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The Taj Mahal MAG
It is 4:30 in the afternoon, and the blistering sun threatens to melt the entire town of Agra. Mid-summer is definitely not the ideal time to visit this part of India. Nonetheless, here I am, with my uncle and cousins, setting out to admire India's most famous landmark: the Taj Mahal. I had seen the Taj many years ago on another family trip, but at five, I was less than intrigued; in fact, I believe my exact words were, “I'm bored!” However, this trip will be different.
We are almost at the Taj Mahal when we reach the point after which no cars are allowed. I believe this rule is an attempt to protect the sparkling white marble of the monument from contamination; however, there is still much air pollution from factories and overcrowding. When we get out of our car, we are greeted by several boys, who attempt to sell us postcards or persuade us to ride the remaining distance in their horse-drawn carts. Stray dogs linger near our feet, hoping for a bit of food. A few feet away, a cow tied to a tree complacently chews her cud. As with much of India, dust is ubiquitous, covering the ground, buildings, and even the people.
After some haggling between my uncle and the driver, we decide to take a motorized rickshaw up to the Taj. This is a three-wheeled vehicle that resembles a cross between a scooter and a car. It is steered using handlebars but has an outer covering like an automobile. I have always enjoyed riding in these bizarre yet charming vehicles.
As we speed down the narrow dirt road, my eyes are fixated on the sights. Although I have been to India many times to visit family, I am always fascinated by the constant hustle and bustle. Even in the relatively small town of Agra, the road is lined with stalls selling everything from fruit and cold drinks to souvenirs and disposable cameras. Children run and play on the side of the road, immune to the stifling heat. Motorcycles whiz past us, and I spot several more cows. I receive stares from many of the passers-by, but I am used to that. As my uncle explained to me, people are only curious because I am a foreigner; furthermore, staring is not considered rude in India.
The walls surrounding the Taj Mahal are fast approaching, and soon our rickshaw comes to a halt. We step out and purchase our tickets: three Indians, one foreigner. My ticket costs 15 times theirs, but it still converts to less than $14. This is a small price for the opportunity to witness one of the world's most magnificent architectural marvels.
As we step through the archway of the entrance to the Taj, I catch my first glimpse of the monument. I am stunned by its size and presence. The Taj Mahal looks beautiful in pictures, but standing a hundred feet from it is breathtaking.
“Beautiful, isn't it?” my cousin Zubeen asks. I do not feel that any adjective could do it justice, so I simply nod. We make our way down the path to the monument, and I am unable to take my eyes from it. Several photographers offer to take my picture with the Taj in the background, but I politely refuse. A photograph would undermine the magnificence of this structure.
Suddenly, we realize that my other cousin, Astad, has disappeared. We anxiously scan the crowd and eventually spot him near the entrance holding up his camera and squinting in the sunlight.
“Oh no, he's got his camera out! This could take a while,” Zubeen exclaims.
“Let's keep going. He'll catch up,” my uncle suggests. So we continue.
When we reach the raised platform upon which the Taj Mahal stands, we are asked to remove our shoes, which is a sign of respect. Many Indians remove their shoes when entering a temple or another's home. Even though the sun is beginning to set, the marble scalds our bare feet, and we wonder how unbearable it must have been earlier.
Zubeen, the history buff, is explaining the story of the Taj Mahal. It was built by Shah Jahan in the 1600s as a tomb for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and it took 12 years to complete. Every detail of the structure was meticulously planned, and it is perfectly symmetrical.
We finally reach the entrance of the tomb, and my cousin explains that the intricate calligraphy bordering the massive archway conveys excerpts from the Quran. The domes and minarets that crown the structure are prime examples of Islamic architecture from the time it was built. The walls are adorned with inlay in the shape of flowers and other designs, and it is said that 35 different precious stones were used to create these.
As we enter the Taj Mahal, we are pushed and shoved by the massive throng of sightseers. My cousin grabs my arm since I am not used to navigating such large crowds. We pour into the inner chamber, admiring the detailed craftsmanship. The tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife are side by side, and a hushed reverence falls over the crowd as we reach them. Afterwards, we slowly make our way back out into the sunlight and spend several minutes admiring the building from close up while Astad snaps hundreds of pictures. When it is time to leave, we amble toward the exit and retrieve our shoes.
This experience was surreal for me; I find it difficult to believe that I actually set foot in the Taj Mahal. As we reach the last archway, I turn and pause for a final look at this masterpiece. The setting sun casts an enchanting glow on the exquisite marble, and I am flooded with a sense of blissful serenity.