This has to be the most-photographed tomb in the world. Apart from the pyramids of Giza perhaps.
I always wondered what is the purpose of building mega monuments of tombs. Of learning centres, public libraries, sports grounds and even religious places, I understand. But tombs? Superb architectural achievements and craftsmanship are part of the human heritage. But what tangible difference does a mega tomb, for a privileged few, and that takes up so much resources, make to the general population’s lives?
There is no doubt that the Taj Mahal is, today, a iconic symbol for tourism in India (even though India itself is such a diverse country with many interesting places and different traditions). In that sense, there is tangible impact. But I wondered whether Shah Jahan, when he ordered the building of the Taj Mahal as the resting place of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, ever thought that one day this tomb would become a top tourist attraction.
A few people asked me whether it is worth going to the Taj Mahal. Quite honestly, if I weren’t sharing a car with 3 other friends while we happened to be in Delhi, I probably wouldn’t have gone. (The Delhi-Agra car journey itself is quite an adventure.) But there is a reason why the Taj Mahal is on the postcards. It is a colossal monument, all the more stunning in a palatial compound. Up close, the geometry and intricate details – though not as interesting as the mosque right beside it – are still quite a marvel. It is a world heritage that is testament to a Mughal emperor who (egotistically?) conceived the idea, and the unnamed architects, engineers, carpenters, labourers who helped built it.