A simple security check and we were inside the complex; like the Qutub Minar this isn’t just a single structure – it’s a complex and there’s more than the main attraction alone. The West gate led us down a pathway surrounded by greenery; on the left side is a huge gate called the ‘Darwaza-i-rauza’ or the great gate which is made of red bricks. It’s not a conventional gate but more like a pass through building with a huge entrance – like a grand watch tower that would be used for defending a palace.
From a distance, looking through this gate we saw parts of the white marble of the main monument; as we got closer to this gate we saw more of it and standing directly under the arch of the gate we could see the whole Taj Mahal.
I didn’t have much expectations prior to the visit since we’ve all heard plenty about the Taj Mahal and it makes you wonder whether it would really live up to the hype. This trip for me was meant to help give an affirmative reply to anyone who asked me if I had ever visited the Taj; and very often it is people staying outside India who ask that question. Hype or not, in the morning daylight at 6:40am it looked amazing. There’s something about symmetric structures that our eye finds pleasing and this entire complex including the main structure was all about symmetricity. No matter how many photos we took I knew that they wouldn’t look like what we were seeing – quite a sight. We took our proof group photo with the 7 of us (the other 5 had hopefully started from the railway lounge).
Inside the complex, there’s a manmade waterway that goes straight up to the front of the Taj; the waterway is flanked by large gardens consisting of a row of perfectly trimmed small trees, grass and larger trees beyond. People were taking all sorts of snaps and selfies with the Taj in the background – holding the Taj between their fingers, holding it on their palm, bearing it on their head etc. The main Taj Mahal structure in white marble is called the mausoleum (defined as a large stately tomb) and it resides on a slightly raised platform. The mausoleum has 4 minarets (towers) on the 4 corners of the platform – the dome of the Taj and the 4 towers are what come to mind when we think of the Taj. It’s a bit strange but in this popular tourist destination, at least at this hour of the morning we found a lot of places where it was just the 7 of us – most people are busy focused on the main structure but there are other areas around it that you can cover and avoid the crowd. Below the platform, the Taj is flanked by a couple of buildings which resemble mosques – you can walk around the Taj including the backside (which is a lengthy stretch) where it overlooks the river Yamuna. Just take your time and enjoy all the sights – man-made and natural.
A small staircase leads to the main white marble platform that holds the Taj; tickets are checked since tickets for the mausoleum are separate (and more costly than the admission ticket for the complex). The guards also check if you have the thin cloth cover for your footwear – I guess they don’t want the Taj Mahal to get stained. Unfortunately the shoe cover isn’t available inside the complex and I never bought it from the vendor near our luggage holding area. The guards said that I could hold my shoes in hand and go up in socks. Being early morning you could feel the chill – and the white marble flooring can send the cold running through your body; even through my thick socks i could feel it!
You get to view the huge dome from inside the mausoleum; you also get to see the interiors of the mausoleum – guards will ask you to keep moving along since there’s a constant inflow of visitors. Window like openings on the wall ensured that there was enough daylight inside. Photography is not allowed inside the mausoleum. Our photographer Aaron and his assistant Arpit took plenty of snaps outside the mausoleum as the orange hue gradually dawned on the day – the red circle appeared abruptly in the sky but the whole setting perfect. Looking at some of the snaps you’d wonder if we shot them during sunset or sunrise!
Returning to the gardens after spending 30 minutes near the mausoleum, we were surprised that the garden was suddenly flooded with people. It was 7:20am and there were still a lot of foreigners and I was happy that we had made it early. When we stepped down from the platform, our 2nd group came up. Sankar and I thought that we could perhaps make a quick trip to the Agra Fort and then go to the bus stand. We raced out but discovered from the auto guys that it was impossible considering that our bus was at 9:30am. Problem was our bus tickets were booked and there was no other alternative. So after snacking on some food being sold by a guy on a cycle outside the Taj Mahal we headed to the bus terminus. As usual we crammed ourselves into autos – and as usual the Delhiite ended up being the one who had to sit on someone else! Before leaving the city we had to find the famous Petha.
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