The Filth of Agra and the Beauty of the Taj Mahal

A teardrop on the cheek of eternity

The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in mourning for his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal.  It’s a monument to the beauty and insanity of love, and it truly is ‘A teardrop on the cheek of eternity’ as stated by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.  After seven months of travel, meditation, paragliding, and kayaking in the remote mountains of Asia, the Taj was a critical chance to illustrate our endeavors to certain perplexed members of the extended family – we needed a picture for grandma.  Caroline did everything in her power to make a respectable looking man out of me in my threadbare, hash-holed paraglide pants and finest wrinkly travel shirt.  Not to be outdone, she scrubbed at seven months of stains in her P-Gucci summer dress, pinned up the hair, and put on her nicest Havaianas..

For grandma

Out the gate and around the corner

Before going inside the Taj, we strolled down to the river to catch the timeless image of the Taj reflected in the waters.  A particular moment stands out against the backdrop: walking down to see one of the most iconic images of beauty and purity in the universe, we passed a large heaping garbage dump.  A young street-urchin girl was crawling through the garbage in a filthy blue dress, sorting for treasures amongst the heaps.  She looked upwards, noticed us from the distance, and waved out in joy.  HELLO!!! She yelled, waving her hand.  HELLO!! from her cute, stained, dirty little face.  And just as quickly, she turned back to her garbage and continued the search, full of vigor and enthusiasm.

We of course returned the greeting, then walked onwards.

Inside the beautiful marble walls of the Taj Mahal, one can completely forget the dirty and chaotic world outside.  Every school child in the world knows of the splendor of this place,

Flowers carved in to sandstone

yet up close the intricate details only serve to broaden the magnificence.  The macro alignment of every feature to every other as well as to the cosmos or directions was accurate to an inspiring degree.  At the micro level, every surface was decorated with elaborate stone and shell inlays to form patterns of flowers, designs, and hidden symbols of blessing to the universe.  Certain patterns of inlay are set in a stone that reflects vibrant color from the day’s sun, while others glow under the light of the moon.

In every detail, the Taj Mahal truly is a monument to the power and beauty of love.

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