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Nikita's Journal

Catching a Moment - Magic by Moonlight

INDIA | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [258] | Scholarship Entry

There's a definitive buzz in the air as people go through layers of tight screening. Shawls come off, pockets are patted down, shoes ride on metal detectors and special passes are stamped in the security office outside the Taj Mahal in Agra. "Once in lifetime experyens," I hear a sari-clad lady say to another with a serious nod. I want to point out that the experience is technically possible once every month, but I hold my tongue. We are there to see one of the 7 wonders of the world under the light of the full moon. And the Taj by moonlight is a thing of pure beauty. So says the tourism brochure.
I couldn't see it. I had come just this morning to behold "the monument of love" but the moment I stepped through the red stone gateway that led to it, the hype melted away. Over the heads of hundreds of tourists milling about in the blazing sun, it appeared ordinary. Its marble dome looked like a white chocolate Hershey's Kiss, stained with smoke from the factories that flank the Yamuna River. The mausoleum to Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz was littered with guides telling their story in industrial monotones to large groups. So it is, that when I return tonight, I come with little enthusiasm.
By nightfall though, there is an unbelievable quiet inside the walls. No wailing babies or photo-hungry tourists, not even a single street lamp. The breeze blows lightly over our heads, beckoning us through the Darwaza-i-Rauza; its cool metal doors like giant twins, separated at birth. This time I see the Taj's reflection first, blurred and pale in the water of the rectangular pool before it. Its vision undiluted by crowds.
The moon plays truant at first. I feel the impatience rise in waves around me. Our passes grant us only half an hour. And yet, I am awed already, by the perfect symmetry of everything: trees planted as companions to one another, having rustled conversations over the wind; slender minarets looking like rooks in an ivory chess set, standing guard over the tombs within; and finally, the tombs themselves - Shah Jahan and his Mumtaz, united in death, asleep under silvery engravings of the Quran.
We retreat back to the viewing plinth. Out of divine co-incidence, the moon comes out of hiding with six minutes to spare. The light hits the white marble and magic happens. The whispers stop. People hold hands. She transforms before us, from wan teenager to glowing bride, illuminated under the veil of the night. And I finally see the monument to love.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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