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India's Taj Mahal

Jonathan van Bilsen



February 6, 2011

India's Taj Mahal

As many of you may know, a new list of Seven Wonders of the World, as voted on by millions of the planet's inhabitants, has finally been published. An original 200 nominations in 1999 were narrowed down to 77 and eventually to 21.

I was excited by the final list as I have had the pleasure of visiting six of the selected seven, with plans to visit the final one in the fall of this year. Focus magazine has kindly allowed me to share my experiences at each of these remarkable sites in this column over the next seven months.

My favourite among those chosen is India's famed icon, the Taj Mahal. I had the pleasure of visiting Agra two years ago and spent a great deal of time at this amazing architectural accomplishment. So important is the Taj to India's growing tourist trade that the government has forbidden any industry within the confines of Agra, the city of 1 million people and home to the Taj Mahal.

Taking it one step further, all gasoline powered vehicles must stay outside of the 1 km radius of the monument. Amusingly, my hotel was about 600m away and an electric golf cart transported me to the ancient site.

The Taj was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1633 and is the finest example of Muslim architecture in the world. Ironically it is in a country where 75% of the people are Hindu. I had always been under the impression that the Taj was a Temple and was astounded to learn it is a tomb built for the Emperor's wife.

Grief stricken upon her premature death with the birth of their 14th child, the Emperor immediately commissioned work on the elaborate tomb in her honour. 22,000 craftsmen laboured for 17 years to complete what has been deemed the most flawless architectural creation in the world. The cost became so prohibitive that it nearly bankrupted the royal coffers.

Prior to its completion the Emperor decided to build a second monument as a final resting place for himself. In contrast to the white marble of the Taj Mahal his tomb would be made of black marble, imported from northern India.

Work began, but the Emperor's eldest son became weary of the constant expense. Not being able to alter his father's ambition he decided to have the Emperor arrested and imprisoned in the nearby Red Fort. Ironically, the Emperor had a perfect view of the Taj Mahal, but never set foot within its walls, even though his wife was buried there. He died after eight years of imprisonment.

The craftsmanship of the monument is breathtaking. It becomes inconceivable to understand how artists inlaid tens of thousands of precious stones to form floral designs. The marble is as white today as it was the day it was laid.

Agra is a one hour flight from Delhi, but the train experience makes the trip a true adventure. Admission to the Taj is $45, unless you are a resident, in which case it is two dollars. Signs forbidding spitting are common and lawnmowers are nothing more than oxen pulling a cutting device.

Wandering the grounds, staring in awe from every angle while surrounded by people wearing colourful saris, easily lets you understand why the Taj Mahal was voted one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

The additional six new wonders are: Corcovado, in Rio de Janeiro, the Great Wall of China, the Coliseum in Rome, Peru's Machu Picchu, Mexico's Temple at Chichen Itza and the caves at Petra, Jordan.

Next month we will travel to Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro and the famous statue of Christ high on top of Corcovado.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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