an otherworldly photographic reflection is created making the scene look more surreal than what I am already feeling at that instant. I mouth the word “wow” for the last time as I sit still slowly trailing all my thoughts behind. Realizing the high of the moment, I rejoice at the thought that we are still at the first part of our journey to India and what better way to spend the passing of time while I stare at the Taj Mahal. Not soon after, I feel a smile dominating my face as I revel at the eternal splendor and the love shared by Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal both in life and in death. 

*This article appeared in the April issue of Cruising: Going Places Travel Magazine*