Friday, October 15, 2010

The Taj Mahal

We traded the bikes for a comfortable minivan to travel down to Agra and view the Taj Mahal.  There was no way we could face another 500km round trip on the bikes so soon after finishing the India/Nepal tour. 
There is a reason why the Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world.  It eclipses the Vatican in sheer beauty, and the first sight as you enter the outer walls via the west gate is breathtaking.
Shah Jahan constructed the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his 2nd (and favourite) wife, Mumtaz and spent 45 million rupees on it 300 years ago.  Imagine the cost in today's money.  It took 20,000 people 22 years to build it.
This is one of the most international buildings in the world, using overseers from Italy, fresco carvers from Iran and Persia, teak foundations from elsewhere in the world, tapestries from Iran, etc.  The Shah as determined to build an absolutely irreplaceable monument that offered the best from anywhere in the world. 
The building is absolutelty symmetrical from any viewpoint.  To achieve this, the minarets needed to lean outwards to preserve the correct persective (and to prevent them falling on the main building in the event of a catastrophe).  Every design element has an odd number so that one is situated in the middle and the others radiate outwards symmetrically. 

Notice the size of the people on the concourse.  This gives a sense of scale for the building.  even the marble cladding on the exterior of the building is 7 inches thick.  Because they didn't have cranes to assist with construction, the labourers built a ramp to reach the top of the dome.  The ramp was 2km long.

This is the view of the west gate (the gate to paradise).  The Taj has three gates.  One was used by the public, one by the Shah, and the other was never used as it represented the gate to paradise, to be used only on the death of the Shah.  He was eventually entombed in a coffin next to Mumtaz, but the Shah's son did not take the Shah through the west gate as a final act of defiance against his father.

Even the marble screens that surrounds the tomb of Mumtaz took 3000 people 8 years to carve. It is amazingly intricate, and each panel is a precise replica of the others. The marble is hand carved and set with precious and semi-precious stones that glitter when illuminated.

Artisans preserve the old skill of craving marble and inserting semi precious stones.