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Travel icons: The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal, in Agra, is one of the most iconic buildings in the world and certainly the most famous in India, receiving between two and three million visitors each Year. It is widely regarded as the finest example of Mughal architecture, which is a blend of Persian, Indian and Islamic styles.

The Taj Mahal, Agra

The Taj Mahal, Agra

The inspiration for the Taj Mahal came when Emperor Shah Jahan’s third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died while giving birth to their fourteenth child. He was completely grief-stricken and decided to build the monument in her honour.

It took over 20 years to complete with thousands of artisans and craftsmen working on the construction day and night.

Taj Mahal, AgraShah Jahan entrusted the project to a board of architects who were under imperial supervision.

Legend has it that he also planned to build a black replica of the Taj on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River in which he wished to be buried himself.

This long established story originates from the fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra in 1665, and while there is no definitive evidence, there are some ruins of blackened marble that seem to support his claim. True or not, it is believed that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before it could be built.

The Taj is a magnificent architectural achievement. As you approach you pass through a beautiful arched gateway and then immediately in front of you is the view that has been captured in many hundreds of thousands of photographs - wonderfully symmetrical landscaped gardens leading the eye to the Taj that stands timeless, with an almost regal air.

It is as if the monument is aware of its own incredible beauty and allure. That it has been photographed so many times does nothing to diminish the sheer physical presence of the world’s most intricately carved and carefully crafted building and nothing can prepare you for your first glimpse.

Taj Mahal at sunset seen from Metah Bagh, AgraThe best times to view the Taj are either dawn or dusk when the light is softer and the Taj is bathed in an almost other-worldly glow.

My favourite view of the Taj is from Metah Bagh on the opposite banks of the Yamuna River (in perhaps the exact spot that Shah Jahan intended to build his own mausoleum) at sunrise.

With the sun rising on your right hand side and the Taj clearly mirrored in the waters below it this really is one of the world’s great travel icons.

TAJ MAHAL FACTS

Year that construction commenced: 1631

Construction completed in: 1653

Cost of construction: 32 crore rupees or £4.1 million

Number of workers employed: 20,000

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site: 1983

The name Taj Mahal means: ‘Crown Palace’

Number of rare, semi-precious and precious stones used in inlay work: 28

Height of the central dome: 57 metres

Number of elephants used to construct the building: 1000

Height of the red sandstone gates: 9 metres

Length of the construction ramp: 15 kilometres

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