The story of the death of Mumtaz Mahal and the cratering despondency of her husband, Shah Jahan, seems to be common to every schoolchild in India and, certainly, to all who have visited her tomb, the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is Tagore’s “teardrop on the cheek of time,” inspiring authors to sculpt their verse just as impeccably as Jahan’s stonecutters did their medium. And it is, perhaps, the truest site of secular sacrality in the entire world.
And it was in this state of active worship that we found it, even at 6:45 in the morning, just after the winter sunrise. We had been counseled to have an early start so as to avoid the crowds, which we would not fathom. Fathom it we certainly did not. But even ten thousand people wrapping around battlements and through gates festooned with security tape does not impact the awesome solitude of the Taj Mahal.
The faithful fog that slinks along the Yamuna and up the white walls of the Taj sets it off from the purple distance of the Doab and keeps it solitary well into the morning, making it seem the most fantastically ephemeral thing that man has ever surmised…and it remains surmise, too unbelievable to be truly ascertained. We were afraid to approach it along the direct path laid out along reflecting pools…to many illusions between the viewer and the object made one feel like they might dive into a crevasse on the final approach. It was better to walk around the long way in our own compass. And here, on the edges, we found the solitude of the place generously returned.