Taj Mahal – Agra

The future King Edward VII, visiting India in 1875, remarked that it was commonplace for every writer “to set out with the admission that the Taj Mahal is indescribable, and then proceed to give some idea of it”.

I don’t think words exist in the English language to adequately frame the experience, and besides, the Taj Mahal must be one of the most documented and photographed buildings on the planet.

The Taj Mahal was built by the Mugual emperor Shah Jahan for one of his many wives, who died in 1631 at the age of just 38 having given birth to their 14th child. It was completed only 12 years later in 1643. The complex you see today is just 50% of the original size, the sprawling growth of Agra city has swallowed up much of the peripheral gardens and gates.Some historians have wondered why the Taj Mahal is at the end rather than in the middle of a garden, which is unlike other Mughal tombs. It has been suggested that the river behind the mausoleum should be seen as the east-west axis of the gardens, and that another building was planned to be built on the opposite bank with a connecting bridge. This would then have echoed the Mughal tradition of symmetry and placing tombs at the heart of a much larger formal garden.

The theory extends further, suggesting that Shah Jahan had plans to build his own replica of the Taj Mahal on the opposite bank out of black marble – the Black Taj.

There’s no hard evidence that this was ever his intention, some blackened stone was discovered on the opposite bank at Mahtab Bagh when investigations where carried out some years ago, but they turned out to be discoloured white marble. All the archaeologists could find was more formal gardens and an ornate pool where the Black Taj was supposed to stand.