By Vasumathi Sridharan
Each day I would wake and chant "Taj Taj Taj Taj" just to make the day move faster. Almost everyone I know had been to the Taj and has the customary snap on the marble bench. The bench, apparently, is called 'celebrity bench'. I would look at them enviously, longing to have one taken as well. I could not wait to get mine done and show it off.
Women are said to be better at colors than men and this was proved yet again. I told the husband that a maroon attire would look awesome against the background of the Taj. He thought for a while and said, "Hmm.. maroon or red?"
I rolled my eyes and went back to my planning, down to the last detail. Hair band, matching clothes for me and the husband, shoes and nail paint. Now that all the planning was done, I could not wait to see it in real life.
We left Delhi at 6.30AM to beat the traffic. Our breakfast stop was at a dhaba that served amazing aalu and paneer parathas. After a 3-hour drive, we reached Sikandra, a dome-like structure where the Mughal emperor Akbar rests. The architecture has four entrances, all of them symmetrical. There are verses from the Holy Quran inscribed in calligraphy on the walls of the monument. We paid our respects and moved on to the Taj, which was less than 15 km away.
The parking lot is a good 1.5 km away from the monument. The minute we got out we were swarmed by guides, camel owners and electric auto drivers to use their services. The guides ask for Rs 500 or more. You can bargain for Rs 200-Rs 250. There are electric autos or tuk-tuks that ferry the tourists till the monument. The Taj is closed on Fridays and only the mosque is open during the time of prayer. Tourists are asked to remove their shoes before entering the monument. It was blazing hot and we were really scared to walk on the hot marble floor. Our guide gave us a tip and asked us to buy shoe-covers. You can buy these near the ticket counter.
All this done, I could not wait to go inside. When I actually did, it blew me away. I saw the Taj in all its shiny white glory. At first glance, I blinked. Blinked again, just to make sure it was still there. It was. I went down on my knees, not taking my eyes off it. Just to ensure that it was all not a dream. Far from being a dream, this was real, for us to touch, feel, admire, and be stumped by its beauty. You can't help but admire Shah Jahan for having loved his wife Mumtaz Mahal as much, to build a monument like this for her remains. And it goes without saying that you can't help feeling a wee little envious of Mumtaz either.
More than 20,000 people worked for 22 years to complete this architectural wonder. Some very interesting optical illusions can be seen. For example, a pillar that has just three sides from a distance appears to have eight. Some intricate carvings on the marble, beautiful calligraphy, yellow marble, jasper and jade patterns embedded on the marble slabs are well worth the visit. The red stones apparently glow in the dark and hence make full moon night viewing a lovely experience.
Once the initial awe set in we clicked pictures and some more. I took umbrage at being told "Madam, tilt your head 45 degrees left" by our wedding photographer. For the Taj, I swear I would have even tilted my head 270 degrees!
In so much of white, I found so many colours that will live with me for long.
Vasumathi, who is based in Bangalore, describes herself as an "enthu cutlet who writes, sings, paints and cooks while following a strict pattern of randomness."