Most places we live in or travel to have different sides to them, like an old coin, one side shiny, the other worn and grimy. But never during all my adventures has this been more evident than in the city of Agra.
A small town in the state of Uttah Pradesh, Agra is home to several historic and significant monuments, namely India’s first capital at Fatephur Sikri, and the imposing fort that looms large on the banks of the Yamuna River. But, and I don’t think this is being rude to those two places…nobody cares!! People come all the way to Agra to see only one thing; The Taj Mahal, and it’s not difficult to see why. She is, quite simply, magnificent.
Along with anthropology and art history, I studied architecture at university, and the Taj came up often in seminars and discussions about architectural wonders of the world. I was lucky enough to have visited a dozen years ago, and chose to write an essay about it for a university assignment. I wrote that, in my opinion, ‘The Taj is mankind’s greatest and most perfect example of design and mastery of architecture; quite literally, a masterpiece.” In feedback I was severely reprimanded for that unscholarly opinion, as my professor asked me as to what authority I could decide what was and what wasn’t ‘perfect.’ Well, Professor. Margit Thofner, yes you at the U.E.A, I wrote it on my authority. I’ve again visited the Taj Mahal, and now more than ever do I feel justified in my first impressions. Besides, I absolutely trust my own eyes more than any text book or theory, scholarly or not!
The Taj, and I refer to Her as She (because nothing male could be as beautiful) is incomparably glorious. The land around the city is flat and baked, and She rises monumentally yet so delicate from the dust bowl beyond her walls, oozing splendor from every inch of shining marble and every sparkling inlaid jewel. She is at once powerful and humble, and much, if the history books are accurate, like the Princess Mumtaz Mahal interred within. That the Taj is a mausoleum for the princess speaks volumes for the love Her creator Shah Jahan had for his tragic bride, and more still for his artistic sensibilities and passion to build a lasting legacy to the empress’ beauty. And make no mistake, this tomb is an unprecedented work of art. Built on a vast square platform, the spacious courtyard’s four minarets reach skyward like the graceful slender arms of an exotic princess, while the central dome glimmers spectacularly like mother of pearl under a cerulean sky. And from any and every angle she mesmerizes, her smooth sharp lines juxtaposed in perfect harmony with the curving arches and niches.
Even, and maybe especially, from afar her beauty is enhanced, set like a dazzling diamond in the wide and faded ring of surrounding poverty.Wilted peasant farmers scratch a living across the filthy Yamuna River, as a million faded dreams flow by in its lazy passage east, oblivious as they pass and never to return. The town’s hawkers wait in Her shadows to cash in with disrespectful gimmicks, magnets and snow domes and curled up postcards, eking out a living as the Shah and his love turn in their ornate graves.
The worn and grimy side of the coin…
And the shiny side…
Rarely is it my photographs do justice to some of the amazing things I’ve seen on my travels, and my words even less. But I hope this vignette portrays at least a little of the love I have for the Her, and though it was more than a dozen years since my first visit, She is more beautiful and perfect than ever.
If you’ve ever witnessed this oh so special example of human artistic endeavor with your own wide eyes, then you’ll understand what I’m talking about. If not, take a look at these
few loads of images and just try and tell me I’m wrong about Her.
Goodbye my love, and we will meet again.
What is your favorite man-made wonder of the world? Can it really compare to the Taj Mahal? Please share your favorites in the comments below, and if I haven’t seen them myself, I’ll add them to the list.