A Monument to Love.....
One of the 2015 Stok Kangri teams are now in Agra - home to the Taj Mahal and undoubtedly the most impressive building I've ever seen. We always add a visit here to the end of Peak Mountaineering's Stok Kangri visits. It's a perfect chance for the team to let their hair down (for those team members that have enough to let down!) and visit one of the world's must see destinations after the rigours of the mountain phase.
The Taj was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 1632. His beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal died after giving birth to their fourteenth child. They knew she was going to die for a while before and it is said that, on her death bed, she told the heart broken emperor she wanted him to build a monument 'the like of which the world has never seen'. It is thought she said this to give him a purpose for living following her death. Shah Jahan spent a long period in mourning but eventually he set to work on what was to become his creative masterpiece.
Twenty two years of work by over 20,000 workers and a fortune spent, but his love story in marble finally came to fruition. It is a truly beautiful building. Lots of stories and mystery surround the Taj Mahal and one of my favourites is the theory that Shah Jahan planned to make a mirror image black Taj on the opposite side of the river. There is no conclusive proof that it's true but I love the idea. One reason this has been proposed is because the Taj Mahal is a completely symmetrical building and Mumtaz Mahal is entombed right in the centre. Where, people ask, was Shah Jahan planning to be buried? No one thinks he would want to be far from his wife and so, just maybe, he planned his tomb to be the black Taj that would sit opposite his beloved partner?
In the end Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son and he spent the last eight years of his life entombed in the nearby Agra Fort. The black Tajj theory is also linked to this because it has been suggested his son overthrew him after learning of his plans for another building. Was he concerned a new huge building project would bankrupt the empire? No one knows, but Shah Jahan never left Agra Fort again and, although he could look across to the Taj Mahal from his apartment (which is well worth visiting if you come to Agra), his son never let him visit his wife's tomb again.
When he died one of Shah Jahn's daughters is said to have pleaded with her brother to honour the memory of their father by giving him a state funeral. The son refused and Shah Jahan's body was taken by small boat and under cover of darkness along the river and he was buried alongside Mumtaz. Back with his wife and yet, in burying him alongside her, the symmetry of the building was broken. What would Shah Jahan have thought about that?
A couple of years ago we were bringing a different Stok Kangri team to the Taj Mahal. The agents we were using at the time (we use different agents now!) had under booked on hotel rooms and so my co leader and I were left with the dilemma of looking for an alternative hotel. Our ever helpful guide said he knew a possible alternative and he would give us a lift round to view it. Much to the amusement of our clients he pulled up a few minutes later on a small motorbike and signalled to us to climb aboard
I sat behind the guide but he was concerned I wasn't sitting closely enough. Move forward he kept saying until I was firmly glued to his back. "That's better," he said, "now you ride like an Indian!" Once the three of us were on board we whizzed around the streets of Agra enjoying a brilliant ride. The new hotel had the rooms and soon our clients were drinking celebratory beers with us in the hotel bar. Agra will always hold a special place in my memory.....and not just because of the Taj Mahal!