The Jewel in the Crown

It’s just as magnificent as last time, the Taj Mahal, despite the addition of so many fences to guide the large crowds around the site and through the mausoleum itself. There are also more fences to bar entry to areas previously open, the upper levels, the mosque. Our guide says the numbers of people visiting haven’t changed that much but now the vast majority are of Indian origin rather than foreign tourists, the exact opposite of what used to be the case.

We hear that Mumtaz, the wife of Shah Jahan who built the palace or ‘mahal’ to express his love for her, was buried with a large heart-shaped diamond in the centre of her forehead, the jewel in her crown chakra. Her diamond was later stolen and, in another act of love, given to Elizabeth Taylor on her 40th birthday by Richard Burton. And poor Shah Jahan was jailed by his youngest son in a nearby fort where he gazed on the monument until his death. A poignant love story to match the beauty of the place.

It glows with a magical light, it arrests the observer entering through the perfectly positioned gate. It is all symmetry, an octagon with four pillars surrounded by gardens with a watercourse leading to and reflecting from the elegant white marble building. Up close there are at least half a dozen different designs repeated on each of the eight sides creating a rhythm that feels like a dance. We are told that although the four pillars on the corners of the platform look straight, they are actually angled outward so that if one should fall, it would not fall toward the building.

This exquisite architectural expression of love is also the jewel in the crown of India itself, located in the northern centre of the country. For many, it is also the jewel in the crown of international travel, one of the seven wonders of the world, a pilgrimage to the ultimate manifestation of spendour and grace.

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