A trip to India is certainly incomplete without a trip to the Taj Mahal. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit this Wonder of the World during my first week in India and on the day that the monsoon began. Although many monuments fail to live up to their reputations, this was not the case for the Taj Mahal. It is one of the most awe-inspiring and beautiful structures that I have ever seen. The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The construction began around 1632 and was completed around 1653.

Emperor Shah Jahan himself described the Taj in these words:

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator’s glory.

The ticket for international visitors was 750 rupees (about $15). To fully enjoy the tour, we also hired a guide for 500 rupees (about $10) and it was well worth it. He was excellent. A few fun facts about the Taj:

The entire area/building is perfectly symmetrical. The only exception, our tour guide pointed out, is inside, where the tomb of the emperor is located to the left of his wife. The emperor had planned to have his own mausoleum, but his son decided against the expense and buried his father in the Taj Mahal. Since the entire building had been built under the premise of one tomb, the sanctuary is the only place in which its perfect symmetry is marred.

As another fun fact, in the picture above (where I am completely drenched from the monsoon rains) you can detect that the four minarets are leaning out slightly. This was to ensure that if they fell, they would fall outwardly and not destroy the main building.

The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.” As the writing increases in height, the size of the inlay changes so as to always appear consistent from the perspective of the ground. The writing is created using inlaid black marble.

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble. Our guide also pointed out that one flower took hundreds of individually cut and inlaid stones. The craftsmanship was just breathtaking.

It is truly an amazing place. Since we had to remove our shoes before entering, I had the added pleasure of walking across the smooth fitted stones barefoot in the rain. What an experience!

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