The Taj

Agra was an overnight train trip west of Varanasi, which seemed to be a sign that we should stop and visit the famed Taj Mahal.

Silhouette of the Taj Mahal at dawn
My favorite shot: I took this out the open door of our moving train in the early hours of the morning as the steel girders of the bridge (at least 30 feet over the Yamuna River) flashed by

The tomb’s pristine whiteness stands in stark contrast to all that surrounds it, but all that surrounds it is bustling with energy, while the Taj is surprisingly lifeless. Fitting for a mausoleum, I suppose.

Taj Mahal from the rooftops
A woman does the laundry; the Taj hovers in the distance

Water buffaloes in traffic in Agra, India
A bustling Agra street scene: water buffaloes in traffic

On our first night in Agra, we went to see the Taj from across the river at sunset. Of course it being the end of the dry season, the river was quite low, so we saw more “beach” than reflections. Nice orange glow, though.

The Taj Mahal at sunset
The Taj Mahal at sunset

The Taj Mahal at sunset
A close up of the dome over the tomb and a minaret

The Taj Mahal at sunset
Qur’anic verses inlaid with black marble surround each iwan

The next day we woke up before dawn to catch the Taj at sunrise. We got there just after 6 and the place was already hopping. I can only imagine what high season must be like. We walked around. We took some photos. We left. It was both beautiful and boring.

The Taj Mahal at dawn
Taj Mahal through the entrance archway at dawn

Man reflecting on the Taj Mahal's reflection
A man reflects

Minaret of the Taj Mahal
A minaret

Postscript: I feel uneasy ending this post with the previous sentiment. I don’t like thinking that my words might tarnish someone’s cherished Taj memory or cause someone to strike it off their infernal “bucket list” because I said it was boring. But it’s the truth. There’s no contesting the fact that it’s a work of art or a wonder of the world. Look at these photos—it’s impossible to take a bad picture with the Taj in the vicinity. But at the same time it’s completely vacuous. There’s nothing to it. It’s all surface and no substance. It’s not a museum, library, or government building. No one works or lives here. Nothing important happened here. It doesn’t commemorate a notable person or event. It doesn’t serve an important civic, religious, or technological function. It seems that its only purpose is to be looked at. So we did. And then we were ready to move on.

· Art