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A Tale of Two Cities: Agra, India

Wherever We May Roam

By Steven Moore

Like an old coin, most places we live in or travel to have different sides, one shiny and new, the other worn and grimy. Never during all my adventures was this more evident than in Agra.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Agra is home to many significant monuments, including India’s first capital, Fatephur Sikri, and the imposing Agra Fort on the Yamuna River. But nobody cares! People visit Agra for one reason: the Taj Mahal. It’s understandable. She is, quite simply, magnificent.

Along with numerous “‘ologies,” I studied architecture at university, and the Taj came up often in discussions about the world’s architectural wonders. I first visited India a dozen years ago and penned an essay about the Taj for a university assignment. I wrote, “The Taj is mankind’s greatest, most perfect example of design and mastery of architecture; quite literally, a masterpiece.” My professor soon reprimanded me for my unscholarly opinion, asking me on what authority could I decide what was and what wasn’t perfect? Well, Professor Thofner, I wrote it on my authority. I’ve since visited the Taj Mahal again and feel more justified than ever regarding my first impressions. Besides, I trust my own eyes more than any textbook, scholarly or not!

The Taj, and I refer to Her as She (because nothing male could be as beautiful) is incomparably glorious. The land around the city is flat and baked, and She rises, monumental yet delicate, from the dust beyond her walls, oozing splendor from every inch of polished marble and sparkling inlaid jewel. She is at once powerful and humble, much like the Princess Mumtaz interred within.

That the Taj is a mausoleum for the princess speaks volumes about the love Her creator Shah Jahan felt for his tragic bride and still more about his artistic sensibilities and passion to build a lasting legacy to the empress’ beauty.

It’s an unprecedented work of art. Built on a vast platform, the courtyard’s graceful minarets reach skyward like the slender arms of the exotic princess, while the central dome glimmers like mother-of-pearl under a cerulean sky. She mesmerizes from every angle, her smooth, sharp lines juxtaposed in perfect harmony with the curved arches and niches.

From afar, Her beauty is enhanced, set like a dazzling diamond in the wide and faded ring of poverty. Wilted peasant farmers scratch a living across the filthy Yamuna River, as a million faded dreams flow by in its lazy passage east, oblivious as they pass and never to return. Hawkers wait in Her shadows with disrespectful gimmicks, magnets, snow domes, and curled up postcards, eking out a living as the Shah and his love turn in their ornate graves.

Sublime is an adjective I’m guilty of overusing, but in Her case it fits as snugly as one of Mumtaz’ lacy wedding gloves.

Rarely have my photographs done justice to the beauty I’ve seen on my travels, my words even less, but I hope this vignette portrays the love I have for Her, and after my second visit, She remains more beautiful and perfect than ever.

Read more of Steven’s & Leslie’s travels at &


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