Our visit to India ends in Agra, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) southeast of Delhi, home of the Taj Mahal. We arose early as our driver and guide were picking us up at 6am to get there as close to sunrise as we could. It was a hazy morning, so all we could see at first was a general outline of the structure.
The building is set on a 42 acre property amid formal gardens. As the minutes passed and we moved closer the magnificent structure came into clearer view. You simply can't take your eyes off of it. It's entirely made of white marble and it actually glistens in the morning sun light.
The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1631 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal following her death while giving birth to her fourteenth child. She is entombed there underground as is her husband who died some years later. The Mughals were Muslim conquerors who controlled vast areas of Northern India, Pakistan, Bangaladesh and lands beyond for hundreds of years. Mumtaz was his beloved Persian wife. (Only 6 of her 14 children survived, 4 boys and 2 girls. One son eventually killed his three brothers and imprisons his father in order to assume power himself. It was one of the two surviving daughters who saw to it that her father was buried next to his favorite wife at the Taj Mahal. Such is life at the top.)
To the west of the Taj is a separate building to function as a Mosque (so as to face west to Mecca, with another structure on the other side simply for symmetry.)
The building with beautiful inlaid colored stones took 10 years to build, cost 32,000,000 rupees or in today's money, $827,000,000 employing 20,000 full-time artisans. The marble was undergoing a cleaning as we visited which happens every 4-5 years. Seeing the newly cleaned sections gave us an idea of what it looked like new. Since marble is such a hard stone, the building probably looked almost 400 years ago exactly as it looks today Architect for the original project was a young man named Ustad Ahmad Lahanni, clearly one of the greatest architects of history.
Yes, we have all seen photos. It's even better in person.