At the end of 2010 I wrote a travel story detailing hot spots on my Bucket List. The Taj Mahal was at the top of the list although I doubted I would ever get there.
Yesterday I did.
All I can say is that the pictures of this incredible monument don’t even begin to do it justice. I’ve seen a hundred of them and you can tell it’s magnificent but I guess I always figured there was a bit of Photoshop involved or that the real thing was not quite so spiffing. You know, like there would be a bad fun park next door or a bowling alley underneath.
There isn’t. When I walked through the red brick arch and saw the Taj Mahal right in front of me for the first time yesterday morning at sunrise I burst into tears and had trouble stopping.
My guide, Sanjay, was thrilled. A dedicated romantic he was very happy that I had been able to drag the Ginger away from work to come to the Taj with me because it is the “palace of love” and you should always visit it with your loved one if he happens to be in the vicinity.
“Tears on the cheeks of history,” Sanjay said proudly as I blubbed. I couldn’t help it. The whole place is so majestic and serene and perfect and I felt unbelievably lucky to be there.
The 16th century emperor Shah Jahan built the giant white marble mausoleum for the love of his life, Mumtaj. He had picked her out at a tricky bazaar when looking for a wife to add to his collection. A tricky bazaar is a line up of hot chicks from all around the world. Anyway, Shah Jahan already had a big wife and a simple wife - who were neither big nor simple but had been unable to have children - so they went to the tricky bazaar with him to find someone a bit more child bearing.
The moment he clapped eyes on the beautiful daughter of a poor Persian tradesman he breathed the word “Mumtaj” and that was that. “Mum” means beautiful and “taj” means royal and from then on Mumtaj was just that.
She was also a good choice, bearing him 14 children, although she saw the writing on the wall at the birth of the last one and called Shah Jahan to her bedside making him promise three things as her strength started to fade: to build a monument to prove his love; to never marry again; and to look after the 14 children.
It took 22 years but he managed the first. He also managed the second. The third? Hm. Half of the children died of natural causes and one of the remaining sons killed the rest so that he could become emperor. He then threw Shah Jahan in to the jail in Agra Fort cross the river where he lived for eight years, his only view that of the monument he had built in memory of his adored wife.
With his last breath, he cried a despairing “Mumtaj!” and died.
You see what I mean about Sanjay being a dedicated romantic?
He does a very good despairing “Mumtaj!”
Anyway, so, I am imagining that Princess Diana might have heard the same story when she went to the Taj in 1992 and might have thought that sure she was picked out in a Tricky Bazaar but Prince Charles had another Mumtaj all along.
If you’re even slightly romantically-inclined, you can’t help but feel the sadness that lingers in the beautiful grounds for this tale of love-gone-wrong.
But louder, stronger, sweeter and so much more hopeful is the staggering ode to love-gone-right standing right there in front of you, in all its glory, 600 years old and still going strong.