The Taj Mahal is famous. Its pictures appear everywhere. It looks good in photos, but who trusts photos anymore? Travelling with my travel buddy Renee, married to me for decades, we let the kids tell us they were independent in the summers and they didn’t need us anymore.
Our mantra, you can’t fire us, we quit, kicked right in.We booked tickets for India and the beginning of years of adventures and educational travel. Renee is a teacher, so we travelled in the summer. No matter where we went, it was hot. In India, pre-monsoon, we were in the 40 – 45 degrees Celsius (105 -115 F) range. Hot. We loved it. We went through Imaginative Traveller, a British Adventure travel company chosen for us by Tracy Fiala, our adventure travel specialist with Trek Escapes. I mention both organizations because they were and are superb.
That takes us to Agra, the industrial city that has the Taj Mahal. Maybe it’s true, but we heard that the concern in Agra was the acid rain caused by local emitters that was damaging the marble of the Taj Mahal. The local authorities were concerned because if the Taj Mahal were damaged, the tourist traffic would dry up and nobody would come to an otherwise inelegant city.
Some awake before dawn to see the sun rise over the Taj Mahal. Forget it. We were travelling hard and wanted the sleep. So, later on, we went with the late group to the entrance, a usual confusion of touts, fake guides, real guides, hustlers and vendors of tourist stuff. Passing through the dark rundown gate strewn with trash and the ticket seller in the most antiquated barred dark kiosk, we emerged feeling unimpressed, ready for a disappointment.
There is a moment in every person’s life when he knows he will never see anything more beautiful. I didn’t think such high thoughts. All I could do is stand there, feeling weak in my legs and unable to breathe. The beauty, harmony and perfection of the building we saw past a long walk and water feature was beyond any expectation.
The Taj Mahal was built by a man who loved his wife. She died, and he built in her memory the most beautiful building in the world. Shah Jahan, a most powerful ruler, was devastated by the loss of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal remains standing 400 years later as a monument to a passionate love, a monument to a man commanding the finest architects of his time and the benefits the riches of the world can bestow to civilization. When Renee and I looked at the building in the distance we unable to begin walking toward it for fear that the beauty would disappear as we approached.
Walking alongside the central and long ponds toward the building, we stopped in the heat under a huge neem tree. Renowned for its health benefits, the neem provided shelter to us. We needed it. It was hot; shimmering and painfully hot. Still looking at the Taj Mahal along the approach we gave a long glance to the surroundings. The building is built on a platform. On each of the far corners of the platform is a tower like the ones built in Moslem religious buildings. The whole stood at the side of the Yamuna River, large and wide.
As we began to see the building close-up the arches and vaults and multi-coloured granites began to assert themselves from the whole. Looking at them reminded me of the sweetest music I ever heard.
The rest is detail, but the details of this work of love and genius are what makes the moment so perfect. This is one of those, ‘you have to see it yourself moments.’
When you go to the ends of the earth you find that all you were seeking is inside you. The journey of self-discovery is created by the journey of discovery. At the Taj Mahal you learn that the spirit inside you is greater, larger, wider and more all-encompassing than you knew. You don’t just see a great building. You see how great your ability is to see, and how unknown your own spirit is to you.
It has been 15 years since that day. I can place myself there in a moment. At times when I think I can’t accomplish something, I think of the greatness inside all of us that is demonstrated by the Taj Mahal, and I find ways to do what I couldn’t get done.