16 March 2005

rhapsody on the taj

flatfoot meets taj: click here to see my pictures

So I went to Delhi on business last week, and had a chance to see the Taj Mahal over the weekend. You know that feeling when you finally see something so iconic and you get all disappointed? Well it didn't happen to me with the Taj Mahal. From the moment that I saw it from the rooftop of my hostel, I was already rendered speechless, and when I entered the gate to the garden and saw the tomb in the flesh, the sight of it broke my pace and I stood frozen and in awe. The Taj Mahal was one of the first world wonders I learned about when I was a child – a picture of it occupied a spread in my children's encyclopedia – and since then I had been wanting to visit this so-called monument to love. Having seen other postcard-perfect icons – the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge – only this one has taken my breath away, and I can't be more literal. Something about it breathes. What I find amazing about it is, it's not ornate in the way most other architectural wonders are – like La Sagrada Famiglia, the Kremlin, most Italian and French buildings – and yet it's so visually compelling. It demands your attention. It turns your head to face it. I love its obsessive symmetry. I love the way it changes color when the sun is all over it and when it's covered by clouds. It's the reason God created marble. I clearly remember thinking this when I first saw Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica three years ago, but the Taj clearly owns the distinction.

I wanted to wrap myself all over it, but I didn't want to look like a pervert with a marble fetish. I was ecstatic. Having longed to see it, and finally being able to do so, was in a way a sensual achievement for me. My entire seven hours there was almost a tantric experience, it was like having a seven-hour orga...never mind, I'm being facetious, you get the idea. But seriously, I'm at a loss for words. The only disappointment was that the Taj wasn't illuminated when the garden's gates closed at 7pm, and for some reason it was an early dark evening. I went back to the rooftop of my hostel before going to bed, and I could only see a hint of its silhouette.

A lot of the time I was there, I was running my fingers through its smooth marble surface, thinking to myself how the workers laid every piece of marble so perfectly, how they managed to achieve the roundness of the minarets and the dome. Suddenly 20 years of construction seemed like an awfully short time. I wondered what kind of relationship Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal had. I wondered how the woman looked like, and what became of the child whose birth cost her life. Corny, I know, but that's how I felt. There was so much emotion that went into the building of the tomb, and it shows to this day.

I'm sorry for gushing. I know some of you might have had a different reaction when you saw it, but to each his own. Anyway, I wanted to share some pictures with you. I couldn't help but take photos of the building from all angles, which is what you'll see in the first set...then after that it's just people. The crowd didn't bother me at all. If you can't beat them, shoot them. Pictures.

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