Incredible Northern India Garden Tour
March 3rd - March 15th, 2010


March 7th, 2010

We left this morning at 7:30 am to visit the Taj Mahal. Now I don’t care how many pictures you have seen or shows you have watched, nothing can duplicate seeing it in person. You pass through the entrance gates and from that vantage point the Taj is directly in front of you. Quite a distance away, but it seems to melt into space from here. You could hear it around you as you entered through those gates for the first time – that collective ‘wow’.

By the time we arrived there were quite a few people already here, but that did not matter. We had our picture taken as a group then want with our guide closer to the Taj and as we approached it all I could think of was ethereal….it seems to float on this marble base. The marble used was so pure that it never got dirty. It glistens in the morning sun this white dream that floats on its base, this tomb dedicated to a wife from a husband. In AD 1628, Khurram became king after a bloody battle of succession; he took the name Shahjahan or King of the World and showered his beloved begum with the highest titles. She became Mumtaz Mahal, the Exalted of the Palace and Mumtaz-ul-Zamani, the Exalted of the Age. But Mumtaz Mahal was not destined to be queen for long. In 1631, Shahjahan went on an expedition to the South and, as always, Mumtaz Mahal accompanied him.

But she died in childbirth at Burhanpur. She had borne Shahjahan fourteen children, of whom four sons and three daughters survived. When Mumtaz Mahal died, she was just 39 years old. Shahjahan was inconsolable and contemporary chronicles tell of the royal court mourning for two years. There was no music, no feasting, and no celebration of any kind. Shahjahan, who was a passionate builder, now decided to erect a memorial marble that the world would never forget. The site selected for the tomb was a garden by the Yamuna river, unshadowed by any other structure. The garden had been laid by Raja Man Singh of Amber and now belonged to his grandson, Raja Jai Singh. By a royal decree, Shahjahan gave Jai Singh four havelis in exchange for the garden. The site was also chosen because it was located on a bend in the river, and so could be seen from Shahjahan's personal palace in Agra Fort, further upstream. Work on the mausoleum began in 1633 and 20,000 workers laboured for 17 years to build it. The most skilled architects, inlay craftsmen, calligraphers, stone-carvers and masons came from all across India and lands as distant as Persia and Turkey. The master mason was from Baghdad, an expert in building the double dome from Persia, and an inlay specialist from Delhi. The tomb was completed in AD 1650. But, Shahjahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb in 1658 and imprisoned in the Agra Fort. He spent his last years in the Mussalman Burj looking downstream at the Taj where his beloved Mumtaz Mahal lay. Sixteen years later he, too, was laid to rest beside her.

To see it up close and the relationships the marble has with the inlaid semi precious and precious stones are a true work of art. Inside the tomb there is a marble screen that surrounds the King and Queen. You have to remember that they really were underneath us where we could not go, but they represented what was below us. This screen that surrounded them took 11 years to build. Carving so precious it takes your breath away. Some of the flower petals alone took many many stones to create. There used to be a gold screen here but it was removed because of the thought of it being robbed.
Outside, the grounds are all about symmetry and balance. The mosque on one side and the guesthouse on the other balance the Taj Mahal and the perfect, almost English in design garden, complete the whole. The gardens took 11 years to complete as well and the center gardens are as they were when first done. Taj Mahal tour is not only about the seeing the mausoleum in white marble, but also its surroundings, especially the Taj Garden - Charbagh. In Islamic style of architecture, the garden is not just another feature but has a well-defined meaning and it symbolizes the spirituality. According to the Holy Koran, a garden is symbolic of paradise. The Taj Garden covers most parts of the Taj. Out of a total area of 580 m by 300 m, the Taj Garden alone covers 300 m by 300 m. The guiding principle in creating this garden is one of the symmetry and it can be experienced everywhere. The four regions of the garden within the Charbagh are divided into 16 flowerbeds, making a total of 64. It is said that each flowerbed was planted with 400 plants. Trees were planted carefully in accordance with the symmetry of the overall plan.

The trees, which were generally preferred, were either cypress (Cuprussus) (signifying death) or different fruit bearing trees (signifying life). These trees were home to many birds, which migrated from distant places to enhance the liveliness of the Taj Mahal. What a humbling experience to see this masterpiece.
From here we visited a company that specializes in the very art of inlaid work in marble, then it was on to Agra Fort. Few forts in the world have a more fascinating story to tell than the Great Fort of Agra. Originally planned as an impregnable military structure by Akbar, the Agra Fort, over a period of time, acquired all the elegance, lavishness and majesty of an imperial palace.

Back to our hotel for lunch and some free time until we met again to visit an embroidery company with works that you will never see in public or anywhere for that matter…just here. We were taken into a very special locked room to see priceless works of art in this medium. Words and pictures can never truly show or tell you what they looked like. We could not use flash so even our photographs cannot do it justice. These are one of a kind and simply breathtaking. The last one brought tears to my eyes as it was done by the husband for his wife – she was 14 and he 16 when they married. He started this work when he was 29 as a tribute to her. He wanted her to have it while she was still alive. He died at 82 and she at 88. They were married 66 years. The vase is inlaid with thousands of semi precious stones and the flowers literally pop out from the picture. It is called padded embroidery and gives the look of being three dimensional. After the visit here we went upstairs to the jewellery area and again were stunned by the craftsmanship of what was here. This family run business has every right to be proud of what they have. Their designers – one being their daughter – has a gift that I have never seen before. They then showed us a very precious emerald and pearl necklace as well as emerald and diamond ring. You can even see me wearing them. These are priceless and worth millions. We felt very special wearing them and knowing their history. Why am I thrilled…because they belonged to the King and are what he had designed for his Queen. What a day!! Never to be forgotten.


  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row