The other day Kwaz asked me why I wanted to come to India. My answer: the Taj Mahal.
The Taj was one of the pillars that outlined my route. I learned about it in multiple classes – I did take Art and Architecture of India in college – and was at one point able to describe its layout so well that my professor thought I’d been there. So I didn’t mind at all the 5 am wake up to try to beat the crowd and the heat (a successful strategy), I was finally going to see the Taj Mahal.
It looked exactly like it did in the slides I studied. This was the cause of both my amazement and my disappointment.
The Taj Mahal is perfect. It is pristine, gorgeous, impressive. It is every positive adjective you’ve ever heard people say about it. The first glimpse of it through the entry gate’s tall arch takes your breath away, and seeing the full expanse of the garden procession to the hovering building just increases the sense of awe.
It was the same garden that I had described so well, with its four rivers leading to the central fountain and its perfectly manicured lawn and bushes. Maybe that’s why I expected so much from it and was sad to feel so little. The procession leading to the Taj was supposed to feel like an honor to walk up with the building growing ever larger, but I just felt like it was any other walk. The building looked impressive but that was apparent from the start. The walk was more focused on platforms from which the best pictures could be taken. I yearned to know what it looked like with the original trees and fruit plants obscuring the view, causing the white bulbous domes to appear floating above Paradise.
Once I reached the Taj Mahal itself there was no way to stop staring at it. Every stone, every inlay, every detail, and every angle of the building commanded my attention. I ran my hands over perfectly carved flowers in vases, wondering how it was possible to create such a delicate image in such a hard material. I slowly walked the circle around Mumtaz Mahal’s and Shah Jahan’s tombs, my eyes scanning from the woven stone circle around them all the way up the ceiling. The amount of detail was astounding. When I made it back outside it lightly rained, a strange occurrence considering the bright blue sky, which made the stone plinth reflective (and slippery). I took my time walking back around from the river side to the garden, taking in the four corner towers, the side buildings (both beautiful in their own right), and the garden approach from this side. It is an amazing complex. It is Paradise on Earth, as intended.
After we finished our tour – I recommend the audio guide, it was informative but not long-winded – I sat on a bench to the side of the center fountain, staring at the Taj. It deserves nothing less than quiet contemplation, this perfect compilation of art and architecture.
After we left the Taj I expected to feel elated. I had just seen the one thing I wanted to see most in India. Something held me back. The Taj was as expected, and nothing more. There was a lack of an emotional, experiential connection. I remembered Angkor Wat and the feeling I had there, overwhelmed by the greatness that just being in the presence of the structures made me feel. The Taj is beautiful, but it didn’t have the same effect. I suppose that will happen sometimes. I wonder if it’s because I’ve seen its image so many times or seen so many amazing things in the past almost 9 months. Regardless of my slight disappointment, I still think the Taj Mahal is an incredible piece and a must-see, and I am thrilled I made it there.