The Beauty that is the Taj Mahal

DSC_0930The Taj Mahal is considered one of the greatest wonders of the world.  And is certainly one of the best symbols of love ever built by mankind.

It was built by the Muslim Emperor in the 17th century in memory of his favorite wife and queen at today’s cost of over $1,000,000,000 (that’s Billion with a B).  It was his plan to build an equally impressive Taj for himself on the opposite bank of the river.  But in black marble instead of white.

Can you just imagine if his plan had come to fruition?

Unfortunately (or fortunately – you decide) his son forced the King to come to his senses.  Overthrowing and locking the old King into his rooms in the palace tends to have that effect.

So, the King spent the last 8 years of his life locked up in a room with a view of the grave of his love.  And when the old King died, he was buried next to his wife.  Thus forever ruining the symmetry of the mausoleum.  But I’ll get to that in a moment.

The Taj Mahal was on my bucket list because I thought it was an impressive monument that was both beautiful and built a long time ago.  I’m always amazed at the skill and knowledge of architects and workers who build without the benefit of calculators, backhoes, cranes or electric drills.

And I kept this opinion right up to when I walked through the gates.

YDSC_0888es, it’s a gorgeous building made of white, non-porous marble that glimmers in the sun and seems to reflect the light of the sky.  Its towers are tall and built to curve slightly outwards so that they look perfectly straight from a distance.  And it is exactly the same on all sides.

The gardens and reflecting pools are perfectly symmetrical as are all of the surrounding outbuildings.  A detail you can see even with the throngs of tourists fighting for a perfect photo location

DSC_1057But then you start to move closer to the actual mausoleum.  Some of the details start to come into focus.  And you realize the impressive craftsmanship and artistry that went into the mausoleum.

The first thing you notice is that it is not a pure white building.  Instead, the entire building is covered in inlays, carvings, paint and stucco.

For instance, all of the doorframes are decorated with inlays of passages from the Qur’an.  Each letter is painstakingly carved out of the white marble.  Then the marble is inlaid with black stones that have been carved to fit perfectly within the marble in one continuous block.  They architects even had the know-with-all to makes the letters larger as they go higher so that it appears to be one uniform size.

Taj1Then you notice that the entire building is covered in tiny inlays of precious and semi-precious stones in an ancient art known as a lapidary.

Some flowers that are about an inch in size may contain up to 50 tiny pieces each shaped in painstaking detail using a hand-powered grinding wheel.  And the glue that holds the little pieces into place is a closely guarded secret.

Several people related to us a visit with Hilary Clinton who asked for the recipe of the glue.  And, apparently, the craftsmen would give up the recipe if Coca-cola released their recipe for coke!

DSC_1035We went back to the Taj at sunrise the next morning.  Because, well, we heard that the soft light made the mausoleum look like it was glowing.  But alas, the clouds decided to not participate in the light show.  But it was cool to see the Taj with a lot fewer people.

This was the first time in our trip that we managed to fit in some shopping.  I tried on a lovely green necklace that was a paltry $100,000.  Alas, I couldn’t quite justify the cost.

But I made up for it at our second stop at an inlay marble specialist.

Here we got to witness the artisans grinding the semi-precious stones into little shapes.

DSC_0978The work is so hard on their fingers that often these men lose their entire fingerprint.  Good for a life of crime, bad for, well, real life.

We purchased a platter that has a small circle in the middle. It’s about ½ inch wide.  And it had 25 different pieces.  Some pieces are no wider than a thread.

It’s an amazing craft.  And now you can understand why the Taj Mahal is so impressive.  Because it is covered in this type of inlay work.  Done by hand.

I wonder what it is like to have something that you built stand for hundreds of years.

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