Day six was yet another early start and the final day of the tour with this group. This could only mean one thing – today we visited the Taj Mahal. But first the Royal Palace at Fatehpur Sikri.
Built in 1569 but abandoned after 15 years apparently due to scarcity of water – although this is contested – the palace was impressive and contained elements of both Hindu and Islamic architecture and traditions. It was a hot day and a rather rushed visit as we all wanted to get to the main event – which was still a few hours drive away.
The main event was better than worth it. As I walked through the archway and got my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal in all its glory I was almost moved to tears. Never before had a building, or landscape, made me feel that way. It was as breathing as you could imagine and then some. The white marble facade shimmered in the light and the whole area, despite the usual Indian chaos, had an air of serenity.
Words cannot do justice to this magnificent piece of architecture. All I can say is, if you have ever wanted to see it, go – it cannot disappoint and I went in with relatively low expectations having been massively underwhelmed by the Pyramids a few years ago!
Shah Jahan built the monument to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Arjumand Bann Begum better known as Mumtaz Mahal (Chosen one of the Palace), who died after giving birth to his 14th child. The Shah set out to build a monument to her memory, its name Taj Mahal is a shortened informal version of her name Mumtaz Mahal.
It took 20,000 men more than 20 years to build and was completed in 1653. Marble was brought in from Rajasthan and semi-precious stones for decoration – onyx, amethyst, lapis lazuli, turquoise jade, crystal, coral and mother of pearl – were carried to Agra from Persia, Russia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China and the Indian Ocean.
But when Shah Jahan’s intolerant son seized power the former emperor was enshrined in Agra Fort where he is said to have lived out his final years gazing wistfully at the Taj Mahal. When he died in 1666 his body was carried across the river to lie alongside his beloved wife.
We arrived at the Taj as a group and had a group photograph taken overlooking the building before splitting up and wandering around. It was quiet something just to feel the sheer size of the building. Pictures don’t do the vastness of the structure any justice.
Towards the end of our time with this precious building we watched the light glint and sparkle and bathe the building in a pinkish hue as the sun set, before walking back to the main gate and sitting and looking none of us wanting to walk around anymore but also not wanting to leave. All around us there was the chaos of tourists and pictures being taken, kids (and in some cases adults) wanting to pose with us, but the overwhelming feeling was one of utter calmness.
The Taj really is a very, very special building….
That evening we had our final dinner together before heading back to the hotel to watch Australia lose in the Rugby World Cup final to New Zealand. Once again I stayed up too late, smoked and drank too much, but this time it was to say good bye to the group and the friends I had made along the way. Tomorrow a new stage of the adventure was to begin – with a hangover!!!