How many times have you seen an image of one of the world’s great monuments and memorised it for years hoping to see it in all its glory one day? Stonehenge in England, the Parthenon looking down from the Acropolis in Athens, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo to name just three. And once you have actually gazed upon them, there’s a little flutter in your heart – is it the familiarity, the symmetry or just the connection to beauty that moves us so?
Perhaps it’s a combination of thoughts coming together – the awe of seeing what man has achieved – whether it was created for love, politics, power, utilitarian needs or religion – once seen, never forgotten.
To come face to face with the shining glory of India’s Taj Mahal is a profound moment. A few years back I was on an escorted journey (previously known as a coach tour) in India. This way if travelling at an age where I didn’t have the patience to swat hoards of people away nor have the stamina to trundle around India solo.Taking a holiday this way, for me, took the pain out of the scrabble to find seats, get around, cool off, find a toilet, join long queues and negotiating the social mores of the locals. (and what a good choice I made).
On the third day of the tour we had risen early in anticipation of a surprising day (to tell the truth, every day travelling in India is more than surprising) that would see us take a train journey from Delhi to Agra. A journey that passes through towns and villages, through unbearable piles of trackside rubbish, shining pristine temple surrounds, deformed beggars beginning their daily routine along the roads, beautifully groomed women covered in brilliant coloured saris, squatting in wheat fields thrashing the grain stalks by hand. During a two hour train trip witness mediaeval India and the new, built up, car crazy, middle class India – every step of the way is a surprise.
Our seating on the train was a breeze, the trip comfortable and at the other end we were picked up by (God bless air-conditioning) our slick coach (which had been driven down the night before with our luggage). A leisurely breakfast at a Radisson hotel and then off to see the Taj Mahal.
The surrounding splendid buildings gave us a glimpse of the dome and there was a hushed air from our small group as we walked towards the entrance.
Words can’t describe the feeling as this flawless architectural creation appeared. We all walked to the area in front of the long, narrow pool that reflects the building and gazed at the Taj Mahal, we took photos, learned the history, the pain, the drama, the sadness and the mighty effort to bring it all together – stone by precious stone. Marble that will last long after the story of why it came about will disappear.
We all went our separate ways and walked towards the exquisite bejewelled masterpiece. Walking through the rooms of the Taj I reached the centre piece under the dome and noticed signs around the curved walls that reminded people to be quiet. Ha!
People of all shapes and sizes milled around the floor space, laughing and talking with the exuberance of holiday-makers and many of the young girls were more interested in having a photo taken with me than the architectural splendour surrounding them.
After an hour or so we found each other – and we shared tree shaded benches, distanced from the immediate beauty and sat in quiet contemplation of the ethereal luminescence – made all the more beautiful with its blues sky aura in the bright, clear sunny day.
Leaving the Taj Mahal behind was a slow walk away from the divine. As we drove off on the coach I glimpsed through a rickety street filled with cows, people, rickshaws, boxes – endless boxes of what?, piles of rubbish, food stalls frying up lunch and the noise of all humanity resounding – and peeping over the hubbub of this piece of India was the white, shining dome of the Taj Mahal – ever serene, ever watchful and ever part of the day-to-day India.
- Ditch the usual bacon and eggs for breakfast and indulge daily in a damn fine dhosa.
- Carry water with you when our walking, it gets hot!
- Keep and open mind – and heart.
Writer Bev Malzard purchased seven pairs of leather sandals while on this trip.