Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Truly Awesome Taj Mahal

Our entire Indian adventure probably started with a book written for children more than 70 years ago.

When Brian was about 10 years old he eagerly read and re-read a special Christmas present, the Complete Book of Marvels, the travel adventures of Richard Halliburton. Halliburton was a dashing young fellow from a "good" family who made a fortune writing and lecturing about his publicity-seeking travels to exotic locales in the years before his disappearance at sea in 1939 during what was to be his final effort of self-publicity, sailing a junk across the Pacific Ocean to the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

Among Halliburton's many exploits, which include swimming the length of the Panama Canal as the S.S. Richard Halliburton for a tonnage charge of 36 cents, climbing both the Matterhorn and Mount Fuji, and claiming to cradle the infant Dalai Lama (yes, the current one) in his arms when he visited Tibet, he wrote of his visit to the Taj Mahal. He describes hiding in the shadows of a tree when the guards closed the grounds for the night, and then wandering about, communing with the dead princess and swimming in the lily pool. What romance for youngsters, but now we're dodging and honking our way through overcrowded Agra in our van, ironically in an effort to reach it before its closing time more than seven decades later.

Our driver picks up a guide pre-arranged by mobile phone, we're dropped off and board little electric vans to take us to the main entrance, we hand over tickets and are wanded and frisked by serious security guards, and finally we're standing at the Great Gate, the entry to the grounds and the mausoleum itself.

Our guide is excellent, even as he tells us some stories that we read later are probably myths. No, recent research indicates that Shah Jahan was not trying to built a duplicate mausoleum in black marble for himself across the Yamuna River.

His son did depose him, but not because his father was driving
the empire into bankruptcy with a new building project.

Likewise, there is no evidence that Shah Jahan killed or maimed the architects or builders to ensure they never duplicated his memorial.

All that aside, we have finally arrived. The beauty of this nearly 500-year-old "monument to love" exceeds our expectations. Here is a place we can accurately apply an over-used word: Awesome!

We do what we usually despise and pose, but we're doing it to prove to ourselves that we're really there than to show off to anybody else.

Now let's get out of the way.

The Great Gate is truly impressive in its own right as we turn around to look at it.

Is this where Richard Halliburton swam?

One last pose...

The details are magnificent as well.

As the sun falls lower on the horizon, we take in a few more striking views from the large open area surrounding the mausoleum, including another look across the river at the supposed foundations of Shah Jehan's black Taj Mahal.

Our guide tells us the Taj Mahal is so spectacular on moonlit nights that the grounds are open during the Full Moon. We'll have to settle for these views.

The Great Wall of China, The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza, Ephesus, Rome, the Acropolis and the Parthenon, and now the Taj Mahal. Wow! How very fortunate we are.

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