A Diamond in the Rough

Love makes people do crazy things. It made Romeo and Juliet commit suicide, King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne, and Pocahontas stand up to her elders in defense of John Smith. In addition to these, there are millions of acts of love that have happened since the beginning of time, but very rarely does such an act leave a physical mark on this world. The Taj Mahal, however, is an exception.

The Taj starts with a love story between two young people, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. It was love at first sight when Shah was only 14, and Mumtaz 15. It wasn’t for another five years until they were married, followed by the crowning of Shah as the Mughal Emperor. Shah had several wives, but Mumtaz was his favorite. Like most other famous love stories, tragedy struck. While giving birth to their 14th child Mumtaz passed away. Overcome with great sadness and grief, Shah promised Mumtaz that he would build her the most wonderful mausoleum over her grave. He stayed true to his word, and after 22 years and over 22,000 workers the greatest monument to love was completed in 1653.

Hundreds of years later, the Taj now stands as a diamond in the rough. Agra is the city that the Taj calls home, and the monument is nestled along the Yamuna River. I’m sure at one point in time, prior to the overpopulation and over-pollution, this river was strong and clean. Today, unfortunately, the Yamuna is dried up and filled with trash, being a pathetic reflection of what it once was.

In an attempt to reduce pollution a law as been passed saying that no motor vehicles can come within so many feet of the Taj, so camels, bikes, and horses are used to transport those visitors not wanting to walk the mile down from the parking lot.

The monument itself, however, has fared a bit better. We entered through the South gate and came to the Great Gate.

It was surreal to actually be standing on the grounds of the Taj Mahal. It’s something that we’ve been hearing about all of our lives. We’ve marveled at the famous picture of Princess Diana sitting in front of the Taj, and compared every great thing to it.

There are beautiful gardens and waterways leading up to the white marble mausoleum, where you must first remove your shoes before setting foot on the site. It was absolutely beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time walking around on the world’s most famous grave-site.

The outside of the gates were a stark contrast to the wealth and beauty of the Taj. What has sprouted up along the East, South and West sides can only be described as a slum-city. Poverty, mountains of trash, sewage and crumbling buildings make up the surrounding neighborhood. Thanks again to Lonely Planet we found ourselves making our way through the narrow streets, trying desperately not to get hit by auto-rickshaws and motorcycles speeding by, in order to find a restaurant.

The reason we risk our necks and go down these shady paths, is because we know that Lonely Planet is sure to deliver the best, and they did. Just check out this view …



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