In this fourteenth archive story by Kristian Bertel, you can read about the photographer's encounter with the famous Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, India. Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
The Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and is widely recognized as 'the jewel of Muslim art in India'. It is one of the world's most celebrated structures and a symbol of India's rich history. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal attracts some three million visitors a year. The photographer spend almost five hours on the location of this white masterpiece visiting and photographing this marveolous building in India.
The Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and is widely recognized as 'the jewel of Muslim art in India'. It is one of the world's most celebrated structures and a symbol of India's rich history. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal attracts some three million visitors a year. The photographer spend almost five hours on the location of this white masterpiece visiting and photographing this marveolous building in India.

Taj Mahal – A monument of love in India

Standing majestically on the banks of River Yamuna, the Taj Mahal is synonymous to love and romance. The Taj Mahal from Persian and Arabic, 'Crown of palaces', is a white marble mausoleum located on the southern bank of Yamuna River in the Indian city of Agra. In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire's period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his favorite of three wives and beloved companion, Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess, died during the birth of their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan reigned in the years from 1628 to 1658, and wanted a place to house the tomb of his favorite wife of three, Mumtaz Mahal.

Photographing the Taj Mahal in Agra
Maharajah Shah Jahan spotted Mumtaz Mahal at the marketplace in his royal complex. It was love at first sight and he quickly made her his third wife. Mumtaz traveled with Shah Jahan throughout India as his chief companion and beloved advisor. After bearing him 14 children, Mumtaz died, leaving the Maharajah devastated. He then decided to build her an everlasting memorial and resting place, looking to the Koran for inspiration. Taking inspiration from its detailed description of Heaven, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal. To ensure that no other living structure would ever rival the beauty of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan made an agreement with the building's artists. In exchange for a hefty payment, they would not create anymore art or design in their lifetime. Hearing the effort that Shah Jahan expended on behalf of his wife, the photographer was filled with a enthusiasm as he stepped through the gate with his camera, he could not help but gasp. Rising up towards the clouds, the stark white of the building pierced the blue sky. The Taj Mahal conjures heaven, but it was actually the craftmanship that astounded him. The walls of the building were so delicately carved, that they almost resembled an impressionist painting. Despite the huge crowds that filled the wonder, the photographer felt a strange calm fall over him. The Taj Mahal may receive millions of visitors per year, but its garden setting somehow manages to remain peaceful. Birds flew overhead, the soft flowing water in the front pools glinted in the sunlight and a light breeze rustled ever so gently through the greenery and the building seems to glow in the light of the full moon. On a foggy morning, the visitors experience the Taj as if suspended when viewed from across the Yamuna River.

"Taj Mahal is considered as one of the eight wonders of the world and some western historians have noted that its architectual beauty has never been surpassed. Its stunning architectual beauty is beyond adequate description, particurlarly at dawn and sunset. Once inside, the ornamental gardens are set out along classical Mughal charbagh, formal Persian garden, lines, a square quartered by watercourses, with an ornamental marble plinth at its centre. When the fountains are not flowing, the Taj is beautifully reflected in the water"

An immense mausoleum of white marble
The Taj Mahal is built on a parcel of land to the south of the walled city of Agra. Shah Jahan presented Maharajah Jai Singh with a large palace in the center of Agra in exchange for the land. An area of roughly three acres was excavated, filled with dirt to reduce seepage and leveled at fifty metres above riverbank. In the tomb area, wells were dug and filled with stone and rubble to form the footings of the tomb. Instead of lashed bamboo, workmen constructed a colossal brick scaffold that mirrored the tomb. The scaffold was so enormous that foremen estimated it would take years to dismantle. The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. It is believed over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty-eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble. According to the legend, Shah Jahan decreed that anyone could keep the bricks taken from the scaffold, and thus it was dismantled by peasants overnight. A fifteen kilometer tamped-earth ramp was built to transport marble and materials to the construction site and teams of twenty or thirty oxen pulled the blocks on specially constructed wagons. An elaborate post-and-beam pulley system was used to raise the blocks into desired position. Water was drawn from the river by a series of purs, an animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism, into a large storage tank and raised to a large distribution tank. It was passed into three subsidiary tanks, from which it was piped to the complex. The plinth and tomb took roughly twelve years to complete, the Photographer learned. The remaining parts of the complex took an additional ten years and were completed in order of minarets, mosque and jawab and gateway and since the complex was built in stages, discrepancies exist in completion dates due to differing opinions on completion.
Four minarets are surrounding the mausoleum of the Taj Mahal and these minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that in the event of collapse, a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period, the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.

Construction work of the Taj Mahal
Construction of the mausoleum itself was essentially completed by 1643 while work continued on the outlying buildings. Estimates of the cost of construction vary due to difficulties in estimating costs across time and the total cost has been estimated to be about 32 million Indian Rupees, which is around 52.8 billion Indian rupees based on nowadays values. From far away you could only see the entire structure, but up close and you focus on the tiny swirling details. The construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632 comissioned by the emperor himself and the court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal and the principal mausoleum was completed in 1643 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished about five years later. The central Taj structure is made of semitranslucent white marble, carved with flowers and inlaid with thousands of semiprecious stones in beautiful patterns. The domed marble tomb is part of an integrated complex consisting of gardens and two red-sandstone buildings surrounded by a crenellated wall on three sides. Ever since its construction, the building has been the source of an admiration transcending culture and geography and so personal and emotional responses have consistently eclipsed scholastic appraisals of the monument. A longstanding myth holds that Shah Jahan planned a mausoleum to be built in black marble as a Black Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River.

Reopening of the Taj Mahal in 2020
Agra's Taj Mahal has been reopening its doors to visitors on September 21, where only 5,000 tourists will be allowed to visit the Taj Mahal per day and this was the first time that the Taj Mahal was closed for such a long period of time. As the photographer found out it was closed on March 17 before the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 was announced. Most tourists visit in the cooler months of October, November and February and polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourists must either walk from parking areas or catch an electric bus. The Khawasspuras which are the northern courtyards are currently being restored for use as a new visitor centre.

Overtourism in India
In order to address overtourism, the site instituted fines for visitors who stayed longer than three hours. Overtourism is the perceived congestion or overcrowding from an excess of tourists, resulting in conflicts with locals. It has been defined as the impact of tourism on a destination or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and or quality of visitor experiences in a negative way. This definition shows how overtourism can be observed both among locals, who view tourism as a disruptive factor that increasingly burdens daily life, as well as visitors, who may regard high numbers of tourists as a nuisance. The term has only been used frequently since 2015, but is now the most commonly used expression to describe the negative impacts ascribed to tourism. Overtourism is observed mostly, but not exclusively, when the number of visitors to a destination or parts thereof, grows rapidly in a short space of time. Also, it is most common in areas where visitors and residents share a physical space. In recent years, developments within tourism and outside of tourism have increased contact between residents and visitors and made the impacts of tourism more noticeable. After remaining closed for six months.

As a photographer, this famous building has been on on the photographer's bucket list for a long time. The Taj Mahal itself stands on a raised marble platform at the northern end of the ornamental gardens, with its back to the Yamuna River. Its raised position means that the backdrop is only sky, a masterstroke of design. "- I remember arriving to Agra the evening before I paid a visit to the Taj Mahal. It was a amazing to know that the eight wonder of the world was just located in a short distance to where I was staying for the night. In the morning when I was standing outside one of the gates from where I could see the Taj Mahal, I could see it almost glow as something extraordinary from a view before I could see the building completely. It is definitely one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. And I spend almost five hours at the Taj Mahal and the Taj Garden, to get sure that I got all the photographs that I wanted and was looking for. As you can see the Taj is inhemmed by four towers, the so-called minarets, which have been open to the public. But since a suicide currently occured from one of the towers, all the towers are now closed", the Photographer says.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of the Taj Mahal in Agra. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.