November 25, 2010
The Taj Mahal is spectacular to see in person. I actually went twice because I wanted to make sure I had the right opportunity to photograph it. I went once at sunset and once at sunrise and the difference in the crowd was amazing. I went first at sunset and was bombarded by people everywhere. Most of the tourists visiting were Indians not foreigners and because I was by myself I guess I seemed very approachable and many people came up to me to ask to take their picture with me and to ask me about America. They didn’t speak much English, but it was fun to try and talk with them. I particularly loved a group of older women from Rajasthan who were all wearing bright red and were making a pilgrimage to the mausoleum. It was a very funny experience, and not one I was expecting at one of the touristiest spots on the earth! The next morning at sunrise (around 6:30am) the grounds were very empty and I was able to walk around and really experience more of the Taj. However, by 8am it was very crowded again like the night before.
The building itself is just stunning. It seems pretty small when you look at it from far away, but as you get closer it becomes bigger and bigger until it is a massive piece of marble looming in front of you. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in childbirth. The building is now considered by many to be the ultimate symbol of eternal love. Shah Jahan planned to build a second mausoleum across the river, but his son imprisoned him before he could complete it. The Taj is identical on all four sides and it is interesting to walk around it and see the way the marble reacts to the light hitting it differently.
While viewing the Taj Mahal in all of its opulent glory I could not stop thinking of the extreme polarity of wealth in modern day India and seeing this building shows that it has always been that way. The 1.2 billion dollar house in Mumbai might as well stand next to the Taj Mahal because they both seem to show the same thing- the sheer unadulterated spending of the rich and the utter lack of care for the poor. While beggars are not allowed inside the Taj Mahal the poverty is still evident in the many starving dogs that you can see lying around the grounds.
Overall the experience is beautiful and a definite must see when visiting India. I recommend getting up early and going as soon as it opens at sunrise for a chance to have a more intimate moment with a beautiful place with the added bonus of having beautiful light for taking pictures and beating the midday heat.