The Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chapel: Iconic masterpieces like these often seem larger than life. But then you see them in person and, well, there they are, larger than something and no doubt impressive, although maybe not as large and magnificent as you’d anticipated after all those years of hype and history books.
The Taj Mahal, however, is not one of those places.
I initially saw the Taj while seated on a distant rooftop, where I munched on a lunch of spicy rice and yogurt-dipped naan bread. The architectural marvel, built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to commemorate his *favorite* wife, peeked above the skyline like a mirage amidst a sea of trees. It was intriguing to be sure, but still a distant, almost incomprehensible speck, like trying to fathom the size of a city from a plane 35,000 feet above.
Tummies full, we joined the groups of Indians trekking down a long road to the Taj. The families were making the pilgrimage from all around the nation – an irony not lost on me considering that Candace and I had recently completed our very own pilgrimage on the Camino only months before.
Along the way, we folded into the crowd, joining them like family, making friends, sharing snap shops of who we, where we were from and why we were there. Oddly enough, not unlike the Camino, I felt bonded to my walking companions in an impossibly short amount of time and, in many cases, without even exchanging any words. I think we all shared the same enthusiastic twinkle in our eyes born out of an eagerness to know one another, not to mention the treasure at the end of our path. So it was bittersweet when we arrived at the Taj entrance and had to part, Indian citizens going through one line and Candace and I through another.
I don’t much remember the moments between leaving my new Indian friends and those few that followed; I was too distracted by what lie ahead. While I’d seen the Taj from a rooftop, once I was on street level it had disappeared, tempting me in its absence. But finally it appeared once again, revealed through a key-hole gate, where it grew larger and more radiant as we crossed the threshold.
And there it was. Somehow all the tufts of trees seemed to fall away – it was as though the skyline that I’d seen from the rooftop had vaporized into nothing, and that the Taj were now sitting on a gigantic platter for all to see. There must have been thousands of us scattered on the land that surrounded it, and yet we somehow fell away too, insignificant and nearly invisible in comparison (well, except for this darling little guy below).
Indeed, it was large and it was magnificent. And it turns out that even hype and history books can’t overstate the magic that is the Taj Mahal.