Continuing our visit to Agra after a stop at Fatehpur Sikri earlier in mid-morning, we timed our next stop for lunch at a restaurant called appropriately enough, the Taj Mahal Restaurant. How many U.S. cities have Indian restaurants of that same name, I wonder? Since we’d gotten up to leave Delhi around 5:30 a.m. and had only consumed a train-provided so-so breakfast, the meal–though not quite fit for a Mogul perhaps–was delicious. What did Moguls eat anyhow? What we ate was–clockwise from the serving bowl at top left just below the plate of food–carrots, potato curry, chicken masala, dal stew, rice dish (in the middle) with plenty of naan (bread) and beer and coke to wash it down . Carrots grown in India, by the way, are much more red than the orange ones we grow here and taste slightly stronger.
After lunch, we were off to see the Taj. The tour buses and vans seemed to park much further away than during our first visit, and more commercial areas seemed to have sprung up around the area near the entrance of the Taj Mahal. Naturally, they’re all geared to tourists. When you leave the confines of your buses or vans, you’re besieged by hawkers of every age for everything imaginable for you to buy. I thought this shop was peculiar enough to warrant a picture. What other reason would you have to buy marble plates than to be able to say you bought it at a marble shoppy?
Finally we near the entry gateway near the eastern side of the garden, and I grab the opportunity to snap a candid shot of others on their way in as well. For some reason, I think I like backside views of people and animals. For one thing you rarely get in trouble since they’re unaware of your camera, and the shots really are candid.
I found I was just as impressed as I was 30 years ago by the calligraphy inscriptions running lengthwise up and down the entry. They read “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.” The calligraphy is made by jasper (gray) inlaid in white marble panels. The letters are written slightly larger as the panels go higher so that they appear the same size looking all the way up.
Inside the dome I remembered to look up to see this impressive surface engraved painting of elaborate geometric forms.
Regular readers will remember my complaining several months ago about my first visit, 30 years ago, being marred a little by the fact that the one day we spent there, there was no water in the reflecting pool. Well, here we are and you can see the water was just fine this time.
At the time we reckoned our tushes were warming the exact bench on which Princess Diana was photographed in 1992 during a state visit to India while her marriage to Charles was in a state of collapse. (They separated later the same year.) After researching for this post, I’m afraid it was the wrong bench. The one behind Hubby’s head appears to be more accurate. You can check for yourself here.
Finally, on to the cenotaphs (empty tombs) in the interior of the marble tomb. Mumtaz is the smaller one on the right, placed at the precise center of the inner chamber, with inscriptions that praise her. Shah Jahan’s, to the left, is the only visibly asymmetric element in the entire complex. It’s also bigger than that of Mumtaz, but reflect the same elements: a larger casket on a slightly taller base, decorated with calligraphy that identifies him. Bases and caskets of both cenotaphs are elaborately inlaid with precious and semi-precious gems.
Because Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves, however, the actual bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were placed in a plain crypt beneath the inner chamber–in the dark basement–with their faces turned to the right towards Mecca. They are no longer accessible to the public.
Now, in case you’re planning a visit to India yourself any time soon, here’s a great list of visitor’s do’s and don’ts I wish I’d known about. You may find them interesting and useful.