Writing from: Varanasi. Nowhere near Mumbai.
The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called the Taj Mahal “A teardrop on the face of eternity” according to my trusty Lonely Planet. Which leaves me feeling that nothing I say can really better that. Still I’ll give it a go…
Taj morning and we’re up at an ungodly 5.30 to putter to the site of the Taj in a wobbly autorickshaw. I am vaguely distracted from my need to go back to bed by three things:
1. A small monkey sliding down a lamppost outside out hotel.
2. A monkey-terrified puppy walking backwards from a wall full of chattering long-tails just outside the Taj walls, whimpering in terror as he went.
3. The fact that on the other side of that wall is the Taj Mahal. Me and the Taj. A place I have wandered about in my head from many a hospital bed.
As with all great meetings it begins with a bag search. My two forbidden items? Not my swiss army knife or my collection of ninja stars. Nope. My beephones and a ball of yarn. They let me keep my half-knitted sock, but the extra ball of yarn was a no no. Odd in the extreme…
All that done and down a path you pass under a huge red stone arch, and through it and the morning mist you glimpse the Taj Mahal in all its glory.
Stepping out onto the first terrace for your first full sight of a building you have seen a million times on tv, the big screen, and numerous curry house menus, is one of those moments that stops your heart dead in your chest. It is unashamedly beautiful in a way that almost requires a cartoon jaw drop. Your soul can’t help but sigh.
The Taj Mahal (stand by for facts) was built for pure love (awwwww). Its creator, Emporer Shan Jatan, built it for his second wife when she died giving birth to their 14th child (14th?!?!) as a mausoleum for her. It stands like every newly hatched and perfect idea of love anyone has ever had. You could stand and gaze at it allllll day.
Inside the Taj (I have always wondered what goes on in there) is really just a small room with a high roof. It smells vaguely of feet (you have to remove your shoes to go in there), incense, and waves of reverence, and is lit only by the high windows above. In the centre of the room are two tombs (not the real tombs of the emporer and his wife, those are in the basement apparently) and a latticed wall, all inlaid with marble carving and semi-precious stones making up flowers and leaves that glimmer in the weak sunlight.
I know it is only a building but what a building it is.
Outside later on we had dinner at a grubby rooftop restaurant nearby. I knit my sock and watched the sun set over probably the most famous building in the world, standing beautiful in the mess of ugly cowpat-strewn streets and Indian chaos below. Fabulous.