About a year ago, while I was still working for Microsoft, I had the opportunity to go to India. It happened a little something like this: I was sitting in my office when my supervisor walked in and asked, "Naysawn - we really need somebody to head to India to speak with a few developers and get them up to speed on how we do development on our team. We know this would imply taking you away from your family and your work for a couple of weeks, so if you can't go, we completely understand."
While he was saying this, bells and whistles were going off in my head. My version of what I heard sounded a little different: "Would you like an all-expense paid trip to one of the most culturally diverse areas of the world where hospitality is molded into the culture? By the way, Indian food is absolutely delicious and comes in all different flavors." Since I love me some delicious Indian food, needless to say, I was on a plane a few weeks later bound for a three week trip to India (two for work, one for running amuck).
While at Microsoft, I was fortunate to receive extensive lessons from other foreign workers who successfully go on business trips and tack on some time for tourism afterwards. Microsoft pays the lion's share of the trip (the airfare) and you get to see another side of the world. Not wanting to let my teachers down, while I was burying my head in work at the Microsoft office in Hyderabad, I also made arrangements to meet up with my buddy Abhay in Delhi afterwards for week long vacation.
Abhay, who I consider to be one of my best friends in the whole world, told me that you don't come to India without seeing the Taj Mahal. Although I told him "Dooooooooooooood - it's just a bunch of big buildings," he told me "Doooooooooooooooooooood - we have to goooo." His number of "ooo's" won out and we set off on a four hour trip from Delhi to Accra, home of the Taj Mahal.
The Size of the Taj
Even though I try to summarize some of the beauty of the Taj Mahal below, when I first set my eyes on the place, I immediately realized that photos just don't do this incredible Wonder of the World justice. To begin, the Taj Mahal is absolutely massive. I don't think it's even possible to photograph the entire site, short of perhaps renting a helicopter.
While what we tend to see in typical photos of the Taj are shots of the tomb (the white building indicated below), those shots fail to capture that the Tomb is surrounded by beauty on all sides. Behind the tomb, a peaceful river flows, on its right and left are an exquisite mosques and a picturesque guest house, and in order to enter the site, one must pass through an enormous red gate.
I couldn't find an overhead picture, but below is a satellite image of what the site has to offer. I would recommend scrolling around, as I had no idea about the extensive topography of the site until I actually went there:
As seems to be typical in Mughal architecture, even the entrance to the Taj is gigantic! Here is a photo of me in front of the gate. Note how I seem to have been so awestruck, I forgot how to structure my face into a smile:
As I learned in visiting, the entire site was built by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his third wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. The Shah must have really loved her since he assembled a work force of 20,000 laborers, 100 elephants and all kinds of famous artists and materials to get the project done. The construction effort took twelve years in itself!
Even though the Taj is a legacy unto itself, Jahan's pet project slowly drew his attention away from matters of the State. Soon after the masterpiece was complete, the Shah was overthrown by his son and put under house arrest. When the Shah died, he was buried alongside his wife.
The tomb is said to be the best example of Mughal art. What I found particularly amazing is the incredible detail, particularly in the etchings all over the building. These are some shots showing the intricacies of the exterior:
Below are a few more shots showing the detail of the entrance:
While the tomb is beautiful beyond words, for some reason, I took even more to the elegance of the red mosque next to the tomb.
Here is a shot of mosque, taken from the tomb. Notice how the tourists below look like ants in comparison:
The exterior of the mosque: