“A teardrop on the cheek of time”
— Rabindranath Tagore, 20th-century Bengali writer
The Taj Mahal, India’s icon of white marble, is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. How it came to be may be the greatest love story ever told.
Prince Khurram, the young grandson of Akbar the Great, was walking through the bazaar when he glimpsed a beautiful girl selling beads and silk. She was Arjumand Banu Begum, a 15-year-old daughter of Persian nobility. It was love at first sight. When the prince returned home, he asked his father to arrange for him to marry her. The prince later became Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, and he gave his wife the title Mumtaz Mahal (meaning “Jewel of the Palace”).
Although Shah Jahan had other wives, Mumtaz Mahal was his favorite. In 1631, Mumtaz died from complications giving birth to their 14th child. While Mumtaz was on her deathbed, Shah Jahan promised to build her a mausoleum unlike anything the world had ever seen. Construction of the Taj Mahal began shortly after.
It took 22 years and 22,000 laborers to build the unparalleled mausoleum complex and its Persian charbagh-designed garden. More than 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials — white marble and 28 different kinds of rare, precious, and semi-precious stones — gathered from all over the world.
The builders understood the deceptive nature of the human eye, and used it to enhance the beauty and mystery of the Taj Mahal. The angles, curves, and lines are symmetrical, and all the components — alcoves, minarets, balconies, tomb, and dome — work in harmony. The Taj’s marble displays a variety of hues that are subtly reflected depending on the skylight that varies with weather and time of day; these reflections are likened to changes in a woman’s mood.
On Vantage’s The Best of India with a Ganges River Cruise, you can visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site as it embraces the colors of the morning sky. Choose the optional “Taj at Sunset” tour for the chance to see the marble take on the pearly pinks of dusk.
Interesting facts about the Taj Mahal:
- The mausoleum is located in Agra, a former capital of India.
- The town of Mumtazabad (now called Taj Ganj) was built adjacent to the site to accommodate its workers.
- Construction started in 1631 and was completed in 1653.
- The design is not ascribed to any particular architect.
- It cost about 32 million rupees to build (US$60,000), but would cost more than $1 billion today.
- It was built in stages: tomb, mosque, minarets, gateway, and auxiliary buildings.
- The central dome is 187 feet high at the center.
- The mausoleum’s marble and stone inlays were so skillfully made that barely a seam shows.
- There are unobstructed views of the mausoleum from any point in the garden.
- The Taj Mahal attracts 2–4 million visitors a year.
Regardless of when you see the Taj Mahal, nothing can prepare you for this experience of a lifetime.