Navigating India: Week nine

Rachel Borashko

Leaving behind the poverty-laden scene of New Delhi, we travelled by car to Agra. We spent only a short 24 hours there, since there’s only one real reason that people visit Agra. It is the home of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World—the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal contains the tomb of Shah Jahan and his favorite wife, Mumtaz, for whom the masterpiece was built. Only replicas of their tombs can be seen by the public, with the originals deeper in the ground.

The building itself is made of white marble, inlaid with beautiful floral designs and the Islamic morning, evening and night prayers. On one side of the mausoleum is a mosque, and on the other a guest house that has never had guests, for the purpose of architectural symmetry.

Upon the death of his wife, Shah Jahan commissioned the building as a symbol of his love for her. During the last years of his life, Shah Jahan was kept under house arrest by his son, held a short distance away at the Agra Fort. Rumor has it that he died in a tower where he had full view of the Taj Mahal.

While the Taj is beautiful and has a beautiful history, I must admit that I find it overrated. There is plenty of beautiful Muslim and Hindu architecture in India, yet everyone seems only to know of the Taj Mahal. Even Agra Fort, where Shah Jahan was kept by his son, is not given the credit it deserves. It is gorgeously designed and includes a Sheesh Mahal—a palace of mirrors—that easily reckons with the beauty of more glorified monuments.

My favorite architecture we found the following day in Jaipur. Prior to researching India with the prospects of coming here a year ago, I’m sure that I didn’t even know Jaipur existed. Yet, in just a few short days, I fell in love with the area. It contains the Amer Fort, which is strikingly large and has astonishingly well-preserved architecture from 1592 when compared to many other Indian structures built so long ago. It also contains a Sheesh Mahal that I find mesmerizing.

The fort does not have a fanciful origin story of love and loss, but rather it was built simply to fulfill its purpose as a fort and palace. For me, this makes it more beautiful. It was practical. It was not built so much to be looked at as it was to be used. It was a home, a court, a palace — not a sightseeing spot.

In Jaipur, one can look around to see shops and houses as usual, but then look up, and you see the wall of the fort. It feels like you’re in ancient times. Our hotel was a small family-run hotel on a hill. From the roof, you could see a great portion of the city: the present day co-existing with the ancient ruins that surround them.

I am reminded through our tour that India is everything. It is depressing, uplifting, disgusting, beautiful, ancient, modern, heart-breaking and wonderful.

And that’s why I love it.