When I went to India for the first time in my life, I had to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra!
Together with a friend, I travelled from New Delhi to Agra by train. We reached the city within four hours. Although train rides are quite cheap and convenient in India, you should book them in advance. The tickets sell out quickly in a country with more than one Billion people.
Early in the morning, we were waiting in a long queue in front of the red-sandstone South Gate of the Taj Mahal when an old man approached us. He was in his seventies and worked as a private tour guide in Agra for many years. We booked a walking tour with him to the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. It was a very good decision because he helped us to enter the sights in an instant and told us many interesting facts about the buildings.
The Taj Mahal was built in memory of the Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal. She was the third and favourite wife of Shah Jahan, and the only wife who was allowed to advise and accompany her husband during his military campaigns. Mumtaz’s residence in Agra Fort resembles Shah Jahan’s love and admiration for her. It was decorated with pure gold and gemstones, and even had a rose water fountain.
Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to her 14th child in 1631. Shah Jahan was heartbroken and went into mourning for one year. Afterwards, he ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal, the final resting place for his favourite wife Mumtaz. The design of the Taj reflects Shah Jahan’s imagination of Mumtaz’s home in paradise. He wanted her grave to be the most beautiful place on Earth and his love for his wife should be visible forever.
After our visit of the Taj Mahal, our tour guide showed us the marvellous Agra Fort. Here, the love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz came to an end. Their third son, Aurangzeb, overthrew his father shortly after the construction of the Taj Mahal was finished.
Shah Jahan was put under house arrest in Agra Fort. Until the end of his life, he could only gaze at the Taj Mahal next to the Yamuna River through a window in his room. In 1666, Shah Jahan was buried alongside his wife Mumtaz.
Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Shah-Jehan” beautifully describes Shah Jahan’s longing to preserve his love for Mumtaz forever. And it reminds us of the precious, limited time we all have with our loved ones.
You knew pretty well, Ruler of India, O Shah-Jehan,
That surges of Time takes away all life and youth and riches and honours.
The unique wish of the Emperor was
To perpetuate only your innermost sorrow.
Adamant, even the monarch’s power
Wilt while dozing like the reddening of a twilight,
Solely a prolonged sigh
Might sadden the sky by heaving constantly,
That is all you hoped.
Let vanish, vanish if it must,
The splendour of diamonds and pearls and jewels –
Even as a wizard’s rainbow glow on the horizon’s void –
Let there be
Merely a drop of tears,
On the cheek of Time, dazzling and white,
– Rabindranath Tagore