When it comes to viewing the Taj Mahal, there isn’t really an unflattering angle or wrong kind of weather. Even the Dickensian smog that can roll off the Jamuna River in midwinter only serves to heighten the mystique of the mausoleum’s familiar contours. The monsoon rains and grey skies of August also cast their spell; glistening after a storm, the white marble, subtly carved and inlaid with semi-precious stones and Koranic calligraphy, seems to radiate light.
The world’s most beautiful building was originally commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 1630s as a memorial to his beloved wife, the legendary beauty Arjumand Bann Begum, or Mumtaz Mahal (“Elect of the Palace”), who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. It is said that Shah Jahan was inconsolable after her death and spent the last years of his life staring wistfully through his cusp-arched window in Agra Fort at her mausoleum downriver.
The love and longing embodied by the Taj are never more palpable than during the full-moon phase of each month, when the Archeological Survey of India opens the complex at night. For once, the streams of visitors flowing through the Persian-style Char Bagh Gardens leading to the tomb are hushed into silence by the building’s ethereal form, rising melancholically from the river bank.
Shah Jahan’s quadrangular water courses, flanking the approaches, are specially filled for full-moon visits, as they would have been in Mughal times. The reflections of the luminous walls in their mirror-like surfaces seem to positively shimmer with life, like the aura of an Urdu devotional poem or piece of sublime sitar music. At such moments, it’s easy to see why the Bengali mystic-poet Rabindranath Tagore likened the Taj Mahal to “… a teardrop on the face of Eternity”.
The Taj Mahal is open from 6am to 7pm daily, except Friday. Over the 4 days of a full moon (except on Fridays and during Ramadan), you can also visit between 8pm and midnight; tickets must be booked a day in advance at the Archeological Survey of India office, 22 Mall Rd (www.asi.nic.in).