How come a globe trotter like you haven’t seen Taj Mahal so far? Queried my friends and relatives when I said we were going to Delhi and Agra, with an express purpose of viewing the monument built to express Emperor Shah Jahan’s eternal love for his favorite queen, Mumtaz Mahal. I vaguely remember my visit to Delhi with my parents as a child when the industrial fair was on somewhere in early fifties. All that is etched in my memory was a dip in the ganges after visiting Roorkhee while my uncle was working in the Roorkhee university. I might have been washed away in the flowing waters when my father accidentally let go my hand .Thanks to my mother who had the presence of mind to pull me back with the force of a zombie!
A drive through the narrow roads of Agra leading to the Taj with its chaotic traffic is enough to put off even an intrepid traveler like me and dampen the enthusiasm of someone much younger. For a moment I regretted my decision to make it to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. I asked the driver of our cab if there was any alternate route we could have taken but he said this was the only approach and we were lucky to have been spared the peak hour ‘mayhem.’ ‘It’s better you people have your lunch before going to see Taj Mahal’, he suggested and stopped at an Udupi restaurant and rang up the guide attached to the tour operator to accompany us. We had the option of reaching the entrance which was a considerable distance either on foot /on camel /motorized rickshaw / a four wheeler resembling a coach. Since the third one was readily available we took it by paying rs.10/ per head. Although the sight of long queues for men and women appeared formidable and the scorching sun added to our discomfort, we were determined not to draw back . An elderly photographer appeared from nowhere and wished to know if were interested in being photographed in front of the TajMahal. I said he could take a picture or two and he let out a guffaw saying, ‘Madam, if you people were young I would have suggested you take a minimum of 20 pictures but I shall take atleast 10 or 12 and give you an album along with the photos. My charges are rs.50/ for each.’
At first sight from a distance, I felt Taj Mahal looked like a picture post card, a beautiful monument in marble intricately carved. You climb on to the basement and follow the rest of the tourists, you find it has three other sides. Visitors are not allowed to enter the precincts where the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal are situated, the former one is higher than that of the latter but we could have a glimpse of them from close quarters. My heart missed a beat whenever I noticed some visitors switched on their pencil torch lights or cigarette lighters and were placing them against the intricate carvings/gaps, perhaps out of curiosity or plain inquisitiveness! I felt the milling crowds could have been more disciplined and not treated this monument replete with history as they did any building of brick and mortar.
I returned with a feeling that one visit to the Taj is certainly not enough!
N Meera Raghavendra Rao