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The Taj Mahal

Written on: Sunday January 25th, 2009

Today was the day.  I was going to see one of the Wonders of the World!  And as written in my last entry, I had ample time to reflect on my experiences in India before heading to Agra.  The time to ponder was further increased as my train ran two and a half hours late; apparently cloudy weather prevents trains from sticking to their schedules in India (or so I was told).  No matter, we left eventually and I had time to read as we slowly approached the most famous city in Uttar Pradesh.

Looking back, I did not choose the timing of my visit wisely.  Not only was it Sunday, but tomorrow would be Republic Day.  This combination resulted in an excessive amount of people visiting the Taj today, most of whom were Indians taking advantage of the long weekend.  

After stepping off the train and zigzagging my way through the maze of people trying to sell me things, I found a rickshaw driver who seemed genuinely fair and helpful.  I hired him for the day and we set off for Taj Ganj.  He brought me to the southern entrance and showed me where to meet him when I was finished exploring.  All I could do now was wait in line with the hundreds of others still trying to get onto the grounds this afternoon.  I finally made it to the entrance. But just before going though, I found myself plucked out of line by one of the security guards who took a keen interest in my backpack.  He searched it and proceeded to remove a rather strange collection of items that he deemed inappropriate to be brought into the area: ipod, flashlight, whistle, playing cards, batteries and ear plugs were all removed from my pack and placed into a secure area to be picked up upon existing the grounds.  OK, may I enter now?  Sure.

And what a sight it was!  It was spectacular!  It was majestic!  It was amazing that they were able to build this colossus back in the 1600's.  As I walked across the grounds, every new vantage point seemed better than the last.  Even with the incredibly large number of people moving about, it was one of those experiences that, when you looked up and saw the shimmering marble reflecting the fading afternoon sun, stopped you in your tracks sent a chill down your spine.  This place made me happy.

A bit about the Taj Mahal: it was built as a memorial for Mumtaz Mahal, who was the second wife of then Emperor Saha Jahan.  Mumtaz had died while giving birth to their fourteenth child, in the year 1631.  Construction began that very year, and the structure was completed in 1653.  The mausoleum was designated as a world heritage site in 1983.  It was estimated that 20,000 people worked to complete the Taj, while certainly countless more have journeyed here to witness and appreciate the fruits of their labor.

I wandered around the grounds, trying to take in as much as possible in such a short amount of time.  There was even a cache on site, which I easily found and proudly signed.  Reluctantly, I bade farewell to the Taj, reclaimed my posessions and set off for dinner.  My driver took me to a restaurant owned by a relative of his, where I dined atop a roof that allowed one final vantage point of the town.  I watched curious monkeys climbing along the rooftops, looking for mischief.  I witnessed tourists scurrying along the streets below.  I saw locals harvesting the bits of withered grass that still clung to life in their backyards, presumably using it as feed for the nearby goats.  And I saw, for the final time on this journey, the glorious Taj Majal in the distance picking up the colors of the setting sun.