Taj Mahal Impressions
My Taj Mahal Experience
Impressions Of The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal may be the most photographed building in the world. Every picture, from every angle, in every lighting, has already been taken, and I've seen many of them since I was little boy, yet when I walked through that North Gate for the first time and saw it with my own eyes it was as new and inspiring as if I'd never seen a picture of it before.
It's big. It doesn't seem that big because of the perfect proportions and layout, but when you get up close and see, for example, people at the bottom of the towers and realize they're really tall, it was surprising to me.
And the decorations that look like paintings- aren't. They're all semi-precious stone inlays. Miles of them. And a lot of intricate carved marble pieces, many of which were hewn from single slabs about six feet long and laid in the walls, or used as lattice style fencing around the tombs.
Semi-Precious Stone Inlays
The Taj Mahal Tour Guide
The only hard part about finding a tour guide at the Taj Mahal is getting to India. The rest is easy. Show up in the Taj Mahal parking lot, and voila! A host of tour guides, book sellers, and other sundry and miscellaneous sales professionals show up before you can even open the car door.
We were careful in our choice. We went with the very first one who reached our car. He iced the deal by flashing a warn out piece of paper and saying, "I'm a real tour guide!" and hastily shoving it back in his pocket.
But we had been warned by people that went the week before that it was worth having a guide, even if all they did was help you "jump the queue," as the line just to get in was two hours long. He pointed that out to us as well, and reminded us the the Taj Mahal was closed on Friday's, so Saturday is a very popular day, best to have a guide. My associate, Vimal, did the negotiating, and informed me it would only be 200 rupees (about four bucks) to show the three of us around (Vimal, his son Naman, and myself) so it seemed like a good idea.
When we got to the entrance, however, there was no line whatsoever. "There isn't a queue today." I said. "Not today." He said. "This way please." And he carried on like nothing had happened.
But luckily, he was worth his weight in gold. Salman (that's his name, pronounced just like it looks: Sal-Man) was a very cheerful and knowledgeable host. He lined us up on the correct bench to do the "I'm holding the Taj Mahal in my hand!" cheesy tourist thing, stopped us at many key points along the way to give us tidbits like, "Notice the eleven domes on the front and back of the North Gate. Twenty two in all. They represent the twenty two years it took to build the Taj Mahal." And later, "See the fountains? There are fifty three of them. And sixteen gardens. This is because the Taj was finished in 1653..." and so on.
When we got to the place where everybody else is instructed to take off their shoes, he provided little white disposable booties so we didn't have to walk in our socks. He told us all about the history, construction, materials, etc. "Notice the towers are leaning just slightly. This was future planning on the architects part. Each one leans away from the Taj just two degrees, in case they ever fall down, they won't destroy the building..."
"Three days a month, during the full moon, you can come and visit the Taj at midnight, for extra money. Marble is transluscent, and the moonlight makes these flower inlays glow in a special way... I will show you an example at the end... "
So, we completed a wonderful tour of the Taj Mahal. He was very patient while I took more than the average amount of pictures. Then he reminded us about the lighting example and lead us to a small shop just outside the gates, where he informed us that "Actual descendants of the original 20,000 workers still work marble here in Agra..." And he pointed out some craftsmen working marble in the street. "Come inside for the lighting demonstration."
We were lead into the back of a shop, filled with small marble Taj Mahal replicas, marble boxes, t-shirts, and shawls. Here, our trusty tour guide became quiet as a mouse while his colleagues put the pitch to us. He started by showing us some inlaid marble, and shining a light behind it, so we could see how pretty the orange inlay looked in the light. He then went on to pitch us on his storefull of stuff.
But it wasn't too painful, and Vimal actually did buy a small replica for Naman, after some hard negotiations. They wanted 1500 rupees for it, but Vimal offered 500. Intense negotiaions ensued. In the end, he shoved 600 rupees in the guys hand and took the replica. It wasn't the first time I saw an item go for less than half of the original asking price while I was here!
Salman arranged an "Auto" for us, (short for "Auto-Rikshaw" a small three wheeled taxi) that took us back to the parking lot, where he asked if we were satisfied with the tour. I was, so I took out three hundred rupees instead of 200, and thinking he would be pleased with a 50% tip, handed him the cash.
"It's 500." Says he.
"You told Vimal it would be 200." Says I.
"Oh." Says he.
End of tour.
The Tour Guide
The Cheesy Pic
The Black Taj Mahal
I didn't realize it, but there was plans for a Black Taj Mahal right across the river. Unfortunately, emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj mahal, was imprisoned by his son before he could build it. Below is a picture from the north terrace of the Taj Mahal, of the grounds where the Black Taj Mahal would have been built.