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When talking about visiting India, almost everyone mentions Agra. "You have to see the Taj Mahal, it's the most beautiful thing you will ever see!" they exclaim. Our tour guide in Delhi described it as "a simple portrayal of how beautiful Mumtaz was" but whatever the impression it leaves, its the place you HAVE to see if in India.
When a random guy in Jaipur helped me get an auto, he went on about Agra, the city he was from, and exclaimed that it was the city of love. "isn't that Paris?" I asked cynically. I was later told that Agra was in fact India's city of love...
If I said seen the Taj Mahal years ago, without having studied it from its inception in art history in school and without being exposed to the masses of images taken of it and the masses of replicas made of it, I may have been gobsmacked at the sight of it. But as I walked through the gate after three security checks, being pushed around like a ping pong ball by the throngs of people who were there to bask in its brilliance, my first impression of it was, "it looks just like the photos".
Sure, it is beautiful and the flawless symmetry and unbelievable delicacy of the relief sculpture in the marble is spellbinding... But after visiting many monuments and buildings in India, the Taj Mahal seemed like just another amazing reminscence of history that continues to tell the ancient stories, whether true or not, of the people who created them and the times that they lived in.
India is very old and in that time it has faced a multitude of invasions therefore the stories of India have layers upon layers. For example, the Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque, which is considered to be the oldest mosque in Delhi actually contains evidence of ancient Hindu architecture that had been destroyed and covered. This could mean that the mosque was initially once a temple that was transformed after the Islamic conquest of India.
The Taj Mahal, on the other hand, has always been the mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The story is woven with tales of undying love, deception and brutality but maybe the Taj would be more moving if the white marble glowed in real life, or sparkled like Twilight vampires... Or if the tales of true love were more believable.
I don't really like Agra. It's small and heavily populated and, after a crazy six hour drive from Jaipur having slid off my seat a couple of times due to the driver's sudden braking and having to endure non stop hooting, the last thing i want to do is face more chaoticness.
Urgh, I'm exhausted. Tomorrow sees us driving for ten hours to Haridwar. Travelling by car seemed like a great way to see India when planning the trip but I wouldn't suggest it to anyone... Maybe a short four hour trip is survivable, but anything longer will make you want to tear your ears out or pop one too many painkillers... Just saying.
* Tharuna Devchand went to India courtesy of the India Consulate for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that is being held in Jaipur on January 7-9, 2012.