Thursday, April 17, 2008

For the Love of a Woman

I found myself walking down a narrow, dusty road past armed guards and children hawking trinkets. A camel cart was parked to my right, and the camel eyed me suspiciously as he chewed and bared his teeth at me.

Getting there had been the result of a harrowing ride you can read about here.

But there I stood. I was a short line away from entering one of the most fabled places in the world – the Taj Mahal.

I remembered my first exposure to it in a Scholastic News article back in elementary school. I know that, at the time, I thought, “I’ll never see this.” This was one time I was happy to be wrong.

After a thorough frisking at the security checkpoint, I joined my friends inside the outer wall. Not wanting to rush ourselves, we took photos of the exquisite gatehouse. Constructed from red sandstone with marble and precious stone inlay, it is a sight in its own right. I thought of how many people from a multitude of different places had traveled there since the Taj Mahal was finished in 1653, and the number is unfathomable.

Unable to resist any longer, I headed toward the gate and caught my first glimpse of pristine white marble peeking through the arch, the thousands of precious stones inlaid into its surface only hinting at the detail from that distance.

I walked through the gate, and it was like I had entered another world. Built by the Emperor Shah Jahan for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is perfect in every way. The turquoise pool lined by trees and full of fountains acts as a permanent red carpet to the fruit of the work of architects representing Persian, Central Asian and Islamic influences.

The main monument, which houses the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, is flanked by tall minarets on each corner. It amazed me to learn that each side is identical. From a distance, the intricate detail above the main arches looked like fine lacework. As I moved closer, I saw that it was really inlaid precious stones brought from all over India and installed by skilled artisans.

Taking a circuit of the monument, I ran my fingers over the smooth marble and tried to imagine what the area must have looked like with thousands of the most skilled craftsmen in the world toiling on the monument a man created to honor the memory of his wife.

Once up on the upper platform, with protective booties securely over my shoes, I gazed across the river to where, had Shah Jahan had his way, a matching black monument would have stood. Intended to house the emperor after his death, construction was never started, as his son managed to thwart what he saw as wasting resources.

Shah Jahan now rests alongside his wife, inside the Taj Mahal itself. The interior of the mausoleum was breezy, as marble screens took the place of walls to allow air and light to circulate through the room. The ceiling stood impressively high, and I thought it was a wonder that it only took 22 years to construct the whole monument.

The tombs of Jahan and Mumtaz sit side-by-side, and Jahan’s tomb has his royal symbol inlaid in precious stones over his head.

Emerging from the tomb back into the garden area, I took the time to look at the mosque, the Masjid, which is on-site and still used on certain days.

Walking around the Taj Mahal again, I paid attention to how the sunlight played on the marble from different angles. I have heard that the best time to see the light’s effect is at dawn, but even in the afternoon the sight is mesmerizing.

As I left, I couldn’t help but wonder what type of a woman Mumtaz Mahal must have been. To inspire such devotion from her husband, she had to have been something special, and I wondered if she would really live up to the beauty of the building she spends eternity in.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Brandon,

I read the entire blog and found it to be highly entertaining! Great job!! I have only been to Mexico and Italy, and like you, found the plane rides, for the most part, to be rather uncomfortable. I am jealous of your upgrade though, as we were stuck in coach from JFK to Milan, had the delayed flights, sat on the tarmac for 3 hours in the plane, and had a heck of a time getting any sleep on the way over, missed our connecting flight, then had to stay awake for another 4 hours to catch the next flight to Naples. However, like you, I found the people to be mostly like us, but actually more hospitable, in most cases, and always anxious to try to communicate in whatever language we were all able, or the universal hand gesture ;-) You obviously have a joy for travel and a passion for writing. I highly encourage you to keep up with both. And, I look forward to reading your further adventures!

Happy Traveling,

Sandy Szarka (Pam's friend)