Hands down the most beautiful building in the world with its crisp white marble and divine reflections. And probably the most photographed too! With beauty beyond description and a design that masters symmetry, axis and reflection. Peter Whitehead walks us through a building that transcends all others.
The Taj Mahal in Agra is the most beautiful building in the world. I imagine it’s on many a bucket list! I’ve seen images in travel brochures and documentaries; I’ve read about it and always wondered would I ever get to visit. Standing at the threshold, I wonder if all the effort (and the hype) is worth it. Will I be wowed by its beauty or will it be another building that doesn’t live up to its expectations?
You’re probably not surprised to hear me say that I can assure you it’s spine-chillingly awesome to see the Taj Mahal for the first time, and the second and the third time too for that matter. A white elephant it may be from a distance, up close and personal – its truly heavenly.
My wife Hilary and I first visited in 2009. We waited in the chilly pre-dawn light outside its massive portals before being allowed in through the forecourt to the arched gateway that is directly aligned with the monument. It was cold, misty and damp. The hair on my neck was standing on end.
Here is where we waited… the dividing wall of the formal charbagh garden in front of the Taj Mahal in the morning mist.
We couldn’t see the Taj until that magical moment when we walked through the last arch and there it was… floating on mist!
She looked ethereal in the morning mist. I had to pinch Hillary that we’d made it, we were here and gazing at this astonishing building as the sun’s first rays illuminated it.
Yes, there are crowds, but who wouldn’t want to see the Taj at sunrise. Somehow the ebb and flow of people adds a human dimension. I defy anyone not to be moved at that first glimpse. I soaked it all in, took far too many photographs and watched the effect of sunlight on the marble. In a trance-like state I wandered slowly down through the gardens. The sky was bluer that blue and that marble just glowed like a full moon. I loved how the colourful saris lit up against the simple marble background. Every glance saturated with colour.
The charbagh, which means four gardens, lies between the entrance and the mausoleum. It’s laid out in classical Mughal style with raised walkways, waterways, rills and ponds. The gardens here are simple with characteristic plantings of shrubs and annuals. Everyone wants that famous ‘Diana’ photo moment on a raised platform surrounded by water ponds – a gorgeous spot to see the entire complex; it’s the centre of the charbagh.
And then the mausoleum itself – such intricate carvings, many of them floral, with precious and semi-precious stones set into the marble. There are Arabic verses fringing the four huge archways into the mausoleum. It isn’t until you are really close, that you realise the sheer size of the monument. It’s absolutely massive.
Two gloriously happy hours went by, we absorbed every detail, its ambience, marvelled at its grandeur and thanked our lucky star for shining so brightly. As the sunlight strengthens, so do the colours of the cream marble, as the morning mist evaporates.
Then there is a whole other kettle of fish – sunset, which we see later that day from across the Yamuna River. What a legacy to the world! I bet Shah Jehan never envisaged that the monument he built for his beloved wife Mumtaz would become one of the true wonders of the world.
This is just one of the million things I love about India. Here are a few more:
- Sipping hot sweet milky masala chai
- Spice markets
- Fallen frangipani blooms carpeting the ground
- The sunshine
- The ordered chaos
- Fresh fruit, mango, coconut
- Super green fresh cardamom
- Lotus flowers
- Magenta and turquoise
- Marigolds and dahlia flowers
Check out our tour itinerary here
Peter Whitehead – Tour Leader
Thanks to Peter & Hilary Whitehead and Shutterstock for the fantastic photos.