The thing about the Taj Mahal is that it’s one of those places that looks just like the photos. You know how when you visit some remote island on some unknown spot in the map that sounds more like He-Man’s home planet than it does an actual, legit place you can visit, and then you update your Facebook status to say “photos don’t do this place justice?” Well, that’s the opposite of visiting the Taj, at least in my experience. When you walk through the gates, there it is standing majestically before you, looking like it did in all the pictures you have seen since grade school. I found the less populated areas in India like Ranthambore that I hadn’t seen photos of my whole life much more remarkable in their novelty; however, the Taj is undoubtedly one of those boxes every traveler needs to check off when going to India.
So after taking our token tourist shots, SVV and I had a bit of fun, with both our 10-22mm wide-angle lens and our GoPro camera (which is nearly a fish-eye). If there’s one way to make something look not how it’s supposed to, it’s to make it look unlike a photo you’ve seen reproduced hundreds of different times in the same manner, it’s with a little distortion.
Plus, wide-angle lenses don’t just allow you to take in more of the picture, but they also enable you to capture a monument in its entirety even with tens of thousands of people trying to obstruct your view.
While the monument was more or less exactly what I was expecting, there’s no denying it’s one spectacular piece of work, particularly when you get up real close and fully inhale its intricate, minute features.
Of course, having just been at the marble inlay factory earlier in the day, I could definitely appreciate how much work was put into every last panel of the complex, as well as all the calligraphy detailing. And even though you can’t tell from these curved photos, the minarets that flank each side of the Taj are angled outwards, even though they appear straight.
To enter the mausoleum, you must take off your shoes—something I don’t recommend as two of our Semester at Sea participants had their shoes stolen—or put on protective covers they give you with your ticket. While the line was not short and snaked its way around the front side of the building, it went relatively fast and we were inside within 15 minutes. Once there, we spent less than five minutes padding around in our slippers before going back outdoors. I think the most impressive beauty of the structure is from the outside anyway.
The structure was built in 1631, completed in 1654—a feat that required the skill of more than 20,000 laborers—and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 (my birth year!).
And despite how touristy the monument is, there were surprisingly few Westerners present in proportion to the mass amounts of Indians in a smattering of bright, eye-popping hues who had made the pilgrimage to Agra. We wandered about the grounds with two of the students, Montana and Glenna, and were stopped on multiple occasions by locals who wanted their pictures taken with us, for no reason other than we were Caucasian Americans. That was kind of interesting.
Overall, the visit was worth all the travel time and the crowds we braved even if I was a bit indifferent to the actual site itself. It’s definitely something I would say everyone should attempt at some point in their lives—if for no other purpose than to meet and interact with a genuine and good people in their own sacred space.
(And to illustrate the sheer chaos of our visit, here’s a brief minute-long video walk through we did of the grounds.)