1415

In structuring our itinerary for this trip, we have tried to stick to places that are new to both of us.  We are making several exceptions for places that one of us has visited before and truly loved.  When we knew we were meeting Shanna’s parents in Delhi, India to attend a wedding there, there was no doubt that we would add Agra to our itinerary, regardless of the fact that we’ve both been there before.

Agra is famous the world over as the location of the Taj Mahal, which, in both of our opinions, is the most beautiful building in the world.  On top of the fact that the architecture and symmetry of the building is beyond belief, the place has an incredibly romantic history.

1409

While India is predominately Hindu now, much of the country was once controlled by Muslims (who were called Mughals).  Mughal rule in India began in the early 16th century when Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan, marched into India from his capital in present-day Afghanistan.  Babur’s successors ruled much of India for a few hundred years before their power faded and eventually passed to the British in the early 19th century.

The Mughals’ many conquests in Asia made them incredibly wealthy.  They used these excess funds to build grand mosques, forts and palaces throughout India.  One of the greatest Mughal emperors adopted the name Shah Jahan.  (This moniker, incidentally, translates to “the king of the world.”)  Shah Jahan assumed his duties in 1627 after executing (!) all of his potential rivals to the throne.  His majesty demonstrated his penchant for building when he constructed the Red Fort in Delhi and converted the Agra Fort into a beautiful palace that housed himself, his 3 wives and his harem.

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By all accounts, Shah Jahan’s favorite wife by far was his second one.  Far from trying to keep his preferences a secret, he awarded this wife the name “Mumtaz Mahal,” or “chosen one of the palace.”  Mumtaz Mahal apparently returned his affection–she gave birth to 14 children in only 19 years of marriage!  All of this child-bearing finally caught up with her, and she died during the birth of her 14th child.  Shah Jahan was inconsolable; legend has it that his hair turned grey overnight.  Soon after her death, he set out to create the greatest monument to love ever conceived. With the help of 20,000 artisans and 1,000 elephants, the Taj Mahal was completed in approximately 1643, and Shah Jahan’s beloved Mumtaz Mahal was finally laid to rest.

Sadly for the Shah, he didn’t get to enjoy the Taj for long. He was imprisoned by his own son, Aurangzeb, who took over the throne in 1658. Either as cruel torture or as a gesture of compassion, Aurangzeb locked his father in a room of the Agra Fort that afforded the elder a clear but distant view of the Taj.  When Shah Jahan died 8 years later, he was buried alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal, unaware that his final resting place would later become known as the most beautiful building the world has ever seen.