Agra, India – 14th March 2015
Today was the big day. The Taj Mahal! Need I say no more.
Setting our alarms at a painful 4:45am, we pulled ourselves out of a comfy bed and onto the dark streets of Agra. The streets were eerily quiet and peaceful for a change. The honking of horns and the bombardment of traffic were yet to start. Taking our usual mode of transport, the faultless tuk tuk, we arrived at the security gates of The Taj Mahal. Just as planned we were first in the queue. Brilliant!! Briefed by our experienced G Adventures guide, we only carried cameras so that we could breeze through security checks and make a dash for the infamous ‘Diana Bench’ before all the other tourists arrived.
It was 6:15am and our guide for the Taj Mahal (The Indian version of Neo from the Matrix, remember him from my previous blog entry) was yet to arrive. The gates were due to open at 6:30am and he had the tickets… We washed our apprehension down with a cup of steaming hot, highly sugared, Masala Chai and starred ominously into the blackened streets surrounding the Taj Mahal. Where was he? Had waking up at this ungodly hour been such a waste of time?
In the distance a large, broad figure confidently broke his way through the morning darkness. The light seemed to follow him as if he was Michael Jackson taking elegant tip toes steps in the ‘Smooth Criminal’ music video. It was a cool 6:25am, he’d just made it. Today he wore more of a western attire. With a light pink short sleeved jeans and stoned washed jeans he could have easily masqueraded with the punters down on the Bristol Harbourside. I could picture him sipping a freshly poured, ice cold glass of number 45 Bulmers cider as he people watched through his brand-less oversized aviator sunglasses. As if we were about to steal the beautiful Mona Lisa from the iconic Louvre, we relayed our SAS style plan again. We were ready for the Taj Mahal!
We showed our paper tickets, drifted through the basic security check, slipped our dusty flip flops off and made a dash to the main gate which was off to our right. Sprinting as if an Olympic 100m starting gun had just been fired into the sky we flew off the blocks towards the infamous monument hoping we would win the gold medal. As we were told to refrain from stopping at our first view of the Taj Mahal we carried on running towards the ‘Diana Bench’ to get our once in a lifetime photograph. As I write this blog it sounds like an easy order, “just keep running on your first sight of The Taj Mahal” he said. Let me tell you, as I looked up it felt as if I had just gazed into the cold, soulless eyes of the Greek mythology creature, Medusa. I felt my bodies sudden urge to stop and my feets temptation to become routed to the floor. I was turning to stone! I shook it off and returned to reality, my feet broke away from the floor and my heart pumped blood back into my muscles. I was running again!
We must have had a healthy 5 minutes in the epicentre of the Taj Mahal and its surrounding grounds before any other tourist disturbed our purified euphoria. Taking some time to construct the perfect picture I then decided to take 2 minutes to just sit on the ground and admire the beauty while my view was unspoilt. Goose pimples flowed through my body, the hairs on my neck stood up and I was over come by a strange sensation and emotion. I’m not going to sit here a blab on about how it was a spiritual revelation because it wasn’t. As I sat admiring this incredible sight I was more overwhelmed than anything. Not many people get this unique experience with such a sought after ‘thing to do’ before you die. Like a powerful ocean wave crashing through the bliss of a calm sea, the rest of the tourists broke the silence and our little Taj Mahal one on one bubble was over. Continually mesmerised by its beauty my mind focused in and out of what our guide was telling us. Facts and figures seemed a mere secondary interest in comparison to the visual information I was taking in. Built under Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign of the Mogul empire it took a total of 22 years to build The Taj Mahal and its accompanying grounds. Utilising the hands, skills and minds of around 20,000 people it is engineered with complete symmetry. The four pillars surrounding the dome are set at an angle away from the building so that in the event of an earthquake they fall away leaving the heart of the construction unscathed. This is some mean feat considering they had no machinery. History has it that Emperor Shah Jahan was in the process of designing and building a Black Taj Mahal. It was going to be erected on the opposite side of the Yamuna River so that he could lay at peace across from his deceased wife when he eventually passed away. His son, Aurangzeb, in-prisoned him before his plans could come to fruition thus saving the bankruptcy of the Mogul empire who had already been drained of money and resource during Shah Jahan’s reign. We left The Taj Mahal as it became heavily flooded with other tourists. I couldn’t help feel smug and proud of my unspoilt few minutes with her as I left the vicinity. Today was a great day to be in India. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”