The Taj Mahal is one of the world's most beautiful masterpieces of architecture. It is in the city of Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh, 200kms south of New Delhi.
Agra was the capital of the Moguls, the Muslim emperors who ruled Northern India between the 16th and 19th centuries. They were descendents of two of the most skilled warriors in history the Turks and the Mongols. The Mogul dynasty reached its highest strength and fame during the reign of their early emperors, Akbar, Jehangir and the fifth Muslim emperor, Shah Jehan.
Shah Jehan ordered the building of the Taj, in honour of his wife, Arjumand Banu, who was to become known as Mumtaz Mahal. She was the second, and most favoured, of his four wives. They were married in 1612 and over eighteen years, had fourteen children.
Mumtaz accompanied her husband in his military campaigns and in Burhanpur in 1630 she died giving birth to her last child.
As a display of his great love and sorrow, the emperor immediately ordered the most beautiful mausoleum on earth in his wife's memory. Construction on the south-west bank of the River Yamuna in Agra began in the year she died. Ustad Ahmad Lahori, an Indian of Persian descent, has been cited as the architect, but it is not known for sure. Whether it was Lahori's or someone else's genius, western historians say the Taj Mahal has a beauty which will never be surpassed.
As soon as construction began on what was to become known as the eighth wonder of the world, masons, craftsmen, sculptors and calligraphers were summoned from Persia, the Ottoman empire and Europe to work on the masterpiece.
It took twenty-two years to complete and used the strength of twenty thousand people and one thousand elephants.
It has five main elements the main gateway, garden, mosque, rest house and mausoleum. The black and white chessboard marble floor, four 40-metre high minarets at the structure's corners and central dome make it all extremely impressive.
The lettering of the Qur'an verses around the archways appears to be uniform, regardless of height. The spacing and density has been customised to give that impression. Other illusionary effects have been used in the geometry of the tomb and minarets.
The magnificent pietra dura, an Italian inlaying technique, includes geometric elements, plants and flowers, most common in Islamic architecture. The sophistication of the artwork becomes obvious when you see that a three-centimetre decorative element contains over 50 inlaid gemstones.
The white marble building is particularly stunning at dawn and sunset. It glows in full moonlight, and on foggy mornings when viewed from across the river, it appears to be suspended.
Just 600 metres from the Taj Mahal is The Oberoi Amarvilas, designed to give breathtaking and uninterrupted views from its 102 rooms.
Opened in 2001, the architect was given a brief to create a haven reflecting the grandeur of the Taj. He came up with Mogul-inspired pools and terraced gardens, ancient and traditional Persian and Moorish influences blended with the best in modern Indian interior design.
The cobalt blue and gold domed entrance hall has windows framing the Taj and sixty-four fountains, filigreed stone bridges and pillars greet guests as they cross the torch-lit forecourt of the ceremonial entrance pavilion.
The hotel has two fine restaurants and lobby bar, gymnasium, heated pool, private therapy suites and spa using Ayurvedic principles.