Back in 1632ish, the third and most beloved wife of then Emperor, Shah Jahan died due to complications of childbirth. This most profound and grief worthy death prompted the construction of her tomb, which is now one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. Construction lasted 22 years and called for experts in marble work, inlay, architecture, landscaping, construction, and others I'm sure are beyond my skills to see.
Entering the taj campus is quite a process in itself. Only animal drawn or electric vehicles are allowed within a certain radius of the building. This is because white marble gets dirty. (the Taj is closed every Friday for cleaning as it is). Then, the tourist has to stand in line (or not much of one as luck would have it) for a pat down and a look in all of your bags. From there, it's a bit of a walk to one of three towering gates. A 90 degree turn frames the center dome so perfectly in the gate that it takes your breath away. Every step takes you closer to the building itself; through the gate reveals the immensity of the complex, and what become clearly tiny people are dotted around the building, looking miles away. The dome is reflected in the long pool in front of it, lined with shrubbery. At all times of the year the place is crawling with tourists, all craning their necks and their cameras for that perfect shot. All trying to capture what cannot be captured. I'm not sure I can do the place justice with my words or my photos, but I'll share them anyway.
It's obviously a very surreal place. It looks exactly as it should, just like the pictures. The main dome is 180 feet high. Each piece of marble used was soaked in water for a year and weighed before and after to be sure it was of highest quality. The exterior is decorated with quotes from the Qur'an, words inlaid into the marble in Jasper. It was believed by Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's son, that this was a form of blasphemy, as rain waters would pass over the words, then be stepped on by people. True or not, the words are beautiful to behold up close.
Inside the dome features quite spectacular inlay work with precious and semi-precious gems, marble filigree, and the actual tomb of Shah Jahan and his 3rd wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The dome is surrounded by four marble minarets, each offset by about 3 degrees so that if there is an earthquake, they will fall away from the dome instead of tragically into it.
The building is also surrounded by three massive gates, a mosque, and numerous gardens. Behind the Taj runs the Yamuna river, and across it, a suspiciously flat area, where Shah Jahan intended to build a second, smaller version of the Taj Mahal in black marble. It was to be his tomb, but his son, Aurangzeb had other ideas. Aurangzeb felt that the Taj was such a front to the ideals of dying like a pauper and disrespected the words of Qur'an, that he (after arranging for the deaths of his three brothers to become Emperor) imprisoned his father in Agra Fort where he remained until his death in 1666, preventing the black Taj from ever being built.