Taj Mahal in Agra is India's most known monument. Here is an introduction.
After the Qutub Minar, Taj Mahal is India's most visited monument. It is situated in Agra, about six hours drive south by road, or five by train. A flight from Delhi takes less than one hour. Two to four millions people visit this marble monument every year. UNESCO has classified it as a World Heritage Site.
History: Taj is a mausoleum built by the Mugal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of Mumtaz Mahal who unusually dear to her husband. Construction started in 1632 and concluded in 1653. The work was overseen by a committee, supervised by the chief of the builders. More than 20,000 forced laborers were forcibly pressed into service. In addition, inlayers were brought from south India, stonecutters from Baluchistan, sculptors from Bukhara, and calligraphers were brought from Syria and Persia. It is possible that experts in many other fields were also involved, because the 3-acre compound in what Taj stands is not the best place for constructing such massive structures, and much preparation and specialized groundwork had to be done before construction could begin.
Uniqueness: Taj is a unique structure in many ways. Perhaps there is no structure in the world which uses so much marble by volume. What is more, one can see a range of marbles from milk white to pink, inlaid with semi-precious stones. The hollow dome creates a unique sound cavity from inside, and sound can reverberate for a long period of time -- as frequently demonstrated by tour-guides with the help of a distinct sound they make orally.
There is a bronze finial on top of the dome. It was originally made of gold, but in 19th century it was replaced with a gold coated finial made of bronze. It looks like a small structure to observers, but happens to be very tall. A true picture of this finial is given to the right of the Taj, and every tourist must see its size to believe how tall it really is.
Visiting Taj: Unless you are familiar with India, it is always better to get there with the help of a tour organizer. If you are interested in spending an extended time, it is good to seek a tour operator who can arrange that. Also, you must either get a guide, or a detailed book on Taj to really understand and appreciate greatness and intricacies of this monument.
Taj is open for visitors only during the day, but it is kept open at night during full moon because the white marble structure creates a unique scene in full moon. Again it would be advisable to go only as a group and with the help of a tour operator if you visit the Taj at night.
Agra is rich in buildings from and monuments from Mugal period, and one needs at least two days to have a good look at the major ones. Thus if you are a student of architecture it would be good if you stay in a local hotel and find your way around these place with the help of a guide or a detailed book on the monuments in Agra.
Other Factoidz On India Travel:
India Travel Guide
Travel Guide: Qutub Minar, India
Picture Credits: The Finial (Public Domain), The Taj (Creative Commons)