If the Taj Mahal isn’t the most awe-inspiring building on the planet, then I simply don’t know what is.
On occasion, I’ve visited a site that was purported to be one of “the world’s greatest” and arrived only to be, I dare say, a touch disappointed. It’s typically not that the site itself wasn’t magnificent, it’s that I’d constructed such an unreal (and perhaps unattainable) image of what the site might be.
When I mix my overactive imagination with a healthy dose of the oversaturated Instagram images I’ve viewed over the years, sometimes that’s a recipe for an underwhelming moment. I’ll be frank, I was worried this would be the case with the Taj Mahal – that its reputation was impossibly large, and I’d be that unappreciative tourist who didn’t quite understand why everyone else was gushing.
I’m not a fan of overused clichés, but there’s no other way to say this: when I first saw the Taj Mahal, it quite literally took my breath away. I’m not sure I was capable of blinking.
Not long ago, I set site on the Taj Mahal during my Intrepid Delhi to Kathmandu tour, and I want to tell you why it’s worth every ounce of praise and – to put it bluntly – something you need to see in your lifetime, if you’re able.
The story of the Taj Mahal
The history and conception of the Taj Mahal is like something out of a fairytale. It would be a best-selling fictional romance novel if it wasn’t certifiable historical fact.
The Taj Mahal is essentially a physical manifestation of a Mughal Emperor’s undying love. Shah Jahan, arguably the most famous emperor of the Mughal empire, built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. In a sense, Shah Jahan accomplished his goal in spades, as it’s safe to say that history will have a hard time ever forgetting about Mumtaz Mahal, and their love.
What I appreciated most in learning about the Taj Mahal is that it cost roughly 30 million rupees to complete during its 20 or so years of construction (1632-1653), which would be just under a billion dollars American in today’s world. Just think about that for a second, a ruler spent about a billion dollars on one building to house the tomb of a woman whom he loved above all else. That fact, it’s just astonishing to me.
It’s also worth noting that the emperor employed artisans from across the nation to build this marvelous structure. Numbers vary, but historical records suggest that tens of thousands of individuals were beckoned to work on this masterpiece, whether they were masons, calligraphers, architects or anything in between. As far as Indo-Islamic architecture is concerned, there’s simply nothing else that compares to the Taj Mahal.
I’ve got to be honest here, just being on the grounds is enough in some regard, but you do probably want to ensure you have a bit of a methodology in terms of how to approach it. Thankfully, this part of your Intrepid tour is quite flexible in providing a few hours to take it all in. Intrepid does very much understand that the Taj Mahal is a highlight, and thus they provide you a bit of breathing room to ensure you leave feeling you’ve gotten all the photos and memories you want.
Also, your tour leader will be viewing the site with you, and I know that my tour leader, Chime, was an incredible source of knowledge in terms of contextualizing the site. So, don’t hesitate to ask questions. I can distinctly recall asking questions leading up the Taj Mahal, during our visit, and after. Far from being annoyed, Chime seemed genuinely enthused to answer all my questions (and, as you can imagine, there were no shortage of them)!
You’ll likely be entering from the Eastern Gate, which is where foreign nationals enter. Naturally, if you’re with a company like Intrepid, your admission will be all taken care of, so head right on in. You’ll go through security, then towards the Forecourt and Main Gate. This is where things get interesting.
As you walk into the Main Gate, you’ll get your first view of the Taj Mahal in all its glory. Take a second here. In this modern era of rushed moments and instant gratification, I urge you just to envelop yourself in the experience – the first time you’ll see the Taj Mahal in person. Even as a writer, I have enough humility to suggest that it’s an indescribable moment.
I’ve visited nearly 80 countries at this point, and I can’t pinpoint a moment where I’ve been more in awe of a structure. It’s not just symmetrical, it’s perfection.
Walking through the Main Gate, and witnessing the gardens and waterbeds before you, with the Taj Mahal in the distance, is something special. I’d strongly recommend putting your phone and camera away for a moment. Sometimes, as tourists, it’s worth thinking about being there, not how we can gather photo evidence to prove it.
Through the main gate, directly facing the Taj Mahal is where you’ll get that quintessential photo once you’re ready and your jaw is returned to its normal position. From here, I’d start to slowly walk towards the building. The closer you get, the more entrancing it becomes.
There are thousands of angles from which to appreciate the Taj Mahal and, in some respect, the structure looks like it was meant to be admired from any which way. The Taj Mahal was so carefully and painstakingly devised, it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case.
You’ll notice that the Taj is accompanied by a building on each side – on the left you’ll find the mosque, and on the right you’ll find the mehmaan khana (or drawing room), each resplendent in their own right. You’ll be able to enter the mausoleum with the stairs on your left, which is where it’s worth appreciating what the Taj Mahal actually is – one of history’s great acts of love and commemoration.
What makes the Taj Mahal special?
While we can’t all identify with having a swift billion dollars to shell out to show our deepest affections, certainly we can all identify with wanting to show your love for someone or something in a timeless fashion. The story of the Taj Mahal itself would be enough to woo the most hardened of hearts, but the fact that the building is nothing short of an architectural masterpiece doesn’t hurt.
There is nothing else like the Taj Mahal, and there won’t ever be anything else like it for the rest of time. That’s just a fact. These are the sights that are truly worth visiting, the sights that you couldn’t possibly imagine unless you were standing in that very spot in that very place.
Travelling to places like the Taj Mahal is worth it because we ensure that we create moments which stay with us for a lifetime. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast, but I’ll never forget the pearl white facade of the mausoleum, and my stroll through the lavish grounds.
I’m thankful that, in a sense, I’ve still yet to catch my breath.
Ready to see this incredible sight for yourself? Visit the Taj Mahal on one of Intrepid’s India trips.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Chris Mitchell x2, Intrepid Travel, Chris Mitchell, Intrepid Travel x2, Chris Mitchell.)