Agra, India―Seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise strains one's vocabulary: stunning, elegant, magical, unworldly, transporting, lyrical and even poetic perfection of proportion in stone.
Built by the Mugahl ruler Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife Mamtaz Mahal, who died at age 37 after delivering her 14th child, the perfectly proportioned monument was begun in 1633 and completed 22 years later by some 20,000 workers and artisans working around the clock. The ultimate expression of Mughal architecture, the incredible building changes color as the sun rises, glowing peach to yellow to white, and is so beautifully hand decorated that it seems more sublime dream than stony reality.
We arose at 4:30 to be in line and allowed inside by 6:30. Women in one que, men in another, according to Hindu custom, we were searched before being allowed inside. This World Heritage Site requires that everyone submit to inspection.
The Mughals (Moguls) ruledIndiafrom 1526 to 1707, beginning with the ruler Babur. Shah Jahan was the 4th generation to succeed Babur. Shah Jahan ruled from 1627 to 1658, and wanted to honor his 3rd and favorite wife with the most stunning memorial in the world. Indeed, it cost him 14 million rupees to build -- the equivalent of $12 billion today.
Built on white marble, the Taj is as exquisitely decorated as it is proportioned. Flowers of semi-precious stones (lapis lazuli, malachite, and mother-of-pearl) were so delicately inlaid into the marble that the surface of the stone is smooth to the touch. Iris, tulips, lilies, narcissi and jasmine sparkle in the morning sun.
Screens of geometric designs were hand-carved in single slabs of marble, and if a mistake was made, the entire slab was discarded and another begun again.
Geometry was the rule of Mughal architecture, adapted from Persia, and the minarets perfectly balance the onion dome and the octagonal structure. Four gardens of equal size are situated around the Taj, and four gates of exceptional design lead to the main building.
There are other wonderful palaces and tombs here inAgra, and we have seen many of them today. Each is a marvelous expression of Mogul power and unlimited resources for rulers of this fabled time. One of the 7 Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal satisfies intellectually, emotionally and aesthetically, a serene poem for the ages.