Taj Mahal

Crown of the Mogul empire

The Taj Mahal in India is not a temple as often thought, but a funerary monument. The Taj Mahal is seen as the ultimate declaration of love.

The Indian emperor Shah Jahan had it built for his principal wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631 during childbirth. The Taj Mahal is located in the city of Agra in India.

Agra is the heart of the Mogul empire. It has countless monuments, including the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. This mausoleum is completely made out of marble.

Main building of the Taj Mahal

The main building of the Taj Mahal is 58 metres high and 56 metres wide. It rests on a 10,000 m² marble platform. The tomb is elaborately decorated with verses from the Koran and stylised floral motifs, such as that of the lotus.

The blazing white marble is alternated in various places with black marble and semi-precious stones. In addition, geometric figures have been cut into the marble. The Taj Mahal is the absolute highlight of Agra. The exterior is well known. But the inside, the real mausoleum, is usually underexposed.

Mehtab Bagh: Taj Mahal from the river side

A boat tour at the Taj Mahal.

The gardens of Mehtab Bagh are exactly opposite the Taj Mahal, across the Yemuna River. The view of the monument is the biggest attraction. Also appealing is the tranquility, as it is a lot less busy here.

You can walk to the riverbank in peace while daily life continues around you. It is an ideal spot to take some pictures that are just a little different from the standard snapshots. You can also take a boat tour.

Watch the Taj Mahal shine in the full moon

In the Second World War, the Taj Mahal was covered with a cloth during the night. The reason for this was really simple. In the moonlight, the marble would shine brightly, which would make the building a perfect point of reference for enemy warplanes.

The moon shines on the Taj Mahal.

You can see this yourself during a full moon. The doors of the Taj Mahal will be open and you will have the opportunity to look, be it from a distance. Once your eyes have adjusted to the dark, you will see why it was covered.

Visits are only possible on the days around full moon, so check with your hotel when this is, or plan your journey in such a way that you can experience this.

History of the Taj Mahal

The Indian emperor Shah Jahan met Arjumand Bano Began, a beautiful jewellery vendor, at a Bazar. She was not intimidated by him and demanded an extremely high price for a piece of jewellery. But Jahan was smitten. He married the woman and named her Mumtaz Mahal, Pearl of the Palace.

A different view of Taj Mahal.

They lived happily until Mumtaz died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Shah Jahan mourned for two years and according to stories his mind slowly deteriorated. In an ultimate attempt to display his love for her, he decided to build a mausoleum in her honour. Approximately 20,000 labourers worked for over two decades under extremely harsh conditions on the structure that we now know as the Taj Mahal.

The marble was brought in by elephants from various distant mines. According to one of the legends Shah had the fingers of the main architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri chopped off, so he would never be able to construct a building as beautiful as this, ever again.

Legend also says Shah Jahan considered this tribute not to be sufficient. It is believed that the emperor intended to have an identical mausoleum erected across the Yamuna river. Made entirely out of black marble.

However, there is no evidence to support this theory, as the Shah was removed by his son Aurangzeb. From the dungeons of the famous Fort of Agra, he could see the tomb of his beloved. After his death, his remains were interred in the Taj.

Many legends

Even after the death of its founder, the Taj Mahal continued to stir up legendary tales. There is a persistent rumor that the British rulers wanted to take down the building in 1830, for the simple reason that the marble would generate a lot of money. English Lord William Bentinck, governor of India at the time, had already given the order, but could not arrange the financial part of the undertaking. Every year, millions of tourists are grateful that he couldn’t.

The beautiful interior of the Taj Mahal.

UNESCO World Heritage List

Besides the Taj Mahal, Agra has many more monuments, but these pale in comparison to this famous construction. Many tourists only visit the Taj Mahal and the Fort of Agra, but Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra, Chini Ka Rauza and Fatehpur Sikri are most certainly worth a visit.

Marble cancer

The Taj Mahal suffers from marble cancer. Scientists use this term for corroding the marble. The cause is pollution from factories and the heavy traffic in the area. In the city there is a constant emission of sulfur dioxide, while the humidity present does not help either.

It makes the white marble turn yellow. Several measures have already been taken. For example, it is prohibited to establish a factory within a radius of 10 kilometers from the Taj.

However, hardly any implementation of this law occurs, so neither does compliance. In addition, it has been forbidden for the public to touch the mosaics for several years. But the biggest problem, the smog, has not yet been solved. And it is clearly visible.

The Taj Mahal can often no longer be seen from the Agra Fort. A thick fog hides the building, which is only 2.5 kilometers away.

The yellow colour of marble cancer.

Restoration of the Taj Mahal

The Taj, as the temple is often called, was first restored in 1908. The marble stones were cleaned and the surrounding canals provided with water again. The garden took on a more English character, which was later destroyed when India became independent.

Meanwhile, a new restoration project is underway. Incidentally, this goes not without heated discussions among scholars. The methods used are sometimes quite unorthodox, such as using toothbrushes to make the marble white again. On the other hand, it works.

Chipmunks are now the residents of the Taj Mahal. ©Corno van den Berg

Visiting Taj Mahal

The best season for a trip to Agra is winter (December until February). Temperatures are pleasant at this time of year (between 5 and 22 degrees Celsius) and there will be lots of sun.

In summers it can get up to 46 degrees Celsius. Besides, the wet season (from June to October) is also humid and muggy. However, after a rain shower, there will be very little smog and the views will be very clear. That is extraordinary in this city. It is a shame, though, because you may not get to see the sun reflected on the marble.

The sunrise at Taj Mahal

The gentle light of the early morning sun gives the Taj Mahal just the right colour. This is why thousands of people will gather by the entrance before sunrise. Later in the day, the light will often be too harsh, and high temperatures (and the smog) don’t do a visit justice either.

At the entrances of Fort Agra and the Taj Mahal, vendors will try to sell you their goods (picture books, postcards, statuettes, etc.). Sometimes they will do so in a friendly manner, sometimes they’re downright pushy. The monkeys at the fort can also be obtrusive. However, they don’t have anything to sell, they are simply looking for food.

Take your time for a proper visit to Agra. Only then will you be able to experience what the ‘heart of the Mogul empire’ really was. Many tourists come to take a look at the Taj Mahal but forget about all the other monumental structures in Agra.

Location of Taj Mahal

Agra is 204 kilometers (or 125 miles) south of the Indian capital of New Delhi. There are flights to New Delhi from all over the world, every day. From the capital, there are daily trains and buses that go to Agra.