The Taj Mahal is not merely an architectural marvel. Moreover, it also portrays an emperor’s heartfelt passion for the memories of his beloved, embodied in living stone. The grand mausoleum was built between 1631 and 1648 under the orders of the great Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. This architectural wonder, one of UNESCO’S World Heritage Sites, is situated on the right bank of the Yamuna River in the Agra District of Uttar Pradesh. It is surrounded by expansive Mughal gardens, and occupies an area of almost 17 hectares of land. The Taj Mahal is perhaps the finest example of Indo-Islamic Architecture, and is world renowned for its aesthetic appeal and architectonic beauty. The structure of the Taj Mahal comprises a complex complementary interplay of domes and arches, concave and convex surfaces, solids and voids, and light and shadow. Externally, the lush green gardens, brick red pathway, and the azure canopy garland the pristinely shimmering whiteness of the Taj Mahal, augmenting its halo to a divine level.
The Taj Mahal has attracted millions of tourists for many years, due to its enchanting beauty and intriguing historical significance. According to recent statistics, about 6.9 million tourists visited this World Heritage Site in 2014 alone. The Taj Mahal is easily accessible via a variety of conveyance services, such as buses, trains, and cars. Air service to nearby Agra is limited, but tourists usually arrive at the Delhi airport in India and then travel to Agra by road or rail. Most travel itineraries of northern India include Taj Mahal on their listed agenda items, and numerous tour operators offer visitors attractive packages to this historical monument. The best time to visit the Taj Mahal is during the months stretching from October through March. Access to the site remains partially restricted on Fridays, when only Muslims are allowed to enter for attending prayer ceremonies. Most people recommend visiting the Taj during sunrise and full moon nights, as these times are when the beauty of the white marble mausoleum is said to be most fascinating, in all of its spectacular appearance.
The Taj Mahal is located in the heart of the busy and densely populated historical city of Agra. Agra lies at one corner of the famous Golden Triangle of tourist destinations in India, which includes Jaipur and Delhi as its other two points. Besides the Taj, Agra has a lot more to offer to its visitors. The city also hosts two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, namely the breathtaking Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, as well a number of other historical sites. Visitors to the Taj Mahal can enjoy an enriching and unique experience when they visit this destination, both historically and culturally. Shopping is a popular activity among the tourists to Taj Mahal, as the streets leading to this picturesque monument are dotted with souvenir shops selling vibrant and unique north Indian handicrafts, jewelry, sarees, and other items. One must also not forget to try out the delectable local cuisine of the area, especially the Mughlai dishes and north Indian sweets.
About 20,000 workers, including architects, masons, horticulture planners, artists, and carvers, each excelling in their respective fields of work, were employed by the Emperor Shah Jahan in building the Taj Mahal. The cenotaphs of Shah Jahan and his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, lie side by side. The cenotaphs are richly decorated with inlay work and a marble lattice framework, which exhibit the expert workmanship and skill of the craftsmen who put their best into this historical monument. The cenotaphs are primarily for ornamental purposes, as the real graves lie in the crypt at a level lower than them. Decorations with inlaid semiprecious stones, the life-like bas reliefs, calligraphical representations of Koranic verses on the walls, the arch and dome profile of the marble building, and the perfect architectural symmetry of the entire monument are all listed among the features that make the Taj Mahal one of the most unique examples of architectural genius in the history of mankind. The Taj Mahal truly has earned its position among the greatest man-made wonders of our world.
Taj Mahal, being one of India’s greatest prides, is afforded great precaution. Especially stringent protective measures were taken during World War II and the India-Pakistan wars in 1965 and 1971 by enclosing the building in scaffolding to protect it against the potential attacks of rival forces. Currently, however, even greater threats to this picturesque monument arise from environmental pollution. The effects of acid rain, caused by emissions from nearby factories, threaten to damage the marble of the building, yellowing it in the process. Recently, the Indian government set up the Taj Trapezium Zone to limit air pollution in the area in and around the Taj Mahal. The decline in the water levels of the Yamuna River also spells bad news for this historical monument, as the lack of moisture has led to the development of cracks and crevices in many parts of the building. The danger persists to this date, and protective measures are continuously being undertaken to improve the structural integrity of this marvellous building. Tourist footfall to the Taj Mahal has also declined in the recent years due to a rise in criminal activities in the area, and the constant hassles faced by the tourists at the hands of touts and hawkers in the streets are real concerns as well. It is thus important that tourists to the Taj Mahal remain cautious and aware of their surroundings, and avoid falling into local sellers' traps of any kind.