The call to prayer started to play eerily, as if on queue, as we entered the gardens which led to the infamous world wonder. Fog, or smog, hung low to the ground, adding to the mystical ambiance. I had a difficult time accepting the putrid, polluted air into my lungs… It was clammy and had a sour taste as you breathed it in, but we walked through, intent on the end destination.
We arrived to the ticket office just after six, and made our way to the separated lines for men and women. Shortly before seven, armed guards popped out from a small door and proceeded to tear, punch and stamp our tickets before permitting us through to the security check.
When we finally got past the main gate and into the entrance for the Taj Mahal, it was completely underwhelming. The smoggy fog hung thick in front of the beautiful building, almost completely hiding it from view. After a head bobble and a chuckle, we accepted that “this is India” and nothing is ever as you expect.
We continued on through the flower-laden grounds, to make our way to the mausoleum. Each step that brought us closer shed a different perspective on the building. It’s amazing to think of all the man-power that went in to constructing it- over 20,000 people and nearly 30 years. The Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his “favorite wife” Mumtaz Mahal after she died giving birth to their son. It’s a shame, because once the place was finally completed, one of the Emperor’s sons locked him up in the nearby Agra Fort, so he couldn’t even appreciate it freely, but rather from the distance of a cell window.
We had to either remove our shoes or put on shoe covers before we set foot inside, but once inside it was a completely different world.
It was quiet, and warmer, and smelled faintly of perfume. It was dark, as there is no electricity in the building, so the only light that illuminated the beautiful intricacy of the tiles came from the carved marble windows.
As we made our way around the tomb and out into the sunlight that was starting to break through the gray sky, a new light was cast upon the buildings before us.
The sun caught the gemstones inlaid in a floral pattern on the side of the building and sparkled brilliantly.
I was reminded of a quote by author Roald Dahl which says, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
To each side of the main mausoleum was a building, brick red and sky high. As we walked up to it, the doorways framed each other, one after another, beckoning us to see what lay further within.
The tile work was incredible, red and white stacked on one another until it created a beautiful dome above. Pigeons fluttered about inside, and there was a man with his bristle-brush broom methodically sweeping the dust and dropping in the soft morning light.
As we came about full circle, we were delighted to look out on the Taj perfectly framed by a doorway of the building were in…
and as we sat there admiring the view, a group of at least one hundred monkeys ran across the open space, taking the area by storm. It was amazing to see such a troop running together, and then in the middle of it all, was an Australian tourist chasing a monkey who had stolen his shoe…
Eventually I separated from my group in order to absorb the beauty at my own pace, on my own terms, and with my own thoughts. I slowly walked the grounds and marveled at every detail, letting the architectural artwork feed my inner designer and fuel my dreams for a future home.
I took time to notice every twist of a column, curve of a doorway or boarder of a wall. The place was spectacular.
As I walked back through the gardens, I tried to imagine the grounds without the mass of tourists that were all around. I focused on the birds flying from the fountains to the tree branches, and the bees buzzing from flower to flower. I was happy I hadn’t let my first impression spoil my ability to look with glittering eyes, and to see past the smoggy morning to the wonder that lay within.
My key take away from all this? Yes, first impressions can be accurate (for me, Agra is still the city with the worst air in India) but don’t let them get in the way of seeing past the obvious and finding the best in a situation. Whether it’s a person or place, always try to look with glittering eyes, and you will find yourself living on the happier side of life…